Phonics and Structural Analysis

Kathy Chen sits with a Big Book propped on one knee and seven of her first graders clustered on the floor in front of her. Pointing to each word, she reads, "...and he pulled the rabbit out of his..." She pauses and asks,
"Who can tell me the next word?" Four voices shout, "Hat!"
"Good," says Kathy. "Who can tell me why?"
"It's in the picture," one student answers.
"Yes, and what letter does hat begin with?" Kathy asks.
"H!"

"That's right," says Kathy. "Does anyone see another word that begins with h? Keesha, come and point to the word. Good! That word is his, and it begins with h. Let's all say his and hat out loud. Can you hear that they begin with the same sound?"

Kathy is taking advantage of a shared reading session to teach her students a lesson in decoding, the process of identifying the written form of a spoken word. She uses three types of cues. Semantics (meaning) and structural analysis help the students identify the word hat; phonics (letter-sound associations) help them learn to recognize hat, he and his. "All three ways of learning to read are essential," says Kathy. "Phonics can't stand alone."

Teacher Tip

Teaching Phonics in Sequence

Try this progression when teaching phonics:

  1. Alliteration, Rhyme, Onsets
    and Rimes
  2. Single Consonant Sounds
  3. Consonant Clusters (bl, gr, and sp)
  4. Consonant Digraphs (sh, ch, and th)
  5. Short Vowels
  6. Long Vowels
  7. Vowel or Vowel -- Consonant Pairs
    (oo, ew, oi, and oy)

Ideas for Teaching Phonics

Structural Analysis

In Julia Carriosa's fourth grade class, word skill instruction focuses on structural analysis, the process of using familiar word parts (base words, prefixes, and suffixes) to determine the meaning of unfamiliar words.

"By fourth grade, most of my students are already skilled at letter=sound associations," she says. "But they're now dealing with harder words, and even when they've pronounced a word correctly, they might not know what it means. So we focus on context clues and whatever meaning clues the word itself might contain."

Be sure your students understand that many prefixes and suffixes have more than one meaning, as in inactive and inroad, and that even when they know the correct meaning of an affix, they might still come up with an incorrect definition. Emphasize the importance of checking a word's context to see if their guessed meaning makes sense.

These checklists may be helpful in assessing your students' decoding skills.

Emergent Readers

Early/Fluent Readers

Teacher Tip

Structural Analysis and Phonics
Shared reading
Have students raise their hands during
a second reading when they hear a word
that contains a certain sound.
Guided reading
After finishing a story, have students
review it for compound words.
Shared writing
Have students compose a rhyming poem.
Writing aloud
Have students think aloud as they predict
how a word is spelled.


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