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With so many reading programs out on the market, many parents wonder: What makes for good reading instruction?

This checklist is based upon current research and best practices in the field of reading. As you flip through teacher manuals and look over websites to decide which program to use with your kids, see how many of the following components are found in the phonics program.

Remember, teaching a child to read is more than about sounding out letters to make up words. A quality reading program helps a child develop a positive attitude towards reading. Sound reading programs take about 3 years to fully teach.

Phonics Checklist

Pre-Reading Skills

  • Opportunities to enjoy read-aloud storybooks are built into the day
  • Children develop an appreciation for the flow of English language from left-right, top-bottom, and front-back
  • Identify consumer print, such as company logos and exit/stop signs, that builds an awareness that letters and words transmit meaning

Phonological Awareness Skills

  • Children are encouraged to speak clearly
  • Children are encouraged to have fun with language, such as making up nonsense words like you read in Dr. Seuss book
  • Songs, poems, and tongue twisters are used to have fun with language
  • Sound identification through
    • Rhyming
    • Matching
      Which word starts with the same first sound "bed", "bat", or "dog"
    • Segmenting
      Clap out the parts of the word with me: cup-cake; foot-ball
    • Blending
      What word do you get if you put the sounds "but" and "er" together?
    • Deletion
      If I have the word "cape"; what word to I get if I take away the /k/ sound?
    • Substitution
      Listen: I have the word "fish". What happens if I take away the /f/ sound and use the /d/ sound, instead?

Alphabetic Awareness and Phonics Skills

  • Introduce the alphabet, both upper- and lower-case letters
  • Know the names of each letter
  • Identify use and meaning of print found on signs, labels, calendars, and advertisements
  • Sound-letter identification, where sounds are introduced in a meaningful and systematic way
  • Uses meaningful pictures and color to connect a concrete object to a letter and the sound it makes, such as a picture of a frog to illustrate "F", "f", and the /f/ sound.
  • Practice activities that use word families and rhyming patterns
  • Activities that have children combine and change letters to change words and spelling patterns
  • Build phonics skills based on sound-spelling frequency, rather than where the letter falls in the alphabet. For example, short-a, b, d, m, and t are some of the most common single letter-sounds found in English and are generally introduced first.
  • Introduce sounds and words in a sequential manner over the course of 2-3 years
    • Short vowels and consonants, C-V-C words
    • Digraphs, such as ch, sh
    • Blends, such fl, gr
    • Silent-E combinations, C-V-C-e words
    • Long vowel sounds, such as ai, ie
    • Dipthongs, such as aw, oo
    • Controlled r, such as ar, or
    • Silent letters and word endings, such kn, -ed
  • Teach blending skills so that children learn how to properly sound out an entire word, such as ssssaaaat - ssaat - sat; rather than learning how to sound out the initial consonant sound and only attach it to a word ending, such as sssss-at.
  • Introduce sight words in small, meaningful portions, with no more than 5 new sight words a week


  • Practice reading new words until they are no longer sounded out
  • Practice reading controlled, decodable text, where the bulk of the words in early sentence reading practice focus on newly acquired phonics skills, rather than sight words
  • Practice reading predictable, patterned text, such as: The man had a pet cat. The man had a pet dog. The man had a pet bird.

Vocabulary and Comprehension

  • Practice reading sentences fluently while checking for meaning
  • Practice reading simple stories
  • Practice answer Who, What, and When questions relating to a story
  • Practice predicting story outcomes based on context clues


  • Practice forming proper letters
  • Practice spelling words
  • Opportunities to engage in proofreading activities that rely on someone else's writing mistakes, such as an editing worksheet

More Information


April 07, 2020


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