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What is Phonics?

Phonics is the understanding that there is a predictable relationship between the letters (graphemes) of written language and the individual sounds (phonemes) of spoken language.

Phonics instruction teaches children to use these relationships to read and write words. Teachers of reading and publishers of reading programs sometimes use different labels to describe these relationships, including the following:

  • letter-sound associations
  • letter-sound correspondences
  • sound-symbol correspondences
  • graphophonemic relationships
  • sound-spellings

Regardless of the label, the goal of phonics instruction is to help children learn and use the understanding that there are relationships between written letters and spoken sounds. Knowing these relationships will help children recognize familiar words accurately and automatically, and "decode" new words. In short, knowledge of the alphabetic principle contributes greatly to children's ability to read words both in isolation and in connected text.

Scientifically-based research tells us that systematic and explicit phonics instruction is more effective than non-systematic or no phonics instruction.

Critics of phonics instruction argue that English spellings are too irregular for phonics instruction to really help children learn to read words. The point is, however, that phonics instruction teaches children a system for remembering how to read words. Once children learn, for example, that phone is spelled this way rather than foan, their memory helps them to read, spell, and recognize the word instantly and more accurately than they could read foan. The same process is true for all irregularly spelled words. Most of these words contain some regular letter-sound relationships that can help children remember how to read them. In summary, the alphabetic system is a mnemonic device that supports our memory for specific words.

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