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Tips For Teaching Phonics

admin - Oct 07 2018

Phonics is a vital part in teaching English pronunciation and reading. Implementing phonics-learning into your lessons will give students the tools they need to decode the English language.  Phonics makes reading and spelling of words much easier and that is why it’s a very important part when teaching English to non-native speakers.


What is Phonics exactly?

Phonics is the separate sounds that letters make in a word. These are usually called phonemes. When reading we pronounce these separate sounds by putting them together forming a word.  


Reading phonetically vs Memorizing words:

When teaching an ESL student to read you can do it in two different ways.  Reading phonetically or reading by sight. When you teach reading phonetically, the student will decode words by using phonemes. But when you teach reading by sight, the student will memorize the shape of the word. When students only memorize words and what they look like, they will have difficulty decoding new words.  If a student knows phonetic sounds and they are presented with a new word, the student will be able to recognize the sounds the word is made of.  I recommend teaching phonic sounds!


Tips on teaching Phonics:

1.  Know phonics to teach phonics

Even though the alphabet has 26 letters there are 44 phonemes in total. Make sure you know how to pronounce these 44 phonemes and how they are used. Knowing phonics yourself will help your students also understand it better – here is a great website that list them :

The 44 Phonemes in English


2.  Don’t do it all at once

Divide phonemes into groups, most TEFL textbooks already do it for you. But if you are teaching your own topics divide phonics into groups and teach them gradually. Just like new vocabulary or sentence structures, you have to give the student time to practice and repeat.

Just like in the video link below, for teaching the Alphabet’s phonics sounds, it’s a great idea to say A is for apple -  /a/,  /a/,  /a/pple and so on.  Students have to learn three things at once – the alphabet song’s pronunciation, the phonic sound and a word that’s associated with the sound.  There’s a big debate whether this is too much information at a time for a young learner to learn.  But if you take it step by step, for example 5 sounds per class

Class 1 = a-e,

Class 2 = f-j,

Class 3 = k-o,

Class 4 = p-t,

Class 5 = u-z

Class 6 = Review a-z


Students will have time to review and practice and surely know the Alphabet and their phonetic sounds after revision and practice.


3.  Always start with the alphabet first.

If you are unfamiliar with the Alphabet’s phonic sounds have a look at the following video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BELlZKpi1Zs

If you have young learners who are only just starting to memorize the Alphabet, it’s a great idea to introduce the phonic sounds with the learning of the alphabet. Use upper case ‘ABC’ to say the long vowel sound (like in the Alphabet song) and use lower case ‘abc’ to say the phonetic sound of the letter.


4.  Activities for teaching Phonics:


Here are a list of activities that you can adjust according to skill level and age of your students. Remember that not all exercises have to be extremely difficult, keeping it easy and simple can increase your students’ confidence and motivation.


5.  Letters on the board

Teacher writes some letters/phonemes on the board. 

Teacher then says a word, for example: ‘duck’ ‘hop’ etc. Students have to try and spell the word by using only the sounds on the board. Let students write down the correct spelling. After 5-10 words, go through the spellings and sounds of each word. Try to avoid using too many different vowel sounds as it can be really challenging especially for younger students.



  • Phonics Bingo

This activity works exactly like the game Bingo but instead of numbers you use letters and sounds. 

Give each student a Bingo card that you’ve prepared before the time. Read out the phonetic sounds of the letters. Students have to recognize the sound and get three in a row to win the Bingo.  You can add the song to your lesson plan for fun!

  • Missing letter/sound

Write down a few words on the board go through the words with your students for example: dog, cat, log, mat. Let them close their eyes while you erase some of the letters:  _og, ca_, _og, _at.  Teacher says the word and students have to say the sound that’s missing – if your students can write the alphabet let them fill in the missing letter onto the board. Reward them for each correct answer, of course.


  • Short vowel practice

After introducing short vowel sounds you can do the following activity. Write down two short vowels on the board, if your students are at a higher level you can add more short vowels.  Draw a big circle around each vowel.  Teacher reads words and students have to point or throw a sticky ball at the short vowel that’s used in the word.


  • Red and Blue

Give each student a red and blue card. The red representing one sound for example: hard ‘g’ and the blue representing another sound for example soft ‘g’. Read hard and soft ‘g’ words and student has to raise the color that’s associated with the sound. Speed up reading the words to challenge your students or add ‘j’ into the mix.


There are many websites that can give you flashcards, worksheets and audios to practice phonics in your classroom.

Phonics Play

Kiz Phonics

Smart Kids

Star Fall


Also a wide variety of phonics tutorials and listening exercises are available on youtube, check out Turtle diary’s phonics videos on youtube:    

If you haven’t been focusing on Phonics in your TEFL classroom I really hope that these resources and information will give you that boost to start implementing it as soon as possible into your lesson plans.

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