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Direct Phonics Instruction for Struggling Readers

As a special education teacher, I spend a lot of time focusing on foundational reading skills. Direct phonics instruction is a huge part of our day, and so important for my kids to learn how to be successful readers.

Although my students receive pull-out instruction for reading in the resource room, I try really hard to keep up with the grade level curriculum (Reading Wonders). I do admit that I'm about 3 weeks behind the gen ed classes for pacing.

I teach the same phonics patterns and follow the pacing from our Reading Wonders curriculum. I do make some adjustments as I feel it is necessary. Unit 1 Week 5 of Reading Wonders teaches S-Blends and R-Blends together. I felt like that was too much for my students so I divided the instruction into two weeks.

We start our weekly phonics instruction with a chart similar to this.

We practice reading the words together as a class. When I first introduce the words, I follow a "my turn, your turn" sequence. I first model for students how to blend the students and chunk any word patterns. I use a highlighter to show students the different chunks in words.

I use the same words for 2 days in a row (maybe 3 if they're extra tricky patterns). The first day we practice reading the words first as a whole group. Then I call on individual students to read the different colored rows and sometimes having them read columns just to keep them on their toes. :)

On the 2nd day, we practice reading the words but faster and with less support for me. After we've practiced reading words, students get to do their favorite part.

I call students up and give them a task such as "Circle the word in the purple row that rhymes with top." Not only are they having to practice their decoding skills, but they get to practice other skills as well. I'll use this time to practice things like:

*Deleting and inserting sounds in words
*Grammar such as nouns, verbs, or adjectives
*Categories like animals, body parts, etc.

My students love being called up to read and circle words, and I like that I can use this time to differentiate extra practice tailored to each student's needs.

Of course, phonics instruction wouldn't be complete without lots of practice experiencing words in different ways during small group. 

I love Sound Boxes for tricky patterns like blends since it forces students to really think about every sound in the word.

I use any extra quick moments I might have to throw in extra practice writing words and differentiating between patterns.

Of course, my students most favorite thing to do is play games. I've created a bunch of phonics games, like this Beach Days CVC Game, to give my students more practice while having fun. I love sneaky practice!

This Catching Insects game focuses on Short I words and is part of my Unit 1 Games for Reading Wonders. We use games like this weekly, and it's always a hit.

And none of this instruction would matter unless we put it into practice reading it in text. I use a lot of decodable readers and leveled readers from the Reading Wonders series, plus other books I find.

On this day, my friend here was sooooo distracted by everything that he couldn't focus on the words at all. Finally, I covered up the pictures so he could focus on the words and not the pictures. Success from a simple sheet of paper!

And there you go, a brief look at phonics instruction in my classroom and some of the tools I use. Next week, I'll be back with how I plan sight word instruction.


  1. Hey Angelia, This is Doris from Taiwan. I love your learning activities. Thanks for sharing such brilliant ideas! I teach English in elementary school, Taiwan. I've learn a lot from your blog. I added your blog to my favorite. Thanks again! And welcome to drop by mine:

    Have a nice day,
    Doris (Moji)

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