Phonics Instruction Strategies • The Best Methods from Grade University

Effective Phonic Teaching Strategies for ESL Teachers

Effective Phonic Teaching Strategies for ESL Teachers


  • Reading
  • Pronunciation
  • Cambridge English
  • Teaching qualifications
  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

Teaching phonics is both challenging and important. It is a difficult task because most students do not have a strong command of the English language. Above all, it is important as it defines students’ ability to read and speak  with the correct pronunciation. 

So, are there any strategies to teach phonics effectively and in a  fun way? Sure! 

Learn more about great teaching strategies!

Defining phonics

Phonics is one of several reading techniques for children, but unlike others, it focuses on matching letters to sounds. 

The goal is to teach  children the skills necessary to “decode” written information by assisting them with hearing, identifying, and using sounds to create various words in the English language. 

It is a tried-and-true method of teaching children to read and write, and it is taught to children in primary schools throughout the world.

Types of phonics

As you may know, spoken sounds (called phonemes) and the letter combinations that indicate sounds (graphemes) are the codes of the  language. 

In total, children must master 44 phonemes and graphemes in English in order to understand the language and, then, read! And, as we have discussed above, phonics is one of the most widely used ways to teach reading all around the world.

There are four major phonics instruction strategies:

  • Synthetic phonics
  • Analogy phonics
  • Analytic phonics
  • Embedded phonics

And now we are going to talk about them in more detail.

Synthetic/ Direct Phonics

Direct phonics put a great emphasis on detailed training of phonemes and mixing them to form words.

It is the most straightforward and systematic strategy to teach phonics.

How to teach? 

Through whole-class direct instruction, students can learn all 44 phonemes relatively fast. Phonemes and graphemes are taught separately, rather than as elements of words.

As students gain proficiency with each phoneme, the teacher creates planned lessons that entail mixing phonemes to form whole words.

In this way, if kids know the fundamental single-letter phonemes and the basic two-letter phonemes, they may begin blending them to produce the simplest words. 

Teach speaking effectively!

What are the advantages?

First of all, the direct approach gives a well-structured introduction to reading.

This framework guarantees that no phonemes or graphemes are neglected and that learners  receive comprehensive teaching.

Secondly, this method for teaching phonics is considered to be excellent for further language manipulation. The emphasis on blending and forming words with phonemes benefits young learners when they encounter new words or have to write them

Using this approach makes students used to the process of combining phonemes to form words.

Moreover, it has to be the most effective approach to teaching reading, according to academic research.

What are the disadvantages?

First of all, learning phonemes and graphemes is often done through focusing on the whole group rather than through differentiated and targeted training.

Also, phonemes and graphemes are learned out of context and by using unrelated words. This may sometimes become a source of confusion or at least make the lesson’s objective more vague. 

Analytic Phonics

Analytic phonics begins with recognizable words that pupils have memorized. The kids are then asked to decode and break down those words into phonemes during lessons. Words that undergo analysis often have a starting phoneme (onset) and an ending phoneme (rime).

Analytic phonics does not include memorizing letter sounds in isolation. Instead, young learners are taught to detect the starting and ending sounds of words without dividing them into their constituent sounds.

What distinguishes the  analytic approach from the synthetic approach is that phonemes are not taught in isolation. Furthermore, there is no synthetic phonics strategy of “blending” phonemes to “create” words.

How to teach? 

A teacher provides the common terms (sad, mad, bad, for instance). Students must then identify the common phoneme inside the words. 

The teacher will next provide several examples of words that have a similar phoneme/grapheme that is being taught to the students.

Children will learn to detect or “find” patterns in written language via examples, which will help them become better readers.

The basics of teaching English reading

What are the advantages?

To begin with, the sounds are taught as components of words rather than isolated and decontextualized sounds with the help of this phonics teaching strategy.

Also, teachers might begin with terms that children are already familiar with and make use of them as a springboard for future instruction.

Finally, whereas the synthetic technique focuses on encoding, the analytic method focuses on decoding, which is ideal for reading new and unfamiliar words.

What are the disadvantages?

For a start, children frequently get away with guessing phonemes. Instead of focusing on all the  phonemes in the word, they will know the beginning or rime only and guess the rest of the word.

Furthermore, some struggling students may fall behind and not grasp what they are supposed to do since instruction is not as organized and straightforward as in the synthetic method.

Analogy Phonics

Analogy phonics is essentially a subset of analytic phonics. They both concentrate on complete words and then break them down into phoneme and grapheme components.

What distinguishes analogy phonics is that it aims to expand a child's vocabulary of existing words by adding comparable (similar) ones. 

Teachers will frequently form word families and focus on words inside certain word families, attempting to pack those word families with as many words as possible.

What are the advantages?

First and foremost, this phonic teaching strategy develops children’s vocabulary. It allows you to begin with the familiar words and work your way up to unusual or less-known vocabulary.

Moreover, children have a chance to learn some new patterns in the English language by repeating and grouping words.

What are the disadvantages?

The cons here are pretty much the same as with analytic phonics. A guessing game, which students may often refer to, remains the main con of such phonic strategies.

Teach pronounciation with fun!

Embedded Phonics

Embedded phonics is the practice of teaching phonemes and graphemes as they appear at teachable moments in texts. 

It emphasizes learning to comprehend language through reading exercises rather than scripted instruction. It highlights the significance of contextual learning and continuing exposure to words.

How to teach? 

The teacher will undertake most or all of the reading at the start of an embedded phonics program. They will come across phonemes / graphemes that are especially interesting or reoccur throughout the reading session and will pay the students’ attention to them.

As students gain competence, the teacher increasingly transfers responsibilities to them. You may sit with a kid who reads a text, and when the child comes across a difficult word, you will make use of this chance to educate about the phoneme or grapheme that was unclear. 

What are the advantages?

For a start, such phonic strategies let the teacher contextualize the information about phonemes and graphemes and therefore make it more engaging for the students.

Secondly, once children have grasped the fundamentals of phonics, they require a lot of repetition – and when they run into problems, they want reinforcement on those problems. This is when embedded phonics comes in help.

What are the disadvantages?

The first drawback  is pretty similar to those we discussed while looking through the approaches mentioned above. Students are guessing rather than thinking about phonetics when they look at context to grasp a word.

Also, unfortunately, embedded phonics can’t remain the only way of instruction. At some point, kids will require direct, clear, and organized teaching which should have some resemblance to the direct phonics instruction strategies.

Upgrade your instructions!

Just do it: general recommendations

Now that we know about various ways to teach phonics, let’s move on to some tips on how to be successful in working with phonics

Use visual tools and make it playful

It is crucial to make it as visual as possible, especially if you are teaching children. 

Use your board, flashcards, videos and photos, play games and much more. Even the most boring aspects can be made more engaging with the use of modern teaching resources and methods for teaching phonics. 

It is even easier when it comes to online teaching, as the amount of available, useful and super fun resources is unbelievable!

Try to emphasize patterns

Try not to isolate phonemes and graphemes from the context. 

After all, your final aim is not only to teach the students how to pronounce a certain word correctly but also to develop their ability to see  patterns  and build analogies

By emphasizing certain patterns you teach your students to pronounce much more than one word, which is undoubtedly more effective. 

Use drilling

Never forget or underestimate the drilling stage. 

Good drilling is a guarantee that your students will remember the piece of information for a long time and will be able to effectively use it even after a while. 

Be attentive

Teaching phonemes and pronunciation training is especially important and requires extra attention from the teacher: some of the uncorrected mistakes may become fossilized and stay with the students even till the upper levels. 

That is why, the final aim of such lessons must be the ability to pronounce the sound and read with as few  mistakes as possible. 

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Vowels focus

Because almost every word in the English language contains  a vowel, teaching children vowel sounds is a fantastic point to start when developing phonics skills. 

In addition, vowels have short and long sounds that must be distinguished; therefore, this is a significant phonics skill to acquire. Learning vowel sounds early on provides young learners with solid phonics foundations that will make more sense when adding consonants to construct words.

Just do it fun: strategies for giving instructions

We have already discussed the importance of making your lessons engaging and fun. But what about effective and fun phonics instruction strategies? Let’s see.

Moving beads

When discussing segmenting a word into phonemes with your students, give them some extra visual help by putting big beads onto a piece of string which will be used to visualize segmentation. 

You may, for example, ask the students to segment the word “cat.” As they break up the sounds, they move a bead for each sound, so “c-a-t” would require three beads to be moved across. This is one of the best visual strategies to teach phonics.

Promise Box

Given that the 44 phonemes may be spelled in 120 distinct letter combinations, you will frequently ask your students to come up with a term that contains the proper phoneme. However, sometimes students struggle with a proper grapheme that represents a certain sound. 

Try noting words that caused confusion and after you discuss them with your students put them into the so-called “promise box”. 

It is called this way because you are going to come back to such digraphs, and the word put into the promise box will remind students that they have already seen such situations before. 

Wondering how to improve students' vocab?

Silly words

It may sound strange, but you may even incorporate the words that do not exist and it will become one of the most beloved ways to teach phonics!

It is a great strategy to test whether students just know the word very well or guess how to read it without implementing the rules that you have discussed. 

On the other hand, silly words make it easy to test your students’ reading skills


Rhyming is surely among the best methods for teaching phonics and practicing pronunciation of the same patterns in different words.

You may try creating a poem or a little song, or even try rhythmic pronunciation of certain words or phrases to make learning phonemes more engaging and memorable. It may also be described as a music drill. If you want to learn more about it, check the article below.

Learn everything about drilling!

Just don’t

We have talked about the recommendations that will make teaching phonemes easy and effective. 

However, there are some things that you definitely shouldn’t do in order to be successful in improving your students’ reading and pronunciation skills. 


If you catch yourself constantly making your students repeat some things after you without really explaining any system just because “you are right”, it is a sign that you are using parroting.

This term means that your students basically become “parrots” and simply repeat everything you say without any effort or having any thinking process. Needless to say, it’s not good and is definitely not effective, as students are unable to see any system hidden behind meaningless repetitions.


Having language intuition is great. However, sometimes, without proper explanations, it is the only thing that leads students through  their reading tasks, which is definitely not good.

 Every step of the studying process has to undergo the stage of a proper presentation and controlled practice. Pronunciation of certain sounds and reading are not exceptions. 


Sure, it’s hard to control your tongue when you hear a mistake: the instant need for help and improvement in a certain situation is a natural state of every teacher.

But be aware of the fact that constant interruptions  to correct every single pronunciation mistake make students less confident and willing to volunteer for the further tasks.

So, while your students practice their pronunciation you may practice the art of error correction at appropriate times with our courses for English teachers.  

More on how to correct the mistakes


To sum up, there are plenty of strategies on how to organize effective phonics teaching in your ESL classroom. The main aim of the teacher is to make it memorable, fun and effective, as it has further influence on your students’ ability to read. What strategies do you use? Don’t forget to share your ideas in the comment section!

Simple repetition after the teacher might be enough for good pronunciation.

 Isolated learning of phonemes is better than teaching through patterns.

Article authors & editors
  • Arina Kravchenko

    Arina Kravchenko


    Teacher of General English & IELTS



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