How to Improve Phonics Skills

By Jennifer Zimmerman

Phonics skills are the skills used to decode or sound out words. Without phonics skills, it is nearly impossible, especially for children, to learn to read new words. Any practice that is done at home can help your child become a better reader.

Encourage your child to spell things for him or herself. When your child wants your help in spelling a word, stretch it out s - l - o - w - l - y so that your child can record a letter for each sound. This will help your child practice letter sound relationships, the basis for phonics skills.

Play language games. Even something as simple as guessing the beginning letter of long words can help your child improve his phonics skills.

Try out those phonics workbooks you see at the grocery store. If your child likes to do work in workbooks, especially if he is a first grader with an older sibling, these can be great practice. You can also ask your child's teacher for extra worksheets. To make it more fun, you can allow your child to color in the sheets or self-correct with your help.

Decode with the child. As you stumble over an obscure dinosaur name while reading a book to your dinosaur mad child, show her how you figured the word out. Have her look at the syllables with you.

Go on a chunk hunt. After a child grasps the principle of decoding, the next thing that can trip him up is noticing chunks - long vowel pairs like "ai", or the helper "e" at the end of a word. Print off some simple text or ask your child's teacher for extra copies of stories and then send your child a chunk hunt. Have her underline all the vowel pairs and then try reading the text to you. This really helps with long vowel decoding.

Use letter cards or letter blocks to make and change words. Starting with simple three letter words, ask your child to spell them out with letter cards or blocks. Then change one sound (from bat to bit, for example) and ask your child to change the corresponding card. As your child masters three letter words, move on to four letter words and then words with long vowels.

Go online. There are lots of sites that provide free phonics games. Generally kids find practicing skills on the computer way more fun than practicing with paper and pencil.

Make an alphabet book or another kind of sound book. Check some alphabet books out of the library and read them together. Then challenge your child to make his own. Allow him to look in library books for inspiration or focus on a particular topic he is especially interested in, for example, animals or trains. If your child is comfortable with the beginning sounds used in most alphabet books, have him make a book with ending sounds or long vowel sounds. He should print the word and the corresponding picture on each page.

About the Author

Jennifer Zimmerman is a former preschool and elementary teacher who has been writing professionally since 2007. She has written numerous articles for The Bump, Band Back Together, Prefab and other websites, and has edited scripts and reports for DWJ Television and Inversion Productions. She is a graduate of Boston University and Lewis and Clark College.