Synthetic Phonics

Educators often speak of the importance of phonics in regard to children learning how to read, but what is less understood is that there are two main different types of phonics, systematic and analytic, and the difference between them is substantial enough to affect the gains in literacy that young readers make.

Synthetic phonics is a more accelerated form of phonics. Children are taught letter sounds upon first starting school, before they learn to read, and even before they are introduced to books. They learn the sounds of the letters in their smaller units, and then learn to put them together, or, synthesize them, as it were, hence the name “synthetic” phonics. For example, they first learn the sounds ‘c’, ‘a’, and ‘t’ before the letters are put together to form the word ‘cat’.

With analytic phonics, also known as implicit phonics, children are taught to recognize whole words by sight, and later to break down the word into the smaller units of sound. For example, using analytic phonics children are taught to recognize and say ‘cat’, then, when they’ve mastered the word ‘cat’ by sight, they are taught to break the word ‘cat’ into the smaller sounds, ‘c-a-t’. Letter sounds are taught after reading has begun. Children first learn to read by sight, and then learn letter sounds, as well as correct spelling of words, follows later. The uncertainty is how much later this knowledge of letter sounds and correct spelling will follow. It does not always follow that children will be able to pick up these skills using analytic phonics. With analytic phonics, children differ widely in their ability to pick-up all the implicit rules of the English alphabet.

In Clackmannanshire, Scotland, a 2004 study contrasted the literacy that 300 children acquired after 16 weeks of using synthetic as opposed to analytic phonics. At the end of the 16-week experimental period, the children who were taught synthetic phonics (as opposed to analytic phonics) were

  • 7 months ahead of the analytic group in reading and 7 months ahead of their chronological age.

  • 8-9 months ahead in spelling of the analytic group, and 7 months ahead of their age. Another advantage of synthetic phonics is how beneficial it is to both genders. It has become a commonplace that boys lag behind girls in literacy, but according to the study of the 300 children in Scotland, boys as well as girls excelled in reading, reading comprehension, and spelling.

Of course, the use of synthetic phonics does not exclude the use of analytic phonics. There are some words that cannot be learned by breaking them into smaller parts and children must learn them by sight and they are often referred to as ‘sight words’.

The ABC Reading Eggs program uses a synthetic phonics approach in its instruction. With the Reading Eggs program, children begin by learning the appropriate sound for each letter of the alphabet, including letter combinations. Each letter of the alphabet is featured in its own lesson, and lessons build on one another, systematically, so that within a handful or two lessons, children are able to read their first book.

In the first 60 lessons, all the books are highly decodable, using words that have been introduced and reinforced by the lessons. The program responds to readers at their level of ability, making it possible for children to consistently read at their level, which is the most beneficial for their learning. If the lessons are too easy, children lose interest; if they are too hard, children lose motivation. But, pitch a lesson right at a child’s level, interest and motivation is maintained, and reading comprehension grows along with reading success.

As well as working through the alphabet, and the sounds that each letter makes, Reading Eggs also includes lessons on phonics skills such as working with beginning and end blends of letters, the variety of sounds that vowels make, diphthongs, consonant letter sounds such as soft c, g, and y, silent letters, double letter sounds, word families, and how to work through words with more than one syllable. The ABC Reading Eggs program helps young readers develop these phonics awareness skills; lessons build on one another, and reading skills improve upon the completion of every reading activity.

By using the ABC Reading Eggs program, children learn to read in an engaging and enjoyable way. All of the lessons are embedded in game-like activities that encourage the children to play as they learn. When they succeed, they are rewarded with prizes, such as the Golden Eggs they receive at the end of each short activity they complete. With the lessons being so fun, young readers enjoy spending time in the Reading Eggs programs, and the more time they spend in the program, the more that they learn!