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  • Writer's pictureM. Kovack

"Is your Phonics Instruction Systematic, Explicit, & Cumulative? Here are 10 Ways to Make Sure It Is!"

In light of the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s Right to Read inquiry (OHRC, 2022) and the recent release of Ontario's new Language Arts Curriculum (2023), here are 10 easy ways to improve word recognition skills. Let's make phonics instruction easier, more systematic, explicit, efficient, effective, cumulative, and engaging!

This 90-min. schedule may be helpful to get started:

90-min. Daily Literacy Block Schedule
Download PDF • 305KB

1. Assess every student’s phonemic awareness level


Assess every student’s sound, letter, word reading, nonsense word reading, and oral reading fluency skills using the FREE Dibels 8 here: Or Acadience here:

2. Teach them how to print, and most importantly, how to connect sounds to letters. There are many little things that come up when doing this (e.g., confusing "h" and "n", forgetting the name of the letters when hearing the sounds, etc.). Here is another video that goes into detail about this (it is 12 minutes long - but covers all of the basic sounds and how to correct errors):

3. Find and use a good scope and sequence (example here - click on "Scopes & Sequences") and teach students to blend automatically and effortlessly, and to build words (working on whatever spelling pattern you note they need to work on from the above assessments).

Look on the "PURPLE PAGES" scope and sequence (see above link) and look beside “cvc words” to see which letters you can and cannot place after the short vowel.

Use these six strategies to help students move from having to sound out every letter separately, to simply reading the words instantly (blending). Blending is key!

You can also do this online using (create a card flipping activity using the “Randomness” activity). And finally, to make it more playful, have a contest to see who can “thump” on the table first when reading a “real” word. ; Kovack (2019)

Build Words, and/or do Word Chaining (e.g., change had to hat, change hat to cat, change cat to cap).

After building a few words, have students fill in the blank (have them say the "target" sound at the EXACT same time that they print it.

Popsicle stick word-building is fun and engaging too!

Kovack (2019)

4. Teach them to print words that contain the same spelling pattern by using this six-step sequence (it is called SOS – simultaneous oral spelling – this is an Orton-Gillingham approach that can be very challenging for some students, so follow the instructions carefully, and go slowly – scaffold scaffold scaffold!).

Kovack (2022)

Only real words should be printed – not nonsense words (nonsense words may be read during card flipping or assessment purposes, but not when printing).

Kovack (2019)

5. Dictate 3-5 sentences for students to write that contain words with the same spelling pattern as above (AND ONLY WHAT THEY HAVE BEEN PREVIOUSLY TAUGHT). Then say, “I see ___ things that could be better”. See if they can find and correct their own errors. Discuss capitals, punctuation at the end, commas, the 3 spelling rules, and/or grammar (nouns, verbs, etc.). NOTE: This is not intended to take the place of other writing activities (writing should take up at least 60% of instructional time). It is simply the best way to help students integrate spelling pattern knowledge (you will be surprised by how difficult it is for some students to spell words they have been studying in isolation when we ask them to write sentences that contain these same words!).

*You may have to draw lines for each word at first.

*Encourage them to 'visualize' the sentence.

6. Have them read decodable text (a book, a couple of sentences you wrote, etc.) that includes words with the same spelling pattern as above. Make sure they are understanding what they are reading too (talk about what you are reading, ask them ‘what/who/why/where do you think…?” kind of questions, have a little conversation). Just make sure that they are not using the pictures or context of the story to help them read the words. Instead, use the pictures and context of the story to help them understand what they are reading after they have read the words correctly. If there is a challenging word in the story that they have not been taught the spelling pattern for yet, just tell them the word, or say “oops! I haven’t taught you this yet, but (for example) ‘igh’ says /i/, so this word must say…?”

CLICK HERE (and click on DECODABLES) for my favourite decodable texts.

7. Have them re-read often and in many ways (shared reading, partner reading, choral reading, teacher-student reading, etc.) for fluency. Use text they can read with about 95% accuracy to build fluency.

8. Take the International Dyslexia Association’s (Ontario Branch) Basics of Decoding and Spelling course here:

It is easy, informative, relatively short (5 units x 3 hours/unit), and cost-effective ($75) - with very engaging quizzes! This will give you a solid foundation in the structure of the English language.

9. Keep a solid routine. Create a safe place to learn by keeping routines consistent. Reduce stress by keeping the order of the activities in your lessons the same every day. Same order, same timing, same activities. Different spelling pattern (or even the same one if not mastered yet, or if something needs review). Of course, break up the routine once and a while – just for fun. Or, change up the activity, just not the routine.

10. Smile and nod your head YES with your students a lot. Resist saying "nooooo!", no matter how friendly you sound. ;) You may see steam coming out their ears, so keep it as playful as possible. :) STOP if students seem like they are in a great deal of stress. REDUCE stress. Say something funny. Relate what you are learning to something they will understand. Take a break and look up images for the words you are studying. No one learns well when stressed! SMILE MORE. Everyone is doing their best. Including you. :)

Bonus idea:

As a game for students to practice and reinforce the spelling patterns that they are learning, (with full disclosure that I created these games), try Crazy Cards card games.

Click Here (and wait for a minute) for a FREE game to print, cut, and play!


Kovack, M. (31 Jan, 2019a). Gloria card flipping. Retrieved from

Kovack, M. (10 Feb, 2019b). Simultaneous Oral Spelling SOS with Gloria. Retrieved from

Ontario Language Arts Curriculum (2023). Retrieved from

Ontario Human Rights Commission (2022). Right to Read: Public inquiry into human rights issues affecting students with reading disabilities. Retrieved from

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