Whole Language Teaching Method

The whole language method of teaching children to read began to emerge in the 1970s. It became a very popular method of teaching reading in the 1980s and the 1990s.

This methodology involves teaching reading skills in the context of interesting and stimulating literature. Supporters of this method believe children will learn to read naturally, just as they learn to talk and walk. By immersing children in good books, you can produce fluent and capable readers.

Teaching Principles

  • In the whole language approach reading should not be taught, but rather acquired through trial and error. The teacher facilitates the learning process, but provides little direct instruction.

  • Literature is used to excite the child about learning to read so that the child begins to memorise the many words he sees in books. Phonics is also taught, but within the context of the book being read. The teacher aims to point out phonic connections as they appear in the text.

  • There is an emphasis on comprehension as the ultimate goal of reading. It is considered more important that a child accurately understands the meaning of what he is reading, even if he does not recognise every individual word accurately.

  • Children are encouraged to guess unfamiliar words using picture or context clues.

  • Children are also encouraged to use invented spelling to write their own stories.


  • Children are exposed to outstanding children’s literature from the very beginning of their reading experiences. They are not asked to read artificially simplified or contrived language. This makes reading more interesting for them.

  • They have a better understanding of what they are reading, and a more interesting and creative approach to reading.

  • There are no lists of sounds or rules to be learnt.

  • Children are able to observe real reading behaviours in non-threatening situations and to imitate such behaviours without fear or shame.


  • Children do not get a full phonic foundation and so are unable to decipher unfamiliar words.

  • Accuracy and correctness can be overlooked. A child might be praised for overall language use, even if he has misspelled many words.

  • There is a lack of structure in this method of teaching which puts a heavy burden on the teacher to develop their own curriculum and may be difficult for children who prefer a more organised way of learning.

Examples of programmes

Whole language is not a structured teaching method and therefore does not lend itself to the development of programmes easy for parents to follow at home. There are therefore few programmes available focused purely on this method of teaching.

Most good programmes which could be followed at home advocate teaching both whole language and phonics in a combined, balanced approach. Here you can find examples of programmes offering a combined approach to whole language and phonics.

Reading Practice

Books for beginner readers which support this 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, or any other, teaching method, please do share your experiences - good and bad - with other visitors of this site.

You may also like:

Early Reader Books
Early Reader Books with Authentic Text
sight word games
Sight Word Games
early reading games
Early Reading Games
Preschool Books
Preschool Books

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