Phonics vs Whole Language:
A Combined Approach

As the phonics vs whole language debate continues over the best method for teaching children to read, an increasingly popular approach is to combine both the phonics and the whole language methods.

phonics vs whole language

Children learn the letter sounds and how to blend them to form words, at the same time as reading good literature. Phonics is taught separately and systematically to children and not necessarily in the context of reading literature. But children are also exposed daily to good books which excite and stimulate them.

The aim is to try to achieve the best of both worlds. The phonics teaching should help to build better pronunciation and word recognition, while also assisting with spelling. At the same time the whole language approach provides a better understanding of the text, and a more interesting and creative approach to reading.

By using both methods of teaching you can also appeal to the different learning styles of children. Analytic and auditory learners are more likely to favour the phonics method and visual learners the whole language approach.

When using the phonics vs whole language combined approach, phonics is often taught in a fun way, using phonics games to reinforce lessons. Word families may also be taught to help children to recognise unfamiliar words quickly. In addition, the child will be introduced to excellent literature, such as these classic picture books or award winning books.

Examples of Programmes

  • Oxford Reading Tree offers a programme, popular in schools, which combines whole language and phonics using the Biff, Chip and Kipper book depository characters. The series of books is designed for young, beginner readers and is carefully levelled to ensure the gradual development of early reading skills. Initial books in the series have no words, encouraging children to create their own stories. Simple words are then introduced with lots of repetition. The stories have plotlines and nice illustrations and are popular with children. The philosophy is that while the language is predictable and follows the pictures, children can guess what they don't know and will learn that way.

  • Reading Their Way: A Balance of Phonics and Whole Language book depository by Dorothy J. Donat presents a balanced literacy program using the best of the phonics and whole language approaches. It is built around the four components of phonological awareness, phonics, contextual reading and writing. It includes fun phonological awareness activities, blending using word families and begins the reading of books as soon as the child starts to blend sounds into words.

  • Teach a Child to Read with Children’s Booksamazon by Mark Thogmartin offers an integrated approach to learning to read combining story reading, phonics, and writing. A phonics approach is proposed that uses the common, natural methods that novice readers use to decode words. An order of activities is also provided for a typical lesson.

Reading Practice

If you favour a combined phonics vs whole language approach for teaching your child to read, encourage your child to read early reader books which support both methods. This way they will practice their phonics skills while also building up a repertoire of sight words and learning to use picture clues to help focus on getting meaning from what they are reading.

Easy reader books based on phonics help your child practice specific phonics rules. Most of the words contained in these books can be sounded out using phonic rules. If your child comes across a word they do not know they can decode it by breaking the word down into units and blending together the sounds of each of these units.

Books for beginner readers which support the whole language approach of learning to read are known as authentic text early reader books. They contain short sentences written in simple language with some repeated phrases but are not written in order to practice specific phonics rules. Your child uses the pictures to help guess difficult words and through repeated readings starts to recognise words by sight.

Have Your Say

If you have tried teaching your child to read using this teaching method, please do share your experiences of teaching a combined phonics vs whole language approach - good and bad - with other visitors of this site.

You may also like:

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Teaching With Picture Books
Phonics Games
Phonics Games
Word Family Chart
Teaching Word Families
Childrens Picture Books
Children's Picture Books

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