Phonics is a method of classroom reading instruction centered around the alphabet and its corresponding sounds. It is the combination of phonemic awareness and letter recognition. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, produce and manipulate the individual sounds (phonemes) in words. This auditory component of reading becomes integrated with phonics when the printed letter is introduced. Teachers in kindergarten through second grade use phonics to help their students understand the relationship between letters and sounds, which will help them become proficient readers.
Phonics skills are taught in the classroom before a child actually begins to read. Letter and sound recognition are of primary importance in the prereading stage. Children learn each letter is represented by a corresponding sound. These skills are taught simulataneously in whole- and small-group settings in the classroom with activities and games that continually reinforce and review letters and initial sounds.
Once a child understands letter/sound correspondence, he can begin learning how to decode (sound out) words. Phonics instruction at this stage of the reading process includes teaching children how to look at a word, say the sound for each letter in the word, then blend the sounds to make the word. This takes much practice and reinforcement before children can read independently. Teachers help children decode with activities that provide provide practice in phoneme segmentation. Reading actually begins once a child can quickly break the word down to its specific sounds, hear and recognize the sounds, then produce the word.
As children begin to read books on their instructional level in the classroom, their vocabulary should increase. Phonics is important in vocabulary development because it teaches children spelling patterns that will help them sound out unfamiliar words they encounter. This enables students to remember these words when they see them again as they read more books.
Fluency is the ability to read accurately with smoothness and expression. Mastery of phonics is crucial for fluency. If a child has to spend a disproportionate amount of time decoding words, then the meaning of the story will be lost for him. Emphasis on mastery of phonics in the classroom has a direct impact on the development of fluency and comprehension.
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