The quest for literacy (part two)

Q: What Phonics Instruction Resources Should I Use?

We can see a plethora of phonics products available in bookstores, particularly in the children’s books or language arts departments. Unless you are well-versed in phonics instruction and have worked out your own phonics strategy, it is not always a good idea to randomly pick up phonics aids sold in the stores or catalogs even. Here’s some of the reasons why: many such items sold at the bookstores or supermarkets, eg. phonic cards are either not soundly presented, or they are likely to be so incomplete in presenting the sounds and phonic rules as to be a waste of money. Other aids such as spelling links or magnetic word tiles are mostly presented in upper case alphabet only, making it confusing for the child who sees most words in books in lowercase. Many of these magnetic phonic word tiles have so few pieces that it actually hampers rather aids phonic instruction. Buying phonics cards and readers in a piecemeal way is time-consuming for the parent who must fiddle with assorted aids during his/her phonics presentation, assuming he/she has the strategy all worked out.

It may then be better to use one of the many available complete phonics products with good proven track records of reading success and satisfied parents. Parents and teachers can use these phonics products to teach essential decoding skills, which students need to become competent readers. Check out the product to see if the product was developed by an established reading authority and proven success of its instructional method.

Before you start picking out your phonics resources and materials, check out these tips given by Dr. Patrick Groff, Professor Emeritus San Diego State University in “A Return to Scientific Reading Instruction” and do avail yourself to this excellent Reading Treehouse website by speech and language pathologist Ruth Jurey, URL:  


1.Development of beginning readers’ phonemic awareness (PA) should be carried out in an “explicit” manner. This instruction thus should focus “on one or two skills” of PA at a time. Moreover, speech “sounds need to be overlearned so that children can work with them automatically” (i.e., quickly and accurately). Teaching children in “small groups” is “the best way” to develop their PA.

2.The “hallmark” of successful instruction of phonics information is:

— Instruction of “a planned, sequential set of phonic elements.” These are letters, speech sounds, and generalizations about how letters represent speech sounds (the alphabetic code);

— Teaching “these elements explicitly and systematically”;

— Instruction intensive enough that children “acquire sufficient knowledge and use of the alphabetic code”; and,

— Training in phonics information that “begins in kindergarten or 1st grade”

3.Children’s reading fluency is best improved by teacher “guided oral reading procedures” and “feedback.” On the other hand, experimental research “has not yet demonstrated” in “a clear and convincing manner” if students’ silent reading, “individually on their own with little or no specific feedback,” has the same effect.

4.Children “who are not explicitly taught” reading comprehension procedures “are unlikely to learn, develop, or use them spontaneously.” Therefore, teachers are advised they can increase students’ reading comprehension best “by explaining fully what it is they are teaching:

— what to do, why, how, and when;

— by modeling their own thinking processes;

— by encouraging children to ask questions and discuss possible answers among themselves”;

— and by assigning reading tasks “that demand active involvement” by students.

This direct and systematic method of instruction particularly is effective when students are taught “a variety of reading comprehension strategies” (techniques for gaining an understanding of meanings that authors wish to transmit).

Here are some reading resources you might want to check out:

1. Karl Bunday’s resource best gives a discriminating selection of phonetic instructional materials. See

2. For a huge resource list of Phonics Products for Home Use Prepared by The National Right to Read Foundation. Prices are indicated. Go to URL:

3. Pathway Phonics is recommended as a cheap and effective program by Jessie Wise in Teaching Reading: Phonics Programs That Work  and is available online from Rainbow Resources at Also available from Rainbow Resource are MCP Phonics/Explode the Code workbooks/Alphaphonics/Saxon/ Reading Reflex and many other popular products. 

4. Ruth Beechick’s 3Rs is a really nice, understandable and do-it-yourself homeschool guide to reading and writing (arithmetic as well) instruction. And these are as cheap as guides come. Dr Beechick’s is famous for her practical experience and common sense in the business of teaching children, and dedication to the idea of parents teaching their children at home. The Three R’s gives guidance for teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic in Kindergarten through third grade. She explains the stages of reading, presents a simple but effective method of teaching phonics to children; goes beyond phonics to explain how to attain fluency. And her other book “Language and Thinking for Young Children” takes literacy even further. Dr Beechick is also popular for her natural method of using literature to teach spelling and writing mechanics (on which the program Learning Language Arts Through Literature is based). I found her little concise booklets very readable but thought the book to be too “bare-bones” and her phonics charts and presentation incomplete to use over the long term. For more info see’s

5. See also Christine Miller’s recommendations at her Classical Homeschooling Website at She reviews and recommends the following well-established sources for phonic instruction:

–The Writing Road to Reading ( Romalda Spaulding’s program based on Dr. Orton’s phonogram research) to be used in conjunction with one of the teacher’s helps listed below:

a. Teaching Reading at Home: A Supplement to WRTR by Wanda Sanseri plus the WISE Guide. The TRaH guides you in teaching spelling/phonics/handwriting using the WRTR method, step by step. The WISE Guide is set up as spelling lists of twenty words on each two page spread. It includes the words, sample sentences, how to mark each word and the applicable spelling rules as well as extra helps/suggestions for grammar and making it stick. On average, expect to spend 30-40 minutes a day on it. (This is one of the oldest programs around but I found it too difficult and tedious to use and sold it quickly.)

b. Reading Works by Jay W. Patterson. The first few lessons are scripted, but after that you are on your own. Email Patterson for brochure at (He is still working on his website)

c. Teacher’s Edition with Annual Lesson Plans by Mryna McCulloch  

— OR Phonics for Reading and Spelling by Bonnie Dettmer

— OR Saxon Phonics (also based on Dr. Orton’s phonogram research but tackles the learning of the phonograms in a completely different way and integrates the famous Saxon spiral approach)

— OR Discover Intensive Phonics for Yourself by Charlotte Lockhart

— OR Why Johnny Can’t Read by Rudolf Flesch (who shocked millions of parents and indicted most schools with his in 1955. Still available and useful for parents who want to make sure their children learn to read.)

6. Teach America To Read And Spell (T.A.T.R.A.S.) A complete phonics reading package, beginning with the alphabet; Kit includes complete Instructional Manual, Penny Primer, Exercise Books, TATRAS I & II Instructional Audio Cassettes on how to use the program, wide-lined writing paper pad, Flash Cards and Wooden Block Rack, Reading Record Sheets, Wall Chart, Pencils, and Pencil Gripper. The children are taught to correct their own dictation. Involves a lot of page flipping. Teaching follows this order: The Alphabet / Phonics facts / Manuscript letters / Phonics Habit / Instant recognition of most commonly used words (after decoded) / Reading text / Spelling / Writing. Following familiarity with the alphabet, the child is taught the phonograms, e.g., all the sounds of a /A/t cat; /AY/ ate; /AW/ all. Once they master these after five daily lessons, they learn to write it–first trace it on the “finger clock.” The program includes drilling the phonograms daily, dictation, copywork and spelling. Price $34.95 Purchase at… 

7. Sound Beginnings (Riggs’ Institute’s new step-by-step program put out by My Father’s House) a program similar to WRTR, has well scripted lessons to teach the phonograms, phonogram dictation, spelling dictation, and sentence dictation. Also included are worksheets that help with the spelling rules. You can also purchase a premade notebook to go along with the program. Integrated approach with handwriting exercises. Complete in itself, purchase of WRTR is not needed. Available from

8. For the latest thoroughly researched book on reading instruction, see the book “Why Our Children Can’t Read: And What We Can Do about It” by Diane McGuinness, Ph.D. Ms. McGuinness reviews the most up-to-date research on dyslexia, phonological awareness, the practice in most schools, and other vital subjects to provide parents and teachers with accurate, useful information about how to help learners learn to read.

I stick with and love using the Carmen and Geoffrey McGuinness reading program called READING REFLEX: The Foolproof Phono-Graphix Method for Teaching Your Child to Read, (Fireside, 1999) for my 3 year old. After just one week of painless 5-10 minute lessons on a daily basis, we completed the first phase of instruction and my son learnt to sound out virtually any three letter word. A couple of weeks, my son not only began to sound out four-letter words but also ventured to sound out and read the word “difficult” on his own. Suitable for the very young because of the use of large letter cards, BINGO games. Because of the authors’ concern with remedial work correcting poor readers, I feel the program “gets it right first time round”, it de-emphasizes rule memorization. Most phonic methods teach about 47 rules but the rules only work 40% of the time. However, see Jessie Wise’s criticisms of this program at RR is available from

9. Veritas Press Phonics Museum (VPPM) available from the from Veritas Press and online at Tel:  (800) 922-5082 . This covers phonics, writing (d’Nealian), spelling, some history and art. Slow starting pace beginning with alphabet sounds means that motivated 4 or 5 year olds can use the program with success. Homeschoolers go ga-ga over the fabulous readers…not your usual “the cat sat on the mat” variety. Kids love the packaged stories like “The Alphabet Quest,” about a little boy who visits a museum with his family and meets “Percival” a talking suit of armor that plays an alphabet game with him. Original CD songs. Fun components include beautiful quality art flash cards and there is a card stock stand up museum where art cards are placed after learning the sounds. (Note: Problem with integrated approach is that younger children generally do not have the fine motor skills for precursive workbooks). The Homeschool Kindergarten Kit is $95.00. Homeschool Kindergarten/Grade 1 Combo Kit is $150.00.

10. The Montessori Phonetic Reading Program on CD Rom.  Very innovative presentation using online tutor and the famous Montessori three-period lessons. Available from Montessori Educational Computer Systems (MECS), at  If you are interested in the Montessori method of achieving literacy, you may wish to look at the book “Montessori Read & Write : A Parent’s Guide to Literacy for Children” by Lynne Lawrence Lynne Lawrence, a leading Montessori practitioner. The guide shows you how you can teach your children to read and write using the famous Montessori method. Packed with ideas and age-specific and fun activities and games. The Montessori strength is that it takes a child on the straightest possible road to literacy, from those first steps in recognizing letters, sounds, and shapes through vocabulary-building and spelling competence to full reading fluency and creative writing skills.

11. Sing, Spell, Read and Write is the pricest but many say this the best, multisensory complete with tapes, wall charts -look, listen, point singalong and echo approach – carries the pricest tag too. Available from Rainbow Resource as well as Veritas Press catalogs.

12. Letterland phonics program very popular in the UK. Very complete. Starts from introduction of cutesy alphabet characters, and carries out instruction mainly through its colourful story-book readers. For more details see UK website Available through Japanese agent here at

13. These are the best manipulatives I’ve seen for phonogram work. The Touchphonics Magnetic Tile set includes 193 Magtiles, three pocket charts with grommets for hanging, a Teacher’s Guidebook, a Word List and a Videotape. Durable and textured tile version also available (for Montessori sensorial method). May be used with Ruth Beechick’s 3Rs or with Alphaphonics (the book, not the package) or any program for that matter. Purchase online from EPS or directly at If you would like to do phonics wordplay on a magnetic board, then I recommend the Hobnobbers Art easel, guaranteed to be indestructible (made of ceramic) extendable to four heights, very attractive and colorful, multipurpose (chalkboard, magnetic, usable with write and wipe pens, clip on top for attaching paint papers. Available from

14. Fundamentals curriculum for 2-6 yr old and Learning Fundamentals: Starting School (Learning Fundamentals Series)  by Accelerated Learning Systems (URL: available from Very systematic and parent-friendly instruction. Includes phonic cards, 400 key word cards, many more noun and verb word cards, spelling word lists, Bingo word and sentence cames. (However, this is MORE THAN a phonics program, 3Rs and much more included in this complete preschool program)

15. The Sonlight Curriculum Language Arts curricula includes a full complement of resources, instructional materials and schedules for everything from phonics-based reading instruction over several levels/grades, to spelling, handwriting, grammar, and vocabulary development. The curriculum follows Ruth Beechick’s “Natural Language” approach to Language Arts instruction and thus teaches the language arts by means of exercises based on the readaloud or read-for-themselves books that the children are to study in the curriculum package. Dictation assignments highlight phonics rules and very basic issues of grammar. Kindergarten students are offered instruction in the letter symbols and related sounds for consonants and short-vowels (mat, cat, bat, Bob, rob, sob, etc.) and given short, controlled-vocabulary readers that reinforce the specific letter sounds and letter combinations that they have been studying. Children practice handwriting and work on their letter-sound recognition through a variety of activities: a “Go Fish!”-style letter-recognition game, a BINGO-style game of the same nature, and several letter-and-sound recognition worksheets included with the manual. First Grade continues phonics instruction using Sonlight’s I Can Read It! phonics book and the child will be reading the carefully-controlled, phonically-correct stories in I Can Read It!. Beginning with short-a words only in the first lesson, this book progresses very methodically through all the short vowels, consonant blends, and so forth. The stories in the book actually have plots with real conflicts, climaxes, and conclusions and characters who actually do things. This phonically-correct period of instruction is then closed with an original reader called The Best Trick for additional practice in basic decoding skills. After The Best Trick, fun but sometimes phonically-“incorrect” Easy Reader books such as Dr Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham, Stop That Ball!, The Cat in the Hat, are used to more delightful practice reading. First grade includes, besides the phonics text, a “Go-Fish!”-style game that concentrates on basic consonant blends, and a BINGO-style game having to do with letter blends, clusters and sight words. In Second Grade the pace picks up moving the child on to more advanced phonics. The Explode the Code workbook-oriented series and the Wordly Wise (vocabulary building) series are also offered as options. A workbook approach to language arts instruction, the MCP Word Study D book and EPS Wordly Wise series carry on from where “natural language” activities and Explode the Code books leave off. Order online at

16. THE CARDEN READING METHOD An outstanding educator, Mae Carden opened the first Carden school in 1934 at 24 East 68th Street in New York City. Although Mae Cardon passed away, the Carden Reading Method and Curriculum continue to be used by a number of private schools in the US and elsewhere in the world. The Curriculum is an outstanding total language arts curriculum (see ) that assures comprehension by unifying the language arts; reading, spelling, speaking, listening, composition, and paragraph analysis and that emphasizes interrelationship of the content of subjects presented. It shows strengths in developing excellence of speaking vocabulary, diction and enunciation, clarity and fluency of expression. It uses a phonic basis to provide essential tools for decoding words while providing rich classical literature (including prose, poetry and drama) to be read to and by the student. It also teaches the application of rules of grammar, proper writing skills (Cursive writing, penmanship and composition). To find out about Carden’s SCHOOLING IN THE HOME WITH CARDEN program, refer to or contact: Carden Educational Foundation, P. O. Box 659, Brookfield, CT 06804-0659 /Call:  860-350-9885  /Fax:860-354-9812 /Email

17. See also Ann Zeis’ recommendations for reading programs at

18. Phonics Fundamentals NOT the same as the UK preschool program one above. This one is a reproducible workbook for reinforcing any other program. Carried by Veritas Press at

19. Oxford Reading Tree scheme (not an intensive phonics system but really a reading support scheme) see full description below.

Note: When choosing phonics products, determine whether you want to teach phonics decoding activities alongside of writing. Many of the products tie phonics instruction and writing skills together, especially in workbook style programs. Many teachers advocate that IT IS better to do both at the same time, because the writing reinforces the reading. But some parents like myself, may have a young eager reader on our hands and do not want to hold them back from reading notwithstanding their immature motor skills. Beware that products like WRTR, Explode the Code and MCP Plaid Phonics,Veritas Press Phonics Museum use an integrated approach.

20. English Land series by Longman which I think works best for a)  the Japanese context and for kids who come into little contact with native English speakers and who have to yet to learn the entire range of vocabulary for practical daily life b)  for kids (and teachers) who like workbooks as well as interactive stuff. The package is a comprehensive English language learning program. It incorporates phonics but is not a phonics program per se, it has whole language learning and other facets such as grammar instruction. Each level has a neat Student Book and Activity Book. These are colorful and many of the exercises is beautifully illustrated with Disney characters. Both workbooks incorporate phonics, contextual vocabulary learning, workbook style exercises with tracing and writing, draw-match-and-color exercises, speaking, singing and roleplay. Each book is accompanied by a DVD. It is easy to use for parent or teacher, instructions are straightforward and brief. Flashcards are an available option for the classroom (very nice too) but the Picture Dictionary is the other main thing you will want to get. It covers really useful topics beginning with the alphabet-numbers-colors under the sea-colorful sea creatures-vegetable party-fruit in the gym-our busy town-getting around-my family album-morning in the bathroom-and other activities in the home-out in space-the weather-spring on the farm-summer at the beach -fall in the forest – winter in the park- months and seasons-time and shapes-pirate ship-dinner at the restaurant-bears go camping-Picnic Lunch-Playtime in the Park-African Plains-Tropical Rainforests-Bugs-At the Doctor’s/Vet’s-Fairground-Growing Up —- 50 topics in all to introduced with activities/flashcard or board games/workbooks. In conjunction with this series, you can choose to have your child take the Cambridge Young Learners English Tests locally. There are many test centres in Japan and especially in Tokyo. Another plus is I have seen the series sold at most local bookstores in Japan so they are easily available. The website I think is

Q: Beyond phonics, how can I help my child become a fluent reader?

“Once beginning readers have acquired the skill of “mapping of print to speech” (phonological awareness and decoding ability) and strong word recognition ability, reading comprehension and other higher-order reading activities can then follow. To become skilful readers the child must learn to do this through practice that reading becomes so automatically and rapidly that it looks like the natural reading of whole words and not the sequential translation of letters into sounds and sounds into words.” Tips from “Reading: The First Chapter In Education” from the ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education, URL: 
  …IN OTHER WORDS, practice makes perfect.
To make reading a pleasurable activity for the child:

— Offer plenty of books with good story lines, quality beautiful illustrations (for the visual and very young child);

— Take care to select some in line with the child’s interests or passions, but also choose a wide ranging variety to stretch the child’s imagination and broaden the child’s knowledge and vocabulary;

— Make time to read to your child and read to him or her enthusiastically;

— Try to model a love for reading and be seen often with a book in hand. If one or both parents do not really like the habit, do not let the child know this. This is important. Should the child struggle during reading instruction, you do not want to have to deal with the excuse “but papa doesn’t like to read books either!” In our family, I made a pact with my husband that he was not to let on (at least not within the child’s hearing) that he was never an avid reader and did not like books growing up;

— Take the trouble to build up a good home collection, look up good booklists and be discriminating in your choice of books. In building up my son’s collection of books, I had made many lists of great children’s books, classic and award-winning. But I also made a chart of all the topics and areas that I wanted him to develop knowledge of, and subsequently spent a great deal of effort searching for books to match those areas. He would usually read books in order of ascending complexity on each topic, a first book with introductory pictures and few words, then a second and third book with more information;

— Encourage but do not force reading. Though I have taken great pains in building up my son’s books, I have not once had to ask him to read a book. The choice of which book to read has always been his own too. I do however sometimes secretly and artfully rearrange the display of his books around to introduce new books, or will leave a book that I want him to pick up – lying around on the sofa or somewhere conspicuous

Readers are sometimes hard to come by. Some parents are able to take their kids through reading (phonic) instruction activities and straightaway into reading children’s literature and classics. However, others like myself do look out for “in-between” books that will give reading practice to the words our children have learnt to sound out phonologically. One of the biggest problems of homeschoolers is the difficulty in finding intelligent and fun readers that kids will WANT to read. Since I use a phonics instruction program that comes without readers, I am constantly on the lookout for books that meet the three-word/four-word/vowel practice/consonant readers plus sight-word books. Such readers usually contain really inane words with little storyline interest and many do not have great illustrations at all. Cute cartoony pictures can sustain the interest of younger kids, but older kids will balk at reading such silly books. In Japanese bookstores, there is a new line of TOEIC-pegged books that are printed in Japan and now very affordable. They include many much-loved kiddy books, classics for children and Scholastics readers. 

Here are some sources for “readers for practice” that I have been able track down (in order of usefulness and quality):

1. The Oxford Reading Tree (ORT) is the UK’s favourite reading scheme and mine too. The core of the Oxford Reading Tree program are its graduated series of exciting and gorgeous readers, all beautifully illustrated in the traditional English line-and-watercolor style. Kids grow with the characters Biff, Chip, Kipper, and their dog Floppy and make reading progress through the fourteen stages of the series. Early on, the stories focus on situations children recognize from their own experiences, such as having a wobbly tooth, losing a favourite toy, and making a mess. The stories are carefully written using simple, natural-sounding language that children can understand. ‘Key’ words are repeated throughout the storybooks so that children gradually increase the number of words they can recognize and read. Wrens and Sparrows reader packages provide extra reading practice at the important stages; the Woodpeckers set develop the ability to link sounds and letters (phonics) and supports work on developing essential phonic skills through workbooks and anthologies of stories and rhyme; Robins, Jackdaws, and Woodpecker books provide a challenging read for fluent readers. With many intriguing titles such as “A Day in London”, “Victorian adventure”, “The Magic Door”, “King Arthur” this series is definitely not inane reading. One teacher in an international school here told me the teachers would fight to look at the latest readers when the packages arrived! ORT is a very complete reading program with a whole array of complements available: teaching guides, workbooks, alphabet friezes, the most glorious poetry anthologies. My only complaint, it has TOO MANY components and is very pricey. Still you can opt to buy just some of the books. See Available in Japan, download online or request for a catalog from OUP Tokyo / 2-4-8 Kaname-cho /Toshima-ku Tokyo / Tel: 03…; Fax:03-5995-3415

2. The Sonlight Curriculum Language Arts curricula includes short, controlled-vocabulary readers that reinforce the specific letter sounds and letter combinations that they have been studying. First Grade continues phonics instruction using self-published “I Can Read It! phonics book” and the child will be reading the carefully-controlled, phonically-correct stories in “I Can Read It!”. Beginning with short-a words only in the first lesson, this book progresses very methodically through all the short vowels, consonant blends, and so forth. The stories in the book actually have plots with real conflicts, climaxes, and conclusions and characters who actually do things. There is also an original reader called “The Best Trick” for additional practice in basic decoding skills. After The Best Trick, fun but sometimes phonically-“incorrect” Easy Reader books such as Dr Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham, Stop That Ball!, The Cat in the Hat, are used to more delightful practice reading. Order online at  

3. Miscellaneous readers for reading practice:

Bob Books for Beginning Readers (Scholastic), 3″x5″ little books in sets; black and white cute cartoons “Mac had a bag” ‘Mag had a rag” “Mac sat on the rat” and the like. Order from major catalogs, online bookstores

Phonics Practice Readers in sets (short vowel/long vowel/blends/digraphs) choose from series A or B. These are colour, cheaper than Bob books, and have lots of books in each set for lots of practice.

Available from from Montessori N’Such Catalog Order from Website: Fax: (703)205-0889 or email:

Abeka readers and Christian Liberty Readers, quite popular among homeschoolers are also reviewed at 

Abeka’s Basic Phonics Readers Set at $11.40 and other readers are available from Do a search for Reading.

Christian Liberty Press carries Adventures in Phonics workbook series (A and B), and several readers (Hearts & Hands $6.00, Kindergarten Phonics Readers (4 Books) $11.00; Lessons from the Farmyard $3.50, Meeting New Friends $6.00; Christian Liberty Nature Reader Book 1-5 $6.00/ $3.00 /$3.50 / $4.00 / $5.00 ; Beautiful Stories for Children $7.00; Child’s Life of Christ $3.95.) Available from

Phonics Readers by Modern Curriculum Press. Order from

Veritas Press Phonics Museum readers. Order their gorgeous readers separately from the program. Available from Veritas Press and online at

Beyond phonics instruction, your child will have to learn the most common words in the English language by sight. In order to read words, a reader must first see a word and then access its meaning in memory which means there should be a storehouse of vocabulary words in the child’s mind. For a start to developing Vocabulary / Sight words you can print out this online collection of 200 of the most common words in English, and stick them on word cards. Just about anything you will read is loaded with these common, often rule-breaking, words. “Jiffy Words” at  

Some good tips and readings on phonics are to be had at the Well Trained Mind website: Games to Play with Phonics; The Good Reader: Teaching Reading from Birth On; Why Whole Language Seems to Work for Some Children

1 thought on “The quest for literacy (part two)”

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