A Step at a Time

Synthetic Phonics

Different Methods to Teach Literacy

There has always been great debate over which method is best when teaching children to read. I personally believe that it is up to the individual to decide which method feels right to them.

Detailed below is some information about the different ways in which literacy can be taught.

Whole language

In a nutshell, whole language is teaching children to read for meaning. To begin with children are generally given high-quality, colourful books which contain a lot of repetitive text such as: 'I am skipping', 'I am drinking'. Due to the repetition the child is able to predict the words and over time will start to recognise these words instantly. The nouns or verbs that differ on each page can be predicted by looking at the colourful picture alongside the text.

The focus of reading with whole language is on gaining the correct meaning, therefore there is less concern with reading accuracy. So if a child misreads a word such as 'street' and instead replaces it with 'road', this would be considered fine as the miscue (the error) has not changed the meaning of the text.

Children taught by this method will recognise words by their general shape.

Here is an example of a book a new entrant child would be given when taught with whole language (and mixed methods):

For more detailed information on whole language, you could visit the Wikipedia site through this link.

Mixed Methods or Balanced Approach

This is exactly what it sounds like, a mixture of methods. This is the most common way that literacy is taught today among English speaking countries, except for England who made it policy to use synthetic phonics in 2007.

Children are taught using a mixture of whole language and phonics (such as embedded, analytical and analogy phonics). For more information about the phonics methods used please see our The Different Types of Phonics link.

When a child (being taught with mixed methods) first learns to read books, which will probably be on their first day of school, the child will read using whole language skills. With mixed methods, however, importance is also placed on the child learning other skills such as the sounds of the language and how words work. So as they progress they will use both phonics and whole language skills.

Of course each teacher teaches differently. So mixed methods isn't clear cut. Some teachers will use mainly phonics with a little whole language, or the opposite. It comes down to the personal experience and preference of teachers and their principals.

Synthetic Phonics

Synthetic phonics is pretty much the complete opposite of whole language in that children are not expected to recognise whole words. Instead they are taught the 'nuts and bolts' of the language, the sounds and rules, the pieces that make up words. Synthetically taught children also learn to read and spell at the same time.

Once the children know a few sounds they can be taught to blend those sounds together to form words. For example, if the children have been taught the sounds c, a, t, d, o and g they can practice reading words that contain those sounds: 'cat', 'dot', 'cot', 'dog', 'tag' simply by blending those sounds together e.g. c-a-t = cat. At this point, children might be given little books. Some books even have the picture on the back of the page which means that the child cannot predict the word by looking at the picture. Instead they can turn the page to confirm what they have read. Below is a picture of a possible book:

As the children are exposed to the same words again and again they start to recognise them instantly - they do not carry on sounding out words forever!

Children are never expected to independently read words that contain unknown sounds. If the book they are reading contains a word that is either irregular or that contains an unknown sound, the teacher will explain the new sound or irregular part and then the child will sound it out and blend it as normal.

For more information on synthetic phonics, you could visit this link or visit our 'My Personal Preference' page.


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The Different Types of Phonics

Different Methods to Teach Literacy

The Sounds of the English Language

Learning to Spell

Spelling Rules

Literacy Curriculums

Free Online Games

My Personal Preference

Teaching Preschool Children

Re-teaching Struggling Students

Homeschooled Children

Links and Extra Information

Printable Worksheets and Resources



Please find below a list of website links that provide free printable books:

*Hubbards Cupboard


*Enchanted Learning

*First School

*Professor Garfield


*Making Learning Fun



*Learning Island

*Christian Preschool



*Reading A to Z

Phonics Based or Decodable Readers

*Early Reading


*Free Reading