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Chapter 13 – Teaching phonics

Chapter Summary

Phonics is important for both reading and writing, and assessing what children know about letters and sounds is important for planning the literacy program. 

There are many different approaches to teaching phonics, including: synthetic phonics; visual, auditory, kinaesthetic and tactile or VAKT phonics; analytic phonics, analogy, word study, making words; and embedded phonics. Many teachers combine aspects of different approaches in their phonics programs. The challenge for teachers is to support children to understand the part that phonics plays in reading unfamiliar words and in their writing. Phonics can be taught in shared book and guided reading sessions, as well as in modelled, shared and guided writing. 

Phonics activities are a way for children to practise what they know about the sound and letter relationships, and some children need more practice than others. Playing games with words while practising phonics skills may be a better solution for many children than the use of repetitive worksheets. 

Many teachers see the debate about phonics versus whole language as one that diverts attention, energy and resources from the real challenges teachers face when providing children with appropriate and thoughtful phonics instruction.

Study Questions

Main ideas

Define synthetic and analytic phonics.
What is invented spelling and how does this relate to phonemic awareness?
Do you think approaches to teaching phonics using visual, auditory, tactile and kinaesthetic movement is effective? Explain why or why not.

Application to a developmental stage

How could you use the game lotto with children who are learning letters? How could you use lotto with advanced spellers who are using suffixes and prefixes?

Diverse learners

How could you use word walls with students? List various ways to use a word wall.


Why should easily confused sounds such as /t/ and /d/ or letters like ‘b’ and ‘d’ not be taught at the same time? What is your opinion—should these letters and sounds be assessed at the same time?

Teaching plans

Select one activity for revising phonics with children and work out a way to adapt it.