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Mass Literacy

Advanced Phonics

Reading is the act of processing text in order to derive meaning. To learn to read, children must develop both fluent word reading and language comprehension (Gough & Tunmer,1986). Fluent word reading stems from underlying skills: phonological awareness, phonics, decoding, and automatic word recognition.

What Is Advanced Phonics?

Advanced Phonics refers to the knowledge and strategies required to decode multisyllabic words, including morphology and information about the meaning, pronunciation, and parts of speech of words gained from knowledge of prefixes, roots, and suffixes (Florida Center for Reading Research Glossary of Reading Terms). There is also an emphasis on more complex spelling as phonics skills advance.

Morphology refers to the knowledge of the meaningful word parts in the language (IES Practice Guide "Foundational Skills to Support Reading for Understanding in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade" ).

Advanced phonics is sometimes called word analysis. This is because advanced phonics involves breaking words down into their smallest units of meaning — morphemes.

What Skills Are Involved in Advanced Phonics?

  • Spelling the more challenging phoneme-grapheme correspondences, including three-consonant blends, digraphs, trigraphs, and silent consonants
  • Six syllable types
  • Construction of multisyllabic words
  • Division principles to read and spell multisyllabic words
  • Reading and spelling inflectional suffixes
  • Reading and spelling common prefixes and Latin roots
  • Reading and spelling words with irregular past tense and plurals (Moats & Tolman, 2019)

How Advanced Phonics Contributes to Reading Development

Learning to recognize letter patterns and word parts, and understanding that sounds relate to letters in predictable and unpredictable ways, will help students decode and read increasingly complex words (Institute for Education Sciences ).

Studies reviewed by the National Reading Panel (2000) demonstrated that "systematic phonics instruction produces significant benefits for students in kindergarten through 6th grade and for children having difficulty learning to read" and the panel also determined that "older children receiving phonics instruction were better able to decode and spell words and to read text orally." Additionally, advanced phonics teaching strategies are effective in helping students internalize and develop fluency with long words (Moats & Tolman, 2019).

"Students with a large sight vocabulary and very proficient phonic decoding are going to be the ones who move most fluently through text" (Kilpatrick, 2015).

Effective Phonics and Decoding Practices

Plan Systematic Instruction

For systematic instruction, lessons build on previously taught information, from simple to complex (Brady, 2011). A carefully planned sequence for instruction, similar to a builder's blueprint for a house, generally starts with regular spelling patterns and progresses intentionally to more challenging patterns.

Use a Gradual Release Approach

A gradual release approach involves explicit instruction and modeling; followed by active guided practice; and finally, independent application and transfer to text (adapted from Pearson & Gallagher, 1983).

Deliver Explicit Instruction

Explicit instruction involves direct explanation. The teacher's language is concise and specific. Explicit instruction means that the actions of the teacher are clear, unambiguous, direct, and visible. This makes it clear what the students are to do and learn. Nothing is left to guess work (Florida Center for Reading Research Glossary of Reading Terms).

Examples of Explicit Instructional Routines

Provide Interactive Practice

Interactive practice is hands-on, engaging, and multimodal, such as moving tiles into sound boxes as words are analyzed, using hand gestures to support memory for associations, building words with letter tiles, or assembling sentences with words on cards. Listening, speaking, reading, and writing are often paired with one another to foster multimodal language learning (adapted from International Dyslexia Association). Effective guided practice includes corrective feedback to students.

Examples of Interactive Practice Activities

Integrate Encoding With Decoding

Linking direct and explicit instruction in decoding with encoding produces positive gains in both reading and spelling. Providing practice with decoding (reading) and encoding (spelling and writing) of letter-sound correspondences positively impacts reading, writing, and spelling (Weiser & Mathes, 2011).

Learn More About Advanced Phonics

Considerations for Students Learning English

English learners should have equal opportunity to meaningfully participate in all foundational skills instruction. These recommendations and resources will further support English learners to develop advanced phonics skills. Also, please refer to WIDA Can Dos and WIDA Instructional Supports.

Taking Bilingualism into Account

  • Advanced phonics provides English learners with strategies for decoding multisyllable words and supports their understanding of word meanings. Teaching affixes shows English learners that there are word parts that are common across words and will support them with reading, spelling, and accessing meaning (Linan-Thompson & Vaugn, 2007).
  • Teachers should work with a child and his/her family to understand what literacy skills the child already developed in the home language. Many literacy skills built in the home language can "transfer" and support developing English literacy. For instance, once the concept of matching a symbol with a sound has been learned, it can be applied to new languages (Colorín Colorado **).
  • Systematic phonics instruction is effective in helping ELs learn to decode words, even those at lower levels of English language proficiency. However, decoding alone does not facilitate reading comprehension if students' oral language proficiency is not developed to the level of the texts they are expected to read (Helman, 2004; Droop & Verhoeven, 2003).
  • English learners may have alphabet knowledge in a home language with similarities and differences from English. A child's home language may use the same letters as English, but have different names and sounds for each letter (e.g., Spanish). Or, a child's home language may use a different alphabet and English letters are not yet familiar (e.g., Cyrillic alphabet).
  • Teachers should consider if the heritage/home language of the students is logographic or syllabic (Bialystok, 2002; Durgunoğlu, 2002) to inform plans to introduce the child to English letters and to make supportive connections to their home language based knowledge.
  • English learners may speak with a dialect different than the teachers. This can affect the pronunciations of the words. This does not indicate a reading problem as long as pronunciations are consistent (Colorín Colorado **).
  • ELs may feel anxious and/or frustrated about attempting to produce sounds in English. A supportive environment helps lower affective filter and promotes risk taking (Krashen & Terrell, 1983).

Supports for English Learners

  • Model how to look for word parts and teach the meanings of them (Linan-Thompson & Vaughn, 2007).
  • "An effective phonics program for English language learners uses a synthetic approach that follows a defined sequence and includes direct teaching of a set of letter-sound relationships" (Linan-Thompson & Vaughn, 2007).
  • Empower students by explicitly teaching English letter-sound correspondences. Teach phonics explicitly using a multi-sensory approach, which may include tools such as manipulative tiles (Foorman et al. 2016).
  • Combine phonics and decoding instruction with intensive development of the oral language English learners need for comprehension (Gersten & Geva, 2003).
  • Pre-teaching vocabulary is an important part of good phonics instruction with ELLs so that students aren't trying to figure out new vocabulary items out of context (Colorín Colorado **).
  • Phonics Challenges and Strategies for ELs, ** from Colorín Colorado
  • What Does Research Tell Us About Teaching Reading to English Language Learners? ** from Colorín Colorado
  • Recommendation 1 from the IEP Practice Guide "Teaching Academic Content and Literacy to English Learners in Elementary and Middle School" (Resource)


Bialystok, E. (2002). Acquisition of literacy in bilingual children: A framework for research. Language Learning, 52 (1), 159–199.

Brady, S. A. (2011). Efficacy of phonics teaching for reading outcomes: Indications from post-NRP research. In S. A. Brady, D. Braze, & C. A. Fowler (Eds.), New directions in communication disorders research. Explaining individual differences in reading: Theory and evidence (p. 69–96). Psychology Press.

Droop, M., & Verhoeven, L. (2003). Language proficiency and reading ability in first- and second-language learners. Reading Research Quarterly, 38 (1), 78–103.

Durgunoğlu, A. Y. (2002). Cross-linguistic transfer in literacy development and implications for language learners. Annals of Dyslexia, 52, 189–204.

Gough, P. B., & Tunmer, W. E. (1986). Decoding, Reading, and Reading Disability. Remedial and Special Education, 7, 6–10.

Helman, L. A. (2004). Building on the sound system of Spanish: Insights from the alphabetic spellings of English-language learners. The Reading Teacher, 57 (5), 452–460.

Kilpatrick, D. (2015). Essentials of assessing, preventing, and overcoming reading difficulties (Essentials of psychological assessment). Boston: John Wiley and Sons.

Krashen, S.D., & Terrell, T.D. (1983). The natural approach: Language acquisition in the classroom. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Linan-Thompson, S. and Vaughn. S. (2007) Research-based Methods of Reading Instruction for English Learners, Grades K–4. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Moats. L.C.& Tolman, C. A. (2019). LETRS (3rd edition). Voyager Sopris Learning.

Pearson, P. D. & Gallagher, M.C. (1983). The Instruction of Reading Comprehension, Contemporary Educational Psychology, 8, 1983, pp. 317–344.

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Last Updated: March 14, 2023

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