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The Science of Reading: a Phonics Lesson Plan Template for Small Groups

The Science of Reading “is a vast, interdisciplinary body of scientifically-based research about reading and issues related to reading and writing.” This research — carried out across the world and spanning over five decades — demonstrates that all children learn to read the same way.

Therefore, literacy programs that deliver systematic, explicit instruction and deliberate practice based on the Science of Reading can help learners of all abilities and linguistic backgrounds learn to read successfully. Helping children develop this skill early on can influence their entire lives — from whether or not they graduate from high school to what career they pursue.

CORE Learning has developed a range of instructional materials for teachers based on the Science of Reading — including the six-step explicit phonics lesson plan below (with a downloadable freebie). Use this small group lesson plan to help students develop their decoding and phonics skills.

The 6-Step Explicit Phonics Instruction Lesson Plan

The ability to identify the relationship between letters (or spellings) and sounds is known as phonics, and it’s the first step in learning to decode — i.e., correctly applying the knowledge of sound-spelling relationships to pronounce words.

To understand the role of phonics and decoding in reading, refer to Scarborough’s Reading Rope. The rope is a system for explaining how the different “strands” of reading are interconnected yet independent and how they all weave together to support fluent skilled reading.

The upper strands of the rope are composed of language comprehension elements such as background knowledge, vocabulary, and verbal reasoning.

The lower strands of the rope are factors that influence word recognition, which include phonological awareness, decoding, and sight recognition of familiar words. These skills are fundamental to reading and are a prerequisite for building reading comprehension for all learners — including multilingual learners and students with learning differences. Once students are fluent readers, reading also builds language comprehension skills.

Teachers should be aware that teaching decoding skills early on is essential for all learners, as it prevents them from falling behind later. Even if a child lacks background knowledge or vocabulary (for example, a multilingual learner), they still need to develop the word recognition skills that will support decoding.

However, language comprehension skills must also be developed simultaneously. Thus, students who are learning to read in English need to be taught the meanings of the words they are decoding.

This six-step explicit phonics lesson sequence, outlined on p. 175 of CORE’s Teaching Reading Sourcebook, will help all students improve their decoding skills and should take about 35 minutes to complete with either a whole group or a small group. Use it daily to help students build decoding and automatic word recognition skills. Skills build upon each other in a logical progression to support decoding (reading) and encoding (spelling). Thus, no step should be skipped in the daily whole group lesson during Tier 1 instruction. If a lesson needs to be shortened, less words can be practiced in steps 1, 3, and 6. Data will inform both where to begin instruction within your scope and sequence and the steps to focus on in small group, differentiated instruction.

Step One: Develop Phonemic Awareness (3 minutes)

The aim of this step is to help early readers understand that words are composed of smaller units of sound (phonemes). The focus for this part of the lesson should be the new sound that you will be blending, reading, and spelling that day, but can include previously taught sounds.

The first step is to practice blending and segmenting sounds as follows:

Blending Routine:

Teacher: Says the sounds in the word. /k/ /r/ /ē//k/. What’s the word?

Students: Say the word. (creek)

Teacher: Repeat with additional words.

Segmenting Routine:

Teacher: Orally says the word. (The word is “meet” What’s the word?)

Students: Echo the word. (meet)

Teacher: Segment or tap out sounds in the word.

Students: (/m//ē//t/)

Teacher: Repeat with additional words.

Step Two: Introduce and Review Sound-Spelling Patterns (3 minutes)

In this step, students are explicitly introduced to sound-spelling patterns and have an opportunity to review sound-spelling patterns, also known as phoneme-grapheme associations, that have already been taught. This helps them develop their automatic association of letters to sounds, which is foundational for reading and writing. This is a teacher-led activity, as you will need to explicitly introduce concepts and listen for correct pronunciation.

Use sound-spelling cards to introduce new sound-spellings and use letter/sounds cards to review previously taught sound/spelling correspondences in the words. Practice with no more than 20 cards daily to avoid overwhelming students. When introducing a new sound/spelling correspondence, you may also teach/review/reinforce letter formation in this step.

Sound/Spelling Introduction Routine:

Teacher: Shows new sound-spelling card to students, says the name of the card and the corresponding sound-spelling pattern (ee – /ē/)

Students: Look at the card and echo what the teacher says (ee – /ē/)

Sound/Spelling Review Routine:

Teacher: Shows letter/spelling cards to students and prompts for a choral response.

Students: Look at the card say corresponding sound (m – /m/) , (ee -/ē/), (t – /t/), etc. for new sound-spelling pattern and those that have been previously taught.

Teacher: provide error correction when students make an error by referring students back to sound-spelling cards.

Step Three: Blend Words (6 minutes)

In this step, you’ll provide supported practice in sounding out words by blending the sounds in words that include the pattern introduced and previously taught sound-spelling patterns.. This helps students acquire the skill of reading unknown words independently and applying what they have learned about sound-spelling patterns.

While teaching blending, it’s essential to focus on the skill you’re developing and avoid it becoming a vocabulary lesson. If a student doesn’t understand a word, give a simple definition and then move on with blending. Aim to blend 12 to 15 words daily containing the week’s phonics skill and review skills.

Follow lesson models for blending on pages 209-228 of CORE’s Teaching Reading Sourcebook. Sound-by-sound and continuous blending provide the most scaffolding and support, while whole word and spelling-focused blending provides the least scaffolding and support.

Move between routines based on student needs, providing more support as you introduce new sounds and less scaffolding and support as students become more independent. When you hear an error, provide quick and positive error correction that supports students rereading the word and arriving at the correct pronunciation, instead of giving them the answer and moving on.

Example decodable word list:

Creek | must

Meet | street

Crisp | kite

Treat | flute

Fleet | edge

Moat | tree

Trick | float

Perch | cheek

Step Four: Build Automatic Word Recognition (3 minutes)

Automatic word recognition enables students to decode words quickly and effortlessly.

Use the words blended in step three to develop the quick and effortless reading of words. Use consistent signals to cue students to respond by chorally reading the words so that one or two students do not rush or dominate the activity.

You may also practice previously taught irregular words at this step.

Automatic Word Reading Routine:

Teacher: Points to the left of the first word and says, “Think.”

Students: Read the word silently in their heads.

Teacher: Waits two seconds and says, “Word” to signal students to say the word as they sweep their finger quickly under the word.

Students: Read the whole word aloud in unison.

Step Five: Apply to Decodable Text (10 minutes)

Decodable texts provide an opportunity for students to practice and apply newly acquired phonics skills and develop fluency. As students move through steps five and six, they become increasingly independent in their application of taught skills.

It’s important to remember that a text is only decodable if the students have been taught and have had ample practice with the sound/spelling correspondences included in the words and if the majority of irregular words have been previously taught.

At this step, you will present the decodable text from the lesson or write one or two sentences containing this week’s phonics focus, words with earlier learned phonics skills, and previously taught irregular words.

Apply to Decodable Text Routine:

More information about this routine can be found on pages 235-239 of the Teaching Reading Sourcebook.

First step: Students whisper-read the page (or sentences) to themselves.

Second step: Teacher and students choral read the page (or sentences) together.

Third step: After students have whisper-read and have chorally read each page in the book (or sentences), the teacher randomly calls on individual students to take a turn reading a sentence or two aloud while the rest of the class reads along by tracking the text with their finger. Reread the entire text in this manner. After this step, students will have read the text in various ways three times. It is then appropriate, and necessary, to have students respond to literal questions about the text. This teaches students that we read to gain meaning from the text. As part of their response, students should show which sentence or page supports their answer by physically touching the supporting text. This teaches an important comprehension skill of finding the answer in the text.

Fourth step: Students re-read text independently or in partners for fluency practice while the teacher circulates to listen to students read, giving prompts and error-corrections as needed.

Step Six: Word Work for Decoding and Encoding (10 minutes)

In this step, students practice the skills they built during steps one to five. Word work allows them to apply sound/spelling patterns by writing, building, manipulating, and sorting words. These activities should provide opportunities for students to both encode and decode words.

Dictation offers opportunities for encoding and provides a simple formative assessment to help guide instruction. You can also incorporate additional word work activities, such as word sorts or practice with spelling patterns, into small group or individual practice time.

It’s essential not to skip this step, so if you’re short of time, reduce the number of words blended in previous steps.

Dictation Routine: Sound Dictation:

Teacher: Dictates sound /ē/

Students: Echo sound /ē/

Teacher: “Write all the spellings you can think of to represent the /ē/ sound.”

Students: Write all the ways they know on a dry-erase board, in a notebook, or on paper. (e, e_e, ee, ea)

Teacher: “What spellings represent the /ē/ sound?”

Students: Respond either chorally or individually e, e_e, ee, and ea.

Teacher: Teacher writes the different spellings on the board or points the sound-spelling card on the wall that shows the long e spellings taught.

Students: Check that they wrote the correct letter(s) from the model.

Word Dictation:

Teacher: Dictates the word “The word is “meet”.  As in, meet me at eight. What is the word?”

Students: Echo the word “meet.”

Teacher: “Now, let’s count the sounds in the word ‘meet.’ Hold up a finger as you say each sound.”

Teacher and students: Say the sounds together, holding up a finger for each sound. “/m/ /ē/ /t/.”

Teacher: “How many fingers are we holding up?” (Three)

Teacher: “How many sounds in meet? (Three) “Yes, there are three sounds in meet.”

Teacher: “Think about the three sounds in ‘meet.’ Check the sound-spelling cards. Now write the word ‘meet,’ sound by sound, on your paper.” Give guidance for the spelling of /ē/ by referring back to the sound-spelling card.

Teacher: After students have had a chance to write, prints the word meet on the board and asks students to hold up their papers and compare their spelling with the word on the board.

Students: Check their work and correct the word if necessary.

Teacher: “Now, let’s say and spell the word together, meet . . . m-e-e-t.”

Similar to blending, there are different dictation routines that are more or less scaffolded. For more detail, see page 219 for Sound-by-Sound Dictation and p. 230 for Whole Word Dictation in the Teaching Reading Sourcebook.

Sentence Dictation:

Teacher: Dictates sentence, “I like green beans and peas.”

Students: Echo sentence, “I like green beans and peas.”

Teacher: Asks students to repeat the sentence again.

Students: Repeat the sentence.

Teacher: “How many words are in the sentence?”

Students: Repeat the sentence and count the words.

Students: Write the sentence on a dry-erase board, in a notebook, or on paper.

Teacher: Monitors students and repeats the sentence to students who ask, giving error corrections, as needed.

Teacher: “Read the sentence back to me.”

Students: Read the sentence back to the teacher.

Teacher: Writes the sentence on the board. Teacher quickly notes capitalization, punctuation, handwriting, spacing, spelling, etc.

Students: Check their work and correct words if necessary.

Download the Phonics Lesson Plan Template

Looking for a printable guided reading lesson plan to help your students build their reading comprehension skills? Click here to download our phonics lesson plan template for free.

Continue Your Professional Development with CORE Learning

Incorporating instructional materials and practices based on the Science of Reading can transform your literacy teaching and help all your students learn to decode and encode regardless of their ability, reading level, or background.

CORE Learning provides educators with the skills they need to deliver standards-aligned and evidence-based reading instruction to all learners through the Online Elementary Reading Academy.

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