How to Teach Phonics Step-by-Step (A Parent’s Guide)


It’s important for reading, but teaching it confuses most parents. Check out the parent-friendly guide to how to teach phonics step-by-step.

So you’ve wondered how to teach your child to read.

You know that phonics is important, but now you’re wondering how to teach phonics step-by-step.

You’ve probably also heard, or maybe you even think, “English just doesn’t make sense.”

While the truth is there are a lot of rules in English, there are also a lot of rules in math and science. We can’t let learning rules stand in the way of teaching our kids.

Instead, what is most likely is you were not taught the rules of English well – or even at all.

There was a push for whole-word reading, called Whole Language or Balanced Literacy, in the 1980s through 2020 and beyond.

These approaches embraced the idea that children learn to read by just reading. Anyone who has potty trained a child or taught them to ride a bike understands that some skills have to be taught.

Some kids learn really quickly or even on their own, but the majority need to be clearly taught step-by-step.

So if you didn’t learn the rules of English phonics well enough to teach your own child, I got you covered.  This post breaks down phonics skills for parents.

What are the basics of phonics?

Phonics is how written letters represent speech sounds. A lot of people use the phrase, “What does this letter say?”

Really, letters spell speech sounds. Letters are symbols that represent speech. The study of this is phonics.

Children decode, or sound out words, by applying phonics skills. This is necessary for automatic word recognition – or more simply for reading easily and without a lot of effort.

That means that for your child to be a fluent reader, they need to see words and decode them effortlessly. This is totally possible with a plan and practice.

And please don’t believe the lie that English isn’t phonetic.   About 84% of English words are phonetically regular (Blevins, 2017).

What are the steps to teach phonics sounds?

These are the steps I follow to teach phonics sounds. There is not an agreed-upon sequence for teaching phonics based on research. But I’ve looked at a lot of programs and they tend to follow this order.

  1. Consonant and short vowels
  2. Blending VC words
  3. Consonant-vowel-consonant
  4. Consonant digraphs
  5. Consonant blends
  6. Magic e Words (CVCe)
  7. Bossy R Words
  8. Welded Sounds
  9. Other long vowel patterns
  10. Consonant Spelling Rules (soft c/g, tch, ck, dge, cat/kite rule)
  11. Vowel Diphthongs
  12.  Syllable types

We will dive into what each one of these steps entails below. But first, before knowing WHAT phonics skills to teach step-by-step, you need to understand HOW to teach them.

What is the best approach for teaching phonics?

If you’re going to teach phonics step-by-step, you’re going to need to learn a little teacher jargon. I will explain each word so stick with me.

The best approach for teaching phonics has four parts:

  • Systematic.
  • Explicit.
  • Sequential.
  • Cumulative.

Phonics should be systematic

Phonics instruction should be intentional. It cannot be done randomly or inconsistently. You cannot teach your child phonics without a plan, or a system.

Systematic phonics instruction has a plan that moves from the most basic to the most complex patterns.

This also means there is a consistent system for introducing, practicing, and reviewing phonics skills.

In my signature course Sound School, I teach parents to introduce, practice, and review using flashcards.

You could also use a whiteboard and markers.

Phonics should be explicit

Phonics needs to be taught explicitly. This means nothing is left to chance and you tell every tiny detail and step you can think of.

The parent or teacher explains the rule clearly. They are intentional in giving children a chance to practice the phonics pattern.

Explicit teaching sounds like:

  • This is t.
  • The sound is /t/.
  • Repeat the sound /t/.

If you connect writing to phonics (and you definitely should for bigger kids), you would say,

  • t starts with straight line down.
  • Start at the top and pull down.
  • Bump the bottom line.
  • Cross with a little line at the middle.

Phonics should be sequential

There is no one agreed-upon sequence for phonics instruction. But every proponent of phonics instruction believes it should be sequential.

Sequence means there is a planned order for teaching the skills. It should be logical and go from easiest and smallest, to harder and most complicated.

As each skill is taught, it can be included in future phonics practice.

If you follow my recommendations for how to teach phonics step-by-step, you will be teaching phonics in a sequential way.

Phonics should be cumulative

Cumulative phonics instruction includes review and repetition of prior phonics skills. Ideally, it is not separated but included within the stories and activities for new learning.

For example, once a student has learned to read words with a consonant-vowel-consonant pattern (like pet), those same words are included when a child is developing the skills afterward.

So when you are teaching your child the consonant digraph /th/, you would also practice CVC words like pet.

In cumulative practice, a child can read a sentence like this: “The pet is on the path.”

Now that you know the basics of teaching phonics, let’s look at the steps.

Step 1: Consonants and Vowels

We’ve all wondered about consonants and vowels. They are actually speech sounds called phonemes.  We use letters to represent them, and these letters are called graphemes.

Consonants are made when airflow is cut off or blocked when a sound is pronounced.  Vowels, however, are made when airflow isn’t blocked.

For the basic consonants and vowels, you’ll want this alphabet phonics sounds chart.

There are so many ways to teach consonants and vowels. I prefer to use phonics flashcards to teach sounds.

I teach about this and all 44 sounds (or phonemes) in Sound School. Then I teach you how to have your child read and spell words with those sounds.

Step 2: Blending VC Words

After children know the basic, most reliable sounds for consonants and short vowel sounds, they can begin with blending words.

Start with words like:

  • in,
  • on,
  • it,
  • at,
  • if,
  • up
  • am.

Many children do best when you start with oral blending first. This means you’re working on phonemic awareness skills instead of phonics.

So start with saying “/aaaaa/ /ttttt/” and see if your child can blend into “at.”

You can also teach your child to blend nonsense words like “ib” and “ub.” These are word parts for real words. Plus nonsense words show you if your child can truly match sounds with letters.

Step 3: CVC Words

If you’ve never heard of CVC words, it stands for consonant-vowel-consonant. When parents want to teach their children to read, this is generally where they want to start.

But don’t skip those first two steps. That’s where they run into trouble.

Some examples of CVC words are:

  • cat
  • pet
  • hog
  • pup

Looking for a free resource with CVC Words you can teach? Check out CVC Words with Pictures.

You can teach CVC Words by moving from sounds to letters. This is called word mapping and it fast-tracks reading.

These Hands-On CVC Words Mats make it tangible for children to read and spell words.

Now if you find your child is struggling to blend CVC words, take a pause before you move on to the next steps. Also If you find your child is guessing instead of reading, slow down!

Dot the CVC Words is a great resource because it has minimal pairs and look-alike words. There are words where there is only a letter or two difference. Children really have to slow down to read accurately.

A lot of parents and teachers rush ahead before the child has mastered blending skills. It’s important to make sure they have this skill down prior to introducing more phonics sounds.

Step 4: Consonant Digraphs

The next phonics skills are consonant digraphs. This is when two letters represent one sound.

The most important digraphs are:

  • /ch/ like chop
  • /th/ like bath
  • /sh/ like ship

Each of these sounds is spelled with two letters. Like the basic consonants and vowels, I have these printed on flashcards.

I teach my students and children the sound. Then we use the flashcards plus a vowel and another consonant to spell and read words like:

  • with
  • thin
  • much
  • chin
  • push
  • shin
  • mash

Some other consonant digraphs you can teach your child are:

  • /TH/ like bathe (voiced sound of TH)
  • ph that spells /f/ like photo and graph
  • wh that spells /w/ like whip
  • -ck that spells /k/ like duck

Step 5: Consonant Blends

After consonant digraphs, you can teach consonant blends. Head over to this blog post to grab a free consonant blends word list.

Consonant blends are when two consonant letters glide together. They keep their sounds but are said closely together.

Some common beginning blends are:

  • bl like blob
  • cr like crab
  • st like stop

Some common ending blends are:

  • -nt like tent
  • -mp like camp
  • -lm like film

Some words have a beginning and an ending blend:

  • stand
  • plant
  • crimp

It can be helpful to have some extra consonants written on flashcards. This way, you can demonstrate building blends with the same consonant at both the beginning and ending.

Looking for more about consonant blends? Check out Color by Blend Worksheets.

Step 6: Magic e Words

The next phonic skill to teach is magic e words. This is one of the many jobs of silent e.

Magic e makes the other vowel long. Some magic e words are:

  • cane
  • Pete
  • bike
  • pole
  • cube

When you teach your child magic e words, you can draw a star above the e with an arrow pointing to the other vowel.

Teach explicitly that there are four letters but only three sounds. I do this with word mapping worksheets.

This is the first time you’ll teach your child that the vowels a, e, i, o, and u can also spell a long sound – or sound like their letter names!

Learning to read CVCe, or magic e, words opens up a lot of words to your young reader.

Step 7: Bossy R Words

Similar to CVCe words, learning about bossy r helps your child understand a ton of words in English. Bossy R is also called R-controlled vowels. The /r/ sound is so bossy, it changes the sound of the vowel.

The bossy r sounds are:

  • /ar/ like car or barn
  • /ir/ like her, bird, or fur
  • /or/ like for or corn.

The trickiest part of teaching Bossy R words is teaching that two letters spell one sound.  You can show your child this through word mapping activities.

For example, in the word “shirt” there are three sounds:

  • /sh/ spelled sh
  • /ir/ spelled ir
  • /t/ spelled t

Like all my other phonics teaching, I show children how to make these words with flashcards. With either the mapping approach or the flashcard approach, this is a way to build more automatic recognition for your child.

And that’s the goal of phonics – for your child to read words effortlessly.

Step 8: Welded Sounds

There is a set of word chunks that are called welded sounds or glued sounds. This is because they are so stuck together, it is very hard to pull the sounds apart.

Ang, ing, ong, ung

When I teach these chunks, I use a flashcard with the whole chunk acting as a vowel.

So we might blend the word ring using r on one flashcard and ing on another flashcard.

Here are words with ang, ing, ong, and ung:

  • rang, bang, clang, sprang
  • king, bring, string
  • song, prong, strong
  • hung, flung, strung

Ank, ink, onk, unk

The other welded blend ends with -nk.  These two letters represent the sounds /ng/ and /k/. It’s typical to see children spell them -ngk. So make sure to practice spelling those!

Here are words with ank, ink, onk, and ung:

  • bank, Frank, plank
  • pink, clink, shrink
  • honk, bonk
  • bunk, chunk

Step 9: Other Long Vowel Patterns

Once your child knows Magic E words, they’ll probably use them all the time for long vowel sounds.

Vowel Teams

But you know there are other ways to spell the long vowel sounds! The most common long vowel sound spellings are vowel teams. The groups of letters work together to spell the long vowel sounds:

  • Long a – ai, ay, eigh
  • Long e – ee, ea, y
  • Long i – igh, ie, y
  • Long o – oa, oe, ow
  • Long u – ue, ui, oo

Like all sound-spellings, you can introduce these phonics sounds by writing them on a flashcard. Tell your child clearly, “the letters ai spell the sound /ā/.” Then show them the words:

  • rain
  • sail
  • paint

Kind Old Words

There is another long vowel pattern that seems to break rules. But it’s consistent so it’s not a rule-breaker once your child learns the rule.

When some consonant blends follow the letters i and o, they make the vowel sound long. It’s easiest to teach them as word families. Here are some examples:

  • -ind: kind, find, mind, bind, grind, wind
  • -ild: wild, mild
  • -old: old, bold, told, sold, mold
  • -olt: colt, bolt, jolt, molt
  • -ost: most, post, host

You can teach your child this saying: “The kind old host has a wild colt.”

Step 10: Consonant Spelling Generalizations

There are several important consonant spelling generalizations to teach your child.

  • -ck spelling rule
  • -tch spelling rule
  • -dge spelling rule
  • floss spelling rule
  • cat/kite spelling rule

All these generalizations need to be taught to your child.  You can use a phonics word list or the find them in the Phonics Read and Spell games.

-Ck Spelling Rule

Words end in -ck instead of k when the word has

  • one syllable
  • one short vowel
  • ending consonant sound of only /k/

Some examples of the -ck spelling rule are:

  • pick
  • snack
  • truck

All three of these words are one syllable, have one short vowel, and have one final consonant sound /k/.

Some examples of works that end in /k/ spelled k are:

  • look
  • beak
  • rink
  • bulk

These words are all one syllable. Look and beak have vowel sounds that are not short. Rink and bulk have short vowels, but the end with two consonant sounds.

-tch Spelling Rule

Normally we spell the /ch/ sound with the letters ch.  However, tch is a common spelling.

Words that end with -tch follow the same rules. Words end in -tch when:

  • there is one syllable
  • there is one short vowel
  • there is one final /ch/ sound.

Some examples are:

  • stitch
  • patch
  • witch

Some non-examples are:

  • beach
  • pinch

Beach has a long vowel. Pinch has two ending consonant sounds.

Three exceptions are:

  • which
  • much
  • such

-dge Spelling Rule

Words in English cannot end in the letter j. Instead the final /j/ sound is spelled -dge.

Again, the three same rules apply:

  • one syllable word
  • one short vowel
  • one final consonant sound /j/

Some examples of the -dge rules are:

  • edge
  • fudge
  • pledge

Some non-examples are:

  • page
  • change

Page has long vowel a, while change ends in two consonant sounds.

Floss Spelling Generalization

This generalization does not tend to be hard for children to read. But it’s important to know for spelling and for adding suffixes later on.

Words that end in F, L, S, and Z tend to be doubled at the end of a word when:

  • the word has one syllable
  • it has one short vowel
  • the word ends with one consonant sound /f/, /l/, /s/, or /z/

Some examples of this rule are:

  • puff
  • bill
  • mass
  • fuzz

A lot of non-examples are actually shortened words or borrowed from other languages:

  • bus (short for autobus)
  • gas (short for gasoline)
  • chef (borrowed from French)

Cat and Kite Generalization

When your child wants to spell a word with the /k/ sound, they need to choose c or k.

Use c when followed by:

  • a (like cat)
  • o (like cot)
  • u (like cut)

Use k when followed by:

  • i (like kite)
  • e (like Ken)
  • y (like Kyle)

Examples of the cat/lite generalization are:

  • cape
  • cope
  • cube
  • kind
  • keen

Non-examples of this generalization are words from other languages or names:

  • koala (from Australia)
  • karate (Japanese)
  • Kate (name)

Step 11: Diphthongs and other vowels

After short vowels, long vowels, and bossy r vowels, there a few more to learn.


Vowel diphthongs are sounds where the mouth changes while it’s pronounced.

Say the word “soil.” Then just say /oi/. Do you feel how your lips move from rounded to more wide?

The two diphthongs are:

  • oi/oy
  • ou/ow

Diphthong oi/oy

The sound /oi/is most often spelled oi. This is because oi comes at the beginning and middle of a word, and oy comes at the end.

Here are some examples of it spelled with oi and oy:

  • point
  • oink
  • rejoice
  • soy
  • boy
  • employ

Other words with an /oi/ sound that are spelled differently come from different languages.

Diphthong ou/ow

The sound /ou/ is most often spelled with ou.  Ow can be used in the middle but is used at the end of words.

Here are some examples of ou and ow:

  • loud
  • count
  • cow
  • growl

Other vowel sounds

The other vowel sounds are the broad o sound and the long and short sounds of oo.

Broad a

Broad a is found in the pair au/aw. It is also often represented by al. In my dialect, the difference between broad a and short o is very subtle.

Here are examples with au and aw:

  • haunt
  • August
  • paw
  • crawl
  • awful

Broad a spelled with al comes in words like ball and walk:

  • chalk
  • stall
  • salt

Short and Long oo

I remember the short and long sounds of oo with the phrase “good food.”

Short oo words include:

  • foot
  • book
  • wooden

Long oo words include:

  • boo
  • groom
  • smooth

Step 12: Syllable types

Once your child has all these basic and more advanced phonics skills in place, you’ll want to show them how to break words into syllables.

For a lot of kids, their phonics skills aren’t enough to tackle multi-syllablic words. But once they are taught, they can read so many words easily.

First, take a few minutes to read What are syllables?

Then, consider the six syllable types. I have a free printable handout for this in that blog post.

How to Break Words into Syllables

Dividing words into syllables is pretty straightforward. Once you learn how to do this, it’s mind-blowing!

Write down a two-syllable word. Then follow these steps:

  1. Underline the vowels.
  2. Look at the six syllable types.
  3. Figure out the first syllable.
  4. Draw a big wavy line to divide it.
  5. Read the word.

Practice with two-syllable words until your child is confident with those. Also keep in mind you can look at to see how words are broken into syllables.

This is a little controversial to say as an Orton-Gillingham teacher. It’s more important that your child can read the word accurately. Don’t get hung up on the rules.

The goal of breaking words into syllables is for a child to pronounce the words. Then they check it against their oral vocabulary stored in their mental dictionary, the lexicon.

List of Two-Syllable Words

Use this list of words to start your practice:

  • Closed: rabbit, magnet, napkin
  • Open: robot, tiger, pilot
  • Bossy R: burger, hunger, garden
  • Vowel Team: explain, sailboat, snowman, freedom
  • Magic E Syllable: cupcake, compete, decode
  • Consonant-le: stable, title, drizzle

Resources for Phonics Step-by-Step

I have three printable resources that will support you in this journey.

Phonics Read and Spell Games

Spelling and reading go hand-in-hand. But a lot of schools miss that step and parents need a management tool.

Phonics Read and Spell Games make it fun and interactive to build that connection. Read words and strengthen phonics knowledge through spelling with 24 thematic board games.

The board games are all predictable but there are ones for seasons and themes your child enjoys.

The best part? It comes with word cards for 74 phonics skills including:

  • single sounds in groups of 6 with decodable words
  • CVC words
  • CVCe (magic e) words
  • Two-syllable words with CVC syllables and CVCe syllables
  • Consonant blends
  • Two-syllable words with blends
  • Consonant digraphs (ch, sh, th, wh)
  • Rules like FLOSS, -ck, -tch, -dge, and more
  • Bossy R words
  • Two-syllable bossy R words
  • Vowel Teams like ee/ea, igh
  • Diphthongs like oi/oy/ou/ow
  • Other vowels oo/au/au/ew
  • Schwa
  • and more

The phonics skills all build on each other making this resource great for cumulative practice!

You can grab the Phonics Read and Spell Games here on or on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Word Mapping Activity by Phonics Skills

Word mapping is a way to develop phonics skills by listening to a word and breaking it apart. Essentially, if your child can learn to spell it, they will read it.

This process supports the cognitive practice for learning to read and can really fast-track it.

The Phonics Skills Word Mapping Activity comes with sets of 12 picture cards for 30+ one-syllable words. Each set is based on phonics skills:

  • short vowel CVC words
  • CVCe words
  • beginning and ending blends words
  • digraph words
  • bossy r vowel words
  • vowel teams and diphthongs

These come with answer keys for every single phonics card, so there is no guessing for your child and you.

You can also upgrade and grab the Word Mapping Workshop which includes the activity and a 45-minute on-demand training.

Grab the Word Mapping Activity here or find it on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Word Mapping Worksheets

If worksheets make your life easier, do it! That’s why I made these Word Mapping Worksheets for parents and teachers.

These worksheets have a manageable amount of phonics practice on one page. In about five minutes, your child will follow these steps to develop their skills:

  1. Say the word (you say it first for them to repeat).
  2. Tap the sounds in each word on the black dots.
  3. Map the letter or letters for each sound.
  4. Write and read the word.

Grab the Word Mapping Bundle here or on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Need even more support?

If you need more support to teach your child phonics step-by-step, you’re going to want to check out Sounds School.

I show you:

  • the 44 sounds in English
  • how to teach them to your child
  • using the sounds to build words
  • strategies for blending
  • spelling the sounds

What’s Next after Phonics Step-by-Step

There are a few important things to keep in mind when teaching phonics step-by-step.

  1. Your child needs practice with phonics in single words, in sentences, and in stories or passages.
  2. There are more advanced skills like learning prefixes and suffixes.

As I have more resources available for this type of practice, I’ll update this blog post.

Teaching Phonics Step-by-Step

The most important thing to remember with teaching phonics to your child is this:

Your mindset is the biggest factor in their success.

You need to believe you can do this. You need to know you have access to support if needed.

Make sure to leave your questions about teaching phonics step-by-step in the comments. I can address them and update this blog post as necessary!

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