Reading Recipe: Phonics



There once was a man from Nantucket.
He liked to put words in his bucket.
He found some tonics for his phonics
that lay near the sea shore.
While he was there he asked for more
from a lady selling sea shells by the sea shore.
It turns out that she was related to a fellow
all dressing in yellow and mellow.
For he was picking and pecking peppers.
Now this young man sold the tonics for phonics
for you need phonic tonic to pickle peppers.
If you do not believe this tale is true
please read below or until you turn blue.


Linnea Ehri (2001) defines phonic instruction as, “Phonics instruction teaches beginning readers the alphabetic code and how to use this knowledge to read words (p. 394). Students receiving phonics instruction are practicing sounds for each letter and their blends with other letters. Hall and Moats describe what a strong phonics program looks like in the classroom, “… the letter-sound correspondence is taught early in the reading curriculum and applied to simple stories with those patterns; literature is read aloud to the children until they can sound words out” (p. 84). Debbie Miller writes about why she uses phonics in her classroom,“When children recite and read nursery rhymes, play with tongue twisters, and read snippets of text I’ve retyped from favorite read-alouds, they develop a sense of the predictability of language, the receptive nature of words, and the relationships between letters and sounds” (p. 50).

There is much debate about the place of phonics in education. Hall and Moats (2006) give an example of what a person might argue against phonic instruction, “… that it can replace or supplant good literature in the classroom, and children will not be motivated to read” (p. 85). Hall and Moats go on to say, ” If a code-emphasis program shortchanges literature or teaches skills in a disconnect way, the program is not well designed” (p. 86). Braunger and Lewis (2006) chime in on this debate and state, “At least it appears that phonemic awareness and phonic knowledge develop simultaneously as children have many varied experiences with print, supported by guided by a knowledgeable other” (p. 80). Phonics could be taught separately; however, phonics grows right alongside phonemic awareness.

Burns, Griffin, and Snow (1999) write on the topic of phonics, “Children who are first learning to read need appropriate help in understanding, learning, and using the spelling-sound conventions of the writing system, as well as opportunities to appreciate the information and pleasures offered by print” (p. 6). Burns, Griffin, and Snow (1999) give characteristics of a good reader:

  • understanding of the alphabetic system to identify text
  • use background knowledge to gain meaning from print
  • can read fluently.

When these goals are addressed and well integrated, readers gain proficiency in all of them (Burns, Griffin, and Snow, 1999)

Braunger, J., Lewis, J. (2006). Building a knowledge base in reading: Second edition. Newark DE:

International Reading Association, Urbana, IL: The National Council of Teachers of English.

Burns, S., Griffin, P., Snow, C. (1999). Starting out right: a guide to promoting children’s reading success. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Erwin, J. (2004). The classroom of choice: Giving students what they need to and getting what you want. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Hall, S., Moats, L. (2006). Straight talk about reading: How parents can make a difference during the early years. New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Miller, D. (2002). Reading with meaning: Teaching comprehension in the primary grades. Markham, CANADA: Pembroke Publishers Limited.

I hope you haven’t turned blue with our little tale about tonics for phonics.


Mrs. Berry


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