We can all agree that teaching phonics is important.
But there are SO many skills.
Which ones should we teach? And in what order?
Today we’ll look at my recommended order for teaching phonics skills.
Before we get into my recommended order, I want to be clear about a few things.
There is no perfect order for teaching phonics skills.
When choosing your own scope and sequence (mine or someone else’s), do make sure the scope and sequence has the following characteristics (from Wiley Blevins in his wonderful book, A Fresh Look at Phonics).
Qualities of a strong phonics scope and sequence
- It moves from the simplest to most complex skills and builds on previous learning.
- It allows words to be formed as soon as possible.
- It teaches more common sound-spellings before less common sound-spellings.
- It separates easily confused letters and sounds.
My recommended sequence does all of the above.
I’ve chosen to break this down into three levels. Technically these levels are kindergarten, first, and second grade, but students need to start where they ARE.
This may mean that you have a group of first graders who are starting in the middle of Level 1. You may also have kindergartners who move so quickly that they’re learning Level 2 skills before the kindergarten year ends.
I recommend assessing phonics knowledge with a quality phonics assessment (coming in a month or two!) and then forming small groups based on phonics knowledge.
Over the years I have recommended slightly different sequences for teaching consonant and vowel sounds.
However, since I am using the following sequence when writing my series of decodable books (coming soon!), this is what I recommend.
(Again, this isn’t sacred! Adjust accordingly, as long as you follow Wiley Blevins’ recommendations above.)
Consonants, short vowels, and common digraphs / VC and CVC words
s, j, a, t, p, m, d, c, h, r, n, i, b, f, g, k, -ck, o, l, e, sh, th, u, w, ch, wh, x, y, z, qu
Remember that digraphs are two letters that make one sound. The digraphs in the above list include -ck, sh, th, ch, and wh. “Qu” is technically a blend, but I usually include it with digraphs.
As you are teaching the above letters and sounds, teach your students to read VC (vowel-consonant) words like am and if. Teach them to read CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words like cat and pig. Since they are learning digraphs, you will also teach them to read words like rack and chin.
(We have a huge collection of free printables for teaching CVC words, which you can find here.)
Get our CVC decodable passages
Decodable Passages: CVC Words
Use these 23 decodable passages to help new readers develop fluency with CVC words. Each page includes blending practice, a short reading passage, a comprehension question, and spelling practice!
The floss rule says that when you spell the /f/, /s/, /l/, or /z/ sound after a short vowel in a single-syllable word, you usually double the final consonant.
“Floss” is a great way to remember this rule, but it doesn’t include the letter z. I love what Emily Gibbons does. She calls it “Zee floss rule” in a silly accent.
Examples: puff, fell, miss, jazz
(Check out my free FLOSS rule game here).
Simple 2-syllable compound words
Teach your students not to be afraid of big words! Now that they can read CVC words, know common digraphs, and understand the FLOSS rule, they can read compound words like catnip and bathtub.
These days some voices are telling us not to teach blends. One concern (as I understand it) is that we don’t want to teach blends as single chunks; children should simply sound out blends the way they do other letters – sound by sound.
I agree that we need to be careful; blends (sometimes called consonant clusters) are not digraphs. Each letter has its own sound. And it’s absolutely NOT necessary (indeed, it would be a huge waste of time) to teach each blend on its own.
But I still believe that specifically helping students notice blends, read words with blends, and spell words with blends, is good practice.
L-blends: bl-, cl-, fl-, gl-, pl-, sl-
R-blends: br-, cr-, dr-, fr-, gr-, pr-, tr-
S-blends: sc-, shr-, sk-, sm-, sn-, sp-, squ-, st-, sw-
-lp, -st, -ct, -pt, -sk, -lk, -lf, -xt, -ft, -nd, -mp, -st, -lt, -nch
(You can check out our free printables for teaching blends on this page.)
PHONICS books and games for blends & digraphs
Phonics Books & Games: Short Vowel Words with Blends & Digraphs
Grab this bundle of printable books and games for focused phonics practice with blends and digraphs! Get 42 printable books (both little books and side-staple books) in 3 color options. Also get a “book on a page” for each book – so students can read the books without pictures clues. For extra practice, print one of 68 no prep games.
-ng & -nk endings
These are often called “glued” or “welded” sounds. Consider teaching them in word families.
-ing, -ang, -ong, -ung, -ank, -ink, -onk, -unk
Long vowel/ending blend word families
In my Orton-Gillingham training these were called “kind, old words.” In these word families, the vowel makes a long sound instead of its expected short sound.
-ild, -old, -ind, -olt, -ost
Open & Closed syllable types
Believe it or not, you can teach this concept in kindergarten. Teach your students that when a syllable ends in a vowel, the door is open. The vowel shouts its name through the open door and makes its long sound (no, go, we, be, etc.).
When a syllable ends in a consonant, the vowel makes its short sound (cup, hen, sit, etc.).
Now that students understand open and closed syllables, they’re ready to practice syllable division – if that’s the route you want to go. This is a big thing in the Orton-Gillingham approach, but other approaches skip the division rules and teach a more loose and flexible approach to dividing words into syllables.
I don’t think that one way is necessarily superior to the other. If you decide to go the OG route, you’ll find syllable division principles below.
VC/CV syllable division
Help your students identify the vowels and then label the consonants between the vowels. They can then divide the word, identify the syllable types, and read.
This is NOT what students need to do every time they come upon a new word in their reading (absolutely not!), but the skill of identifying syllable types will come in very handy as they start to encounter longer words in reading and spelling.
Sample VC/CV words: napkin, muffin, bandit, instruct
V/CV and VC/V syllable division
These are a bit tricky because there is no set rule to tell us whether to divide after the first vowel or after the consonant.
However, the V/CV pattern is present about 75% of the time, so students should try that one first. After identifying the syllable types and reading the word, they can adjust accordingly.
V/CV examples: robot, tulip
VC/V examples: denim, visit, credit
Teach your students that the suffix -ed can represent /t/, /d/, or /id/.
I should note that in my decodable books I include words with the “ed” ending earlier in the sequence. That’s because books get very stilted when you try to avoid the “ed” ending.
In a decodable book I was writing the other day I wrote “Fox hugged his sis.” Otherwise I would have had to write “Fox did hug his sis,” and that just sounds weird.
CVCE (Magic e) words
Silent e has many uses. In Magic e words, it makes the preceding vowel say its long sound.
Sample words: bake, dime, theme, cute, hose
CVCE syllable type
Now that students can read CVCE words, they can read longer words that include this syllable type.
Examples: classmate, handmade, timeline
(This site is bursting with CVCE printables! Check them out here.)
Use this activity in Google Slides or Seesaw!
Pictures with Captions – CVCE Words – Google Slides & Seesaw Activity
With this no-print resource, students will read each caption and move it under the matching picture. Kids will get a lot of practice, as the activity includes 8 slides … a total of 32 captions to read and match!
Teach your students that when adding this ending, they either double the final consonant, drop the e, or make no change to the base word.
Less common digraphs and trigraphs
wr-, kn-, ph-, gh-, gn-, -mb, -tch, -dge
Common vowel teams
Vowel teams are two or more letters that combine to represent a vowel sound. One or more of the letters may actually be a consonant (as in the vowel team igh).
ee, ea, (eat), ai, ay, oa, ow (grow), oe, igh, y (dry), oo (zoo), oo (good)
(So many vowel team goodies on this site – check them out here.)
Vowel team syllable type
Students can divide longer words into syllables and read words with the vowel team syllable.
Sample words: hayseed, firewood, raindrop
Spelling with -k, -ke, and -ck
When you hear the /k/ sound at the end of a one syllable word, it is spelled with a k if it is preceded by a vowel that says its name (CVCE), is preceded by a double vowel, or is preceded by a consonant. The sound /k/ is spelled ck when preceded by a single, short vowel.
Sample words: bake, beak, ask, back
Some phonics scope and sequences introduce r-controlled vowels much earlier, and that’s completely fine. I chose to include them here because we are also focusing on syllable types, and we don’t want to overload students with all the syllable types too quickly.
Important: when counting phonemes (individual sounds) in words, count an r-controlled vowel as a SINGLE sound. It feels a little weird to do that, but it’s common practice.
er, ir, ur, ar, or
(You can find our r-controlled freebies here.)
WORD BUILDING ACTIVITY
R-Controlled Vowel Word Building – Google Slides & Seesaw Activity
Test your students’ knowledge of r-controlled vowels with this no-print word building activity!
R-Controlled vowels syllable type
Now students can read words like barnyard, mutter, and western.
More r-controlled vowels
-air, -are, -ear
Diphthongs and complex vowels
A diphthong is a vowel sound that glides in the middle. The mouth position shifts during the production of the single vowel phoneme. There is disagreement about which vowel combinations are diphthongs. For our purposes, I include the following.
aw, au, a (as in calm), oi, oy, ou, ow (as in cow)
Diphthong syllable type
Now students can read words like cookout, jawbone, and powder.
Note: Many programs include the diphthong syllable type WITH the vowel team syllable type, for a total of six instead of seven syllable types. I’ve done that myself with some printables I’ve made. It’s fine.
V/V syllable division principle
This is the least common syllable division occurrence. If you teach syllable division principles, now is a good time to teach this one.
Sample V/V words: cameo, diet, and fluid.
This is sometimes referred to as the final stable syllable.
-ble, -dle, -fle, -gle, -kle, -ple, -tle, -zle
Consonant-le syllable type
Students can read words like bottle, feeble, jingle, and turtle.
SYLLABLE TYPE MATCHING ACTIVITY
What’s the Syllable Type? – Google Slides & Seesaw
With this no-print activity, students will read the underlined syllable and identify its type. With a total of 20 slides and 6 examples on each slide, they’ll get loads of practice!
Words that end with y as long e
Examples: crispy, giddy, tardy, stubby
soft and hard c and g
When c is followed by e, i, or y, it usually makes its soft /s/ sound. When c is followed by any other letter, it usually makes its hard /k/ sound.
When g is followed by e, i, or y, it usually makes its soft /j/ sound. When g is followed by another letter, it usually makes its hard /g/ sound.
- Soft c words: brace, dance, rancid
- Hard c words: cage, cramp, cup
- Soft g words: age, giant, gerbil
- Hard g words: dog, gift, goat
Lesson common vowel teams
ui, ue, ew, eu, eigh, ei (vein), ei (ceiling), ie (thief), ie (pie), ey, ea (head), ea (break), ou (youth), y (gym)
Words with the schwa sound
The schwa is a muffled vowel sound that is only found in unstressed syllables. In fact, the schwa is actually the most common vowel sound of all. When students are decoding multisyllable words and the word doesn’t sound right, they should adjust the vowel sound in the unaccented syllable. It may just be a schwa!
Remember that the schwa sound is sort of a short u sound (as in tandem) or a short i sound (as in tablet).
Students should already be familiar with schwa, but it’s good practice to address it specifically.
Sample words: abode, bacon, happen, salad, trial
You have likely already taught these incidentally throughout the years, but just in case these skills need focused attention, you can teach them now.
ch (school), ch (machine), s – /z/
Words with prefixes
un-, re-, in-/im-/ill-, dis-, en-/em-, non-, in-/im-, over-, mis-, sub-, pre-, inter-, fore-, de-, trans-, super-, semi-, anti-, mid-, under-
Words with suffixes
-s/-es, -ed, -ing, -ly, -er/-or, -ion/-tion, -ation/-ition, -ible/-able, -al/-ial, -y, -ness, -ity/-ty, -ment, -ic, -ous/-eous/-ious, -en, -er, -ive/-ative, -ful,-less,-est
PREFIX & SUFFIX ACTIVITY FOR GOOGLE SLIDES OR SEESAW
Prefix-Suffix-Base Word – Google Slides & Seesaw Activity
Help your students master prefixes, suffixes, and base words with this engaging no-print activity!
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Check our the rest of our phonics series!