• Katelyn Robey

So, why phonics?

Updated: Jun 10

As an adult reader, what do you do when you come to a word you’ve not seen before?

Do you look at the picture? Skip the word, read the rest of the sentence, then come back to it hoping that context will help you out? Or do you look at syllables and word chunks that are familiar in order to “solve” the word?

Using strategies involving context DO have their place in reading and word solving, and, in my experience, combining context and understanding WITH explicit phonics instruction is the way to go for the most well-rounded reading instruction for kids. But I do believe phonics should be taught as the primary, go-to strategy for solving unknown words.

For those of you thinking “what the H-E-double-hockey-sticks is she talking about?” Here’s an example:

Whole language peeps may lead the student to think about a word that makes sense using the story-line, the picture, and their own personal understanding of or connection with the topic/theme. In plenty of instances this does work, especially for young readers. I have used these strategies myself.  But in this situation, and in most situations as students become better readers, using background knowledge, picture cues, and context may not be the best strategy for figuring out the unknown word.

Phonics folks would first lead the student to look at the rest of the word, solving it using their understanding of letters and the sounds they represent.

Is the picture useful for self-monitoring? Yes. Are background knowledge and context helpful? Absolutely. Again, those things are especially useful for self-monitoring and fixing errors. My personal opinion is that these things support and enhance the phonics work students do in order to accurately read and comprehend. I do agree that picture and context clues allow students to read words that use phonics concepts they do not yet know.

My main reason for being pro-phonics as the primary means to teach reading is that phonics remains a useful tool into adulthood. Pictures go away and words get more complicated as students become better readers.


You most likely just read it correctly even though it’s a word you probably don’t see too often.  I’m assuming you made a /s/ sound for the c, combined the o with the r to say /or/ rather than /o/  (like hot) and /r/ (like red).  And you knew that the y at the end actually sounds like a long e instead of /y/ (like yellow).  Its because you know phonics that you were able to accurately read that word without help from a picture (no picture would help with that word anyways), with no contextual help, and without much (maybe even without any) background knowledge.

There you have it. My “why”. Teaching phonics simply makes sense to me. It’s the method I’ve found the most success with for the widest range of students. It’s useful into adulthood.

#phonics #reading #instruction #teaching #decoding

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