Cynthia D. Bertelsen
Lessie L. Cochran
"Whether teacher prepared or commercially published, there is one thing of which you can be assured: Today's reading programs will include phonics."
Dorothy Strickland, Teaching Phonics Today
This quote from Strickland's 1998 book still holds true. But why do we teach phonics? In response, teachers might give a variety of reasons. One possible reason that phonics is incorporated into early reading instruction might be a response to government mandates. For example, in the state of Ohio, USA, the legislature requires that all teachers in the primary grades include phonics as one component of the reading program. This mandate, however, should not be perceived as the sole purpose for implementing phonics. We contend that phonics knowledge provides a foundation for children's early reading development since "the ultimate purpose of phonics instruction is to help children acquire the ability to read and write" (Savage, 2001, p. 98).
Children acquire phonics knowledge either through a whole-to-parts-to-whole or a parts-to- whole approach. There has been much discussion regarding the most effective way to teach phonics, but research has shown that whole-to-parts-to-whole strategies help students understand why the skills are being taught, how they make the task of reading easier and more enjoyable, and how reading can be a beneficial and enjoyable recreational activity (Reutzel & Cooter, 1999, p. 20).
Dahl, Scharer, Lawson, and Grogan's (2001) research in first-grade classrooms describes ways to teach phonics through an "in context" approach that is connected to a child's own reading and writing. In this approach,
Strickland (1998) also supports the notion that phonics instruction is connected to children's reading and writing.
Knowledge about the writing process and its relation to reading has led to new understandings about how young children's early writing can promote the development of phonics. It also reveals how children's attempts to spell can be used to monitor what they know about phonics as well as how they put this knowledge to use." (p. 47)
Conversely, having phonics knowledge can assist students with the writing process. Initially, young children may use phonics to write with invented spelling. Their use of sounds in spelling demonstrates the clear connection phonics has to writing.
Note, however, that phonics is one cueing system that may be either overemphasized or overlooked by students when they correct their work. Once student writers have formulated their thoughts on paper, teachers can use spelling errors and reading miscues to determine what phonics knowledge the students are missing and instruct them to correct their own errors.
Phonics knowledge in the young child can be an excellent predictor of later reading success. Research by Stanovich (1986) indicated that the "rich get richer" and the "poor get poorer"--that is, children who are early successful decoders read more and improve in reading, while those who have difficulties decoding read less fall increasingly behind in terms of reading ability. Likewise, Juel (1988) revealed "a high probability that a child who is a poor reader at the end of first grade would still be a poor reader at the end of fourth grade (p. 444). Children who do not get early strong phonics instruction early on may continue to struggle with reading and have reading problems into adulthood, while their peers with strong phonics and reading foundations will use this knowledge to surpass the poor readers.
Noteworthy is the fact that numerous education organizations, including the International Reading Association (IRA) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) have indicated the importance of teaching young children to read and write. In their joint position statement, both IRA and NAEYC believe that “it is essential and urgent to teach children to read and write competently, enabling them to achieve today’s high standards of literacy” (p. 196). They advocate “reading approaches that favor some type of systematic code instruction along with meaningful connected reading report children’s superior progress in reading. Instruction should aim to teach the important letter-sound relationships, which once learned are practiced through having many opportunities to read” (p. 205).
The International Reading Association also developed a position statement on phonics. This statement entitled, “The Role of Phonics in Reading Instruction: A Position Statement of the International Reading Association” (1997; cited in Savage, 2001, p. 92-95) supports Strickland’s view and emphasizes that phonics instruction should be a component of any reading program.
Phonics instruction in these technological times means computers, and the Internet can be a valuable resource to teachers who wish to provide drill-and-practice opportunities, particularly for students who seem unmotivated to learn. Of course, not all websites are created equal. Some sites are nothing more than advertisements for the latest phonics instruction products. Phonics websites should be evaluated to determine whether they are likely to capture students' interest, hold their attention, and provide phonics knowledge at the same time.
The following websites were evaluated using rubrics created by the authors. The two classroom teachers designed a teacher rubric based on their own research and experience. This first rubric had 10 categories: content, content accuracy, spelling/grammar, site layout, graphics/colors, links, additional contact information, last updates, reference to national or state standards, and extension to other environments. After receiving the teacher rubric from the two classroom teachers, the two university faculty members reviewed and modified it to make a student rubric. This second rubric addressed the unique characteristics of children and was student-friendly. It also contained ten categories: content, content accuracy, spelling/grammar, site layout, and graphics/colors were retained from the teacher rubric while directions, speed of presentation, feedback, activity completion, and parent or teacher links were the new additions.
Independently, each author evaluated the list of sites to determine their top choices from their own perspectives one coming from the general education perspective, a second from the special education perspective, a third from the primary (1-3) grades perspective and a final from the middle (4-6) grades perspective. During a shared meeting, the authors found that they had at least five common web sites ranked within their combined lists. From these rubrics, the following top sites were ranked from most to least useful for teachers and students.
Websites for Children
GameGoo: Learning That Sticks
This site features a kids page with 15 colorful activity links divided into three levels: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Most of the activities use phonic elements, such as alphabetic order, letter recognition, letter-sound correspondence, and spelling. Children with special needs may find this site engaging and beneficial with its link to the Earobics Literacy site, which provides voice-output for unknown words along with colorful illustrations.
Between the Lions
A colorful, interactive site with multiple games to keep children engaged, Between the Lions is an excellent resource for teachers, parents, and elementary children. This website offers a wealth of information about specific phonics skills and features many easily accessible activities that contain words and phonics. Each of the games provides visual and auditory assistance for those who have cognitive and learning difficulties.
Chateau Meddybemps: Fun With Letters
This site features stories and activities that introduce and reinforce letter recognition and formation. Also included on the site is a writer's workshop area that provides pages for creating stories.
Words and Pictures
Along with providing games and activities, this resource identifies the United Kingdom's National Curriculum Standards, which can assist teachers in developing lesson plans and curriculum. (One drawback for American children could be that British spellings and pronunciations are used throughout the site.
Websites for Teachers
A-Z Teachers Stuff Network
This site provides a wealth of information for individuals who are looking for lesson plans and resources. Teachers can explore articles, access teaching tips, and review lesson plans. A discussion forum is also available for educators to interact and share topics of interest. The site includes a theme index for planning lessons pertaining to specific subject areas. Many of the lesson plans include adaptations or modifications for students with special needs.
The section of this site called In the Classroom provides numerous links to phonics strategies that support literacy learning (especially reading word analysis) for kindergarten through grade 3. Each link contains a lesson plan representing a single strategy, with modifications and additional help for struggling students. The lessons follow the California Content Standards. Visitors to the site are encouraged to send their own lesson plans for inclusion.
This site features primarily activities and resources for kindergarten to grade 2. The Teacher Resources and Online Resource Center links provide phonics connections that can be used in the classroom or at home. A section called Clifford the Big Red Dog contains multiple activities for students. Many stories have phonics games and activities that are reproducible.
This site is adapted from a booklet entitled, "Activities for Reading and Writing Fun." It contains lesson plans with objectives, materials, and easy-to-follow procedures for both teachers and parents. The lesson plans are grouped in three levels: Early Years (birth to preschool); Beginning to Read (preschool to grade 2); and Encouraging the Young Reader (grades 3-6). It contains additional links that include a suggested reading list, a downloadable reading and vocabulary log, and a professional resource list. This website was developed in response to former president Bill Clinton's education initiative, the America Reads Challenge.
The EFL Playhouse: A Resource for Teachers of Young Learners
Based on a teacher's international experience, this site was developed as a resource for early childhood teachers and parents. Multiple opportunities are available to access lists of links on particular topics (phonemic awareness, tongue-twisters, and teaching tips) related to early literacy activities and resources. Many of these activities can be downloaded. Individuals also have the chance to submit their own ideas for inclusion at this site.
This site includes elementary resources such as lesson plans, songs, and poems; various links catalogued by subjects, topics, and themes; and ongoing opportunities to discuss and submit ideas regarding the education of young children. The Beginning Reading and Writing section features an array of activities that embed phonics in early literacy lesson plans.
4 Blocks Literacy Framework:Working With Words
This site was developed by the Kankakee School District (Illinois, USA) to provide assistance to its teachers when it implemented the four blocks approach to literacy learning (Cunningham, Hall, & Sigmon, 1999). Phonics is embedded within the Working With Words block. Individuals can link to additional pages, which contain multiple lesson plans. Information is designed for children up to grade 3.
Dahl, K.L, Scharer, P.L., Lawson, L.L., & Grogan, P.R. (2001). Rethinking phonics: Making the best teaching decisions. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
International Reading Association (1998). Learning to read and write: Developmentally appropriate practices for young children. A joint position statement of the International Reading Association (IRA) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). The Reading Teacher, 52(2) 193-216.
International Reading Association (1997). The Role of Phonics in Reading Instruction (1997). A Position Statement from the Board of Directors of the International Reading Association. In J.F. Savage (2001). Sound it out! Phonics in a balanced reading program (pp. 92-95). Boston, MA: McGraw Hill.
Juel, C. (1988). Learning to read and write: A longitudinal study of fifty-four children from first through fourth grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80(4), 437-447.
Reutzel, D.R., & Cooter, R.B., Jr. (1999). Balanced reading strategies and practices: Assessing and assisting readers with special needs. Columbus, OH: Merrill.
Savage, J.F. (2001). Sound it out! Phonics in a balanced reading program. Boston, MA: McGraw Hill.
Stanovich, K.E. (1986). Matthew effects in reading: Some consequences of individual differences in the acquisition of literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 21.
Strickland, D. (1998). Teaching phonics today: A primer for educators. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
About the Authors
Cynthia D. Bertelsen is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Teaching and Learning, College of Education and Human Development at Bowling Green State University. She teaches undergraduate and graduate literacy courses. Her research interests include assessment and literacy learning of young children.
Susan Kauffman is an upper elementary (grades 4-6) classroom teacher in the Plains Local School District in New Albany, Ohio. She received her Masters Degree in Reading at Bowling Green State University.
Krista Howard is a lower elementary (grades 1-3) classroom teacher in the Plains Local School District in New Albany, Ohio. She received her Masters Degree in Reading at Bowling Green State University.
Lessie L. Cochran is an Associate Professor in the Division of Intervention Services, College of Education and Human Development at Bowling Green State University. She teaches undergraduate and graduate special education courses. Her research interests include education and literacy issues of diverse populations.
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For an index of Electronic Classroom Web Watches, click here.
Citation: Bertelsen, C.D., Kauffman, S., Howard, K., & Cochran, L.L. (2003, July/August). Web watch: Phonics websites. Reading Online, 7(1). Available: http://www.readingonline.org/electronic/elec_index.asp?HREF=webwatch/phonics/index.html
Reading Online, www.readingonline.org
Posted July 2003
© 2003 International Reading Association, Inc. ISSN 1096-1232