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Phonics, Fluency, and Vocabulary Expanding to the Next Level

Some of the most important skills for children to acquire in order to learn how to read and write are blending sounds, understanding sound-spelling patterns, and developing fluency and vocabulary.


Sound-Spelling Patterns

Children should learn the sounds of consonants and words that begin and end with those consonant sounds. Learning short and long vowel sounds is just as important, and often quite challenging for many students, especially English learners. Students then use these consonants and vowel sounds to form one, two, three, and multi-syllabic words. As children develop phonics and blending skills, they learn to build words that lead to creating simple sentences.


Words that rhyme and share syllables help students build their skills because they can learn to see patterns and read more words by changing just one letter, as in “can,” “man,” and “fan.” One way teachers and caregivers can teach this is by placing a syllable or phonics pattern on a card. Different cards with beginning sounds can then be placed in front of the syllable to form different words. (You may download a free Wheel of Phonemes Bulletin Board Kit here.) Using corresponding images helps students make a connection between the meaning of the word and the actual written word. Combining these pattern words with basic sight words allows students to see how words can join to create simple sentences.



Fluency and vocabulary are also pillars of foundational skills. Fluency means how fast and accurately someone reads a text, along with proper expression. There are expected fluency rates at different stages of a child’s life. Many struggling readers have low fluency because they don’t have a strong phonics foundation. Without knowing the sounds of letters, they often resort to memorizing words or guessing.


Multilingual learners may lack enough exposure to English, but can learn to read in their native language, then transfer many of those foundational skills to learning English. To build fluency, teachers and caregivers can read aloud to students to model proper phonetic skills, expression, and flow. Students can also listen to audio recordings of other people reading a text while following along, or pair up with a classmate or friend so they can learn from each other. And of course, the more students practice something—including reading—the better they will become at it.



As students develop their reading skills, they will simultaneously build vocabulary. Whereas spelling lists help students learn to spell words, vocabulary lists help students learn the meanings of words in context. Sometimes this will be academic vocabulary, such as words specific to assignment or test directions, or words related to a specific topic or subject area that would not normally be used in everyday conversation.


Younger students learn vocabulary words well by associating the word with an image, gesture, or other visual. Older students can create a glossary or word bank to use as a reference when reading or writing.


One effective way to teach vocabulary is through thematic units. These units incorporate vocabulary that can be used across different subject areas. Using vocabulary words in different contexts helps students remember the meanings of the words and expand on their knowledge of those words. Vocabulary words can also be organized into categories so students can learn relationships between words and meanings.


By developing phonics, fluency, and vocabulary through games, books, and programs like Vista’s Discover Phonics, children will be well on their way to having the right foundation to maintain and build upon their literacy skills throughout their entire lives.


By Angela Padron

Also read: The Impact of Fully Decodable Texts on Phonics Instruction

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