3 Mistakes Teachers Make When Teaching Phonics

October 14, 2021

Do you make any of these common mistakes when teaching phonics to your kindergarten, first, or second-grade students?

Well, the good news is even if you do, these mistakes are easy to fix and I will show you how to make sure your phonics instruction is as good as can be! Before I dive in, I wanted to let you know you can watch or listen to all this information in video format below:

To read the information instead, just keep scrolling!

Mistake #1: Forgetting to Focus on Vocabulary, Fluency & Comprehension

As teachers, we know how important a solid phonics foundation is, so we tend to spend a lot of time on phonemic and phonological awareness to teach students how to decode words. However, a common mistake is forgetting about why we are teaching phonics in the first place. We want to teach our students that they decode for meaning. We should definitely continue to focus on phonics, but we should also be mindful of incorporating vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension into these lessons to give our students well-rounded instruction.

If you notice that you are forgetting to focus on vocabulary, fluency & comprehension, try out some of  these ideas below to incorporate into your phonics lessons:

  • Retell what happened: When your students are decoding a passage, ask them to retell the story after they read it. This will make them stop and think about what they just read to make sure they actually comprehend the words they are reading. 
  • Ask simple comprehension questions: Ask your students questions about the text they decoded. This will let you see how well they understood the plot, who the characters were, what problems were solved in the story, etc. 
  • Write a response: You can also have your students write a response to the decodable text that they read. They can continue the story, change the ending, or use their imagination to think about what they read and add on to it. 


Knowing comprehension was something I wanted to embed into my phonics instruction, I actually recently made an entire decodable comprehension unit with simple comprehension questions to go along with each decodable passage:

In that unit, there are over 60 phonics-based passages. The students have to read the passage three times, then they can answer the questions and draw a picture to show what happened in the story. I created these in both printable and digital access so they are loaded in Seesaw and Google already! You can check them out by clicking the image above or heading here >>> Decodable Phonics Comprehension Passages.

Vocab Tip: Before reading, pick any vocabulary words that stand out in each decodable passage that your students will be working on. Start by frontloading the vocabulary words before they decode the passage, then you can discuss after and have them write a sentence using the word to show that they know what it means.



Mistake #2: Focusing Too Much on Words in Isolation

Just like in the 1st mistake, we tend to focus too much on the fundamentals when teaching words to our students. We spend so much time going over the sounds and putting them together to form words that we often forget to make those words authentic. Putting words in real text that tells a story is vital in teaching students how to actually read.

Fortunately, there is an easy fix! You will still start by focusing on a sound, then progress to decoding all the words that have that sound. However, instead of stopping there, you want to make sure that you continue progressing to the next step by giving your students sentences to decode and/or passages to decode. This scaffolded type of instruction will challenge your students to practice these new words with greater and greater difficulty while simultaneously showing them real-world, authentic use. 

If you are looking for a resource to help with the scaffolded process mentioned above, I recently created a one-page decodable intervention unit. This is what some of the pages look like:

As you can see, they begin with a review of the sounds in the words, then students decode words in isolation, then the same words in sentences. There is also a place to encode words and a place to illustrate a sentence of their choice (comprehension bonus!) If you’re interested in this resource, you can click the image above or head here >>> Decodable Interventions



Mistake #3: Forgetting to Review Sounds You Previously Taught 

We know the importance of teaching phonics in a systematic scope and sequence. Meaning that you start teaching students letter sounds, before moving onto CVC words and digraphs, and onwards to more difficult concepts. In fact, there is no set in stone “perfect” phonics scope and sequence for K-2 students. It just has to make logical sense and it’s most important to have to make sure you don’t miss any skills throughout the year. With a scope and sequence, you can see how and when students master a skill before moving to the next on the progression.

However, a common mistake is that we can often move quickly to the next skill without going back and reviewing previously taught sounds. This act prevents your students from ever really mastering the skills you are teaching them. Instead, we are just exposing them to the sounds.

To fix this, you want to make sure you are always including a few of your old skills in all of your new lessons. For example, in my one-page decodable sentences unit that I mentioned above, the skills at the top of the page include old sounds that I already taught in addition to the new sounds that we are focusing on. You can do this in your phonics groups too. Simply mix in some review of previously taught sounds with the new skills you are teaching! I also like to review older skills when playing phonics games! This way your students will constantly be practicing the skills you previously taught, even while they are learning new ones.


I have tons of phonics games your students will enjoy here >>> Phonics Games for 1st Grade

Have you made any of these mistakes before?! Let me know in the comments!

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