Phonics is a FOUNDATIONAL LITERACY SKILL that focuses on the correspondence between letters (graphemes) and their sounds (phonemes). Through phonics instruction, students learn letter-sound relationships in order to successfully decode (read) and encode (spell) words.

Fundamental reading skills, like PHONICS, PHONEMIC AWARENESS and FLUENCY, are typically taught in grades K-2. Phonics instruction ranges from teaching letter identification, letter-sound relationships, spelling patterns, and high frequency words to complicated vowel patterns, and multisyllabic words.

Everything on Phonics

Vowels are letters (graphemes) that are not consonants
Diphthongs are sounds formed by combining two vowels in a single syllable
Digraphs are formed when two letters come together to create one sound
Consonant Blends are a set of two or three consonant letters that when pronounced, retain their sound
Syllables are phonological building blocks of words

Phonics Patterns

Although phonics plays a major role in the primary grades, increasingly complex phonetic patterns keep phonics instruction relevant throughout elementary school and even into middle school. Students with strong phonological awareness are better able to understand words and their patterns, and how to apply this knowledge of letters and sounds to decode and encode increasingly complicated words.

Students learn how to read and spell words through repeated instruction in phonics and spelling patterns.


Vowels are letters (graphemes) that are not consonants. Vowel sounds (phonemes) are produced when there is no closing of any part of the mouth or throat. Although there are five letters that represent vowels, there are 12 pure vowel sound and a total of 20 vowel sounds when factoring in diphthongs. One set of vowel sounds are short vowels. Short vowel sounds do not sound like their corresponding letter names, such as the “a” in “cat”. Another set of vowel sounds are long vowels, which are pronounced the same as their letter name. A vowel pattern that produces a long vowel is the silent “e” at an end of a word. For example the “a” in “tale” sounds like its letter name because of the silent “e” in the word.

Below are other short and long vowel patterns and examples.

Vowel Patterns Examples

Vowel Pattern Word Examples
Short “a” fan, pan, man, mat, cat, rat
Short “e” pen, ten, when, bet, let, jet
Short “i” bit, pit, fit, fin, win, pin
Short “o” pot, lot, dot, hop, shop, drop
Short “u” fun, run, sun, bun, up, cup
Long “a” fail, rain, pail, tale, whale, male
Long “e” feet, sheep, keep, heat, meat, beat
Long “i” cried, pie, flies, file, mile, pile
Long “o” boat, coat, float, bone, cone, note
Long “u” blue, clue, true, cute, cube, tube


A diphthong, also known as a gliding vowel, is when one phoneme forms by combining two vowels in a single syllable. The sound begins as one vowel sound and moves towards another.

The most common diphthong spelling patterns in the English language are:

Diphthongs Examples

Diphthong Word Examples
“oy”/ “oi” boy, toy, joy, coin, joint, noise
“ow”/ “ou” howl, plow, now, cloud, round, mouse


Digraphs are two letters that form a single phoneme (sound). Digraphs can be categorized as consonant digraphs or vowel digraphs. In a consonant digraph, a joint set of consonants form one sound, like “sh” in shark. Consonant digraphs can appear at the beginning of a word (initial consonant digraphs) or the end of a word (final consonant digraphs). A vowel digraph is when two vowels generate one sound, such as “ay” in away. Vowel digraphs can appear at the beginning, middle, or end of a word.

The following table features other consonant and vowel digraphs:

Digraphs Examples

Digraph Consonant Digraph or Vowel Digraph Word Examples
“ch” Consonant Digraph chose, chair, ouch, much
“sh” Consonant Digraph shout, she, wash, rash
“th” Consonant Digraph thing, thank, teeth, math
“ay” Vowel Digraph say, stay, play, pay
“ea” Vowel Digraph each, cheat, wheat, neat
“oa” Vowel Digraph oat, float, goat, cloak

Consonant Blends

Consonant blends are a set of two or three consonant letters that when pronounced retain their sound. Consonant blends, also known as consonant clusters, can be found at the beginning of a word (initial blends) or the end a word (final blends). An example of an initial consonant blend is “br” in the work “break.” An example of a final consonant blend is “st” in the word “list.”

Other initial and final consonant blends include:

Consonant Blends Examples

Blend Initial or Final Consonant Blend Word Examples
“bl-” Initial Blend blend, blind, blue
“cl-” Initial Blend climb, cloud, clue
“dr-” Initial Blend drama, drink, drive
“pl-” Initial Blend place, plan, play
“sm-” Initial Blend small, smell, smile
“-ct” Final Blend act, fact, project
“-lp” Final Blend gulp, help, scalp
“-mp” Final Blend camp, jump, stamp
“-nd” Final Blend and, band, land
“-rk” Final Blend bark, dark, park


Syllables are single units of speech and always include a vowel (or vowel-like) sound. A syllable that ends in a vowel is an open syllable. In an open syllable, a long vowel sound is produced, like the first syllable in the word “paper” (pa-per). A syllable that ends in a consonant is a closed syllable. Closed syllables contain a short vowel sound, such as the first syllable in the word “idol” (i-dol).

Open and Closed Syllables Examples

Open First Syllable apron (a-pron); bacon (ba-con); pilot (pi-lot); detail (de-tail)
Closed First Syllable seven (sev-en); doctor (doc-tor); locket (lock-et); thunder (thun-der)

Words can be monosyllabic (containing one syllable) or multisyllabic (containing more than one syllable). Disyllabic words are made up of two syllables and trisyllabic words are made up of three syllables. Below are examples of monosyllabic, disyllabic, and trisyllabic words.

Monosyllabic, Disyllabic, and Trisyllabic Examples

Monosyllabic Words cat; sun; act; bus; red; few; moon; week
Disyllabic Words issue (is-sue); party (par-ty); tiger (ti-ger); women (wo-men); police (po-lice)
Trisyllabic Words magical (ma-gi-cal); energy (e-ner-gy); visitor (vi-si-tor); popular (po-pu-lar)

Practicing Phonics

Building solid phonics skills is essential for students’ future literacy success. Phonics instruction must start in kindergarten, progressing from simple to more complex phonetic patterns. Learners should be taught several strategies to decode words, such as using pictures; sounding the word out; looking for word chunks; and making connections to words they know. Students should be instructed to tune into word parts and patterns while simultaneously thinking about the meaning of the words.

English Language Learners (ELLs) and emergent readers benefit from the support of seeing, hearing, and playing with letters and word segments as they learn to speak and read English. This Reading Skills Pyramid helps teachers and parents understand the developmental stages of phonics skills that impact reading and spelling.

The Pre-K through second grade developmental stages of phonics skills are detailed below.

Developmental Stages of Phonics Skills

Grade Phonemic Awareness/Phonics
  • Learns the alphabet song
  • Names ten letters of the alphabet
  • Knows that words are made up of sounds
  • Distinguishes separate sounds in words
  • Names all upper and lowercase letters
  • Knows the sounds of most letters
  • Identifies words with the same beginning sounds
  • Knows that letters in each word correspond to sounds
  • Reads one syllable “CVC” words
  • Reads one syllable “CVC” words
  • Knows words have a correct spelling
  • Identifies syllables in words
  • Blends sounds into words
  • Changes sounds by adding, deleting, or substituting phonemes
  • Reads words with one or two syllables
  • Attempts larger words using phonics knowledge

Systematic instruction provided by the teacher and VocabularySpellingCity’s phonics and spelling learning activities are a winning combination for all readers. Giving students more opportunities to play with and manipulate words in a fun and engaging way will deepen their knowledge of how letters and sounds make words.