The paper “Teaching phonics in the National Literacy Stategy”, published by the UK’s Department for Education and Skills, is a very good discussion of various issues in phonics teaching. Although it is concerned with teaching phonics skills to native speakers of English, many of the points it makes are also applicable to teaching young EFL learners.
Two of the most valuable points made are:
Holistic approach: Although it supports progressive, systematic teaching of phonics skills, these skills are to be taught in the context of meaningful vocabulary and language use in general. It recognises the fact that the synthetic teaching of phonic elements works best when done in conjunction with other strategies – knowledge of context, of the graphic aspects of words and their composite elements, and implicit grammatical and syntactical awareness. It supports a two-way process. Phonic elements are blended to form meaningful words. But when a learner recognises a word by using any of the four strategies – phonic, contextual, graphic and syntactical – it can be very useful to break the word down again into its composite elements.
Simplicity: young learners are simply not able to make very good use of explicitly articulated, complex phonics rules which have numerous exceptions. The approach recommended is fairly simple and keeps phonics knowledge on an experiential level rather than being too abstract.
For EFL/ESL teachers reading this paper, there’s something to bear in mind. Native speakers complete their phonemic learning at a very young age. That is, they are able to distinguish the basic phonetic building blocks of their language. Beginning foreign or second language learners do not have phonemic awareness of the language, so the first step in teaching phonics should be to let this awareness develop. The UK’s National Literacy Strategy DOES actually set aside time for development of phonemic awareness. Step 1 involves “hearing and discriminating general sounds, speech sounds and patterns”, with no explicit knowledge of letters required. This is only given a brief mention in this paper, however, so I felt it was important to highlight this first stage in the process.
The paper can be downloaded in .pdf format:
standards.dfes.gov.uk/primar … 303nls.pdf
If you can’t be bothered to download the .pdf, you can browse through the text online by using Google’s cached HTML version.
This and some other good papers can also be downloaded from this web page:
standards.dfes.gov.uk/primar … acy/686807