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Phonics vs. Word Association

Updated on February 20, 2012

Which One Is Best?

Phonics is a method of teaching reading whereby the one who is learning is taught to piece words together by saying the sounds of each letter individually, also known as "sounding out the word." After the student correctly pronouces each sound in order, he or she says them together and reads the word.

Though some educators are convinced phonics is the best way to teach reading, others disagree. There are those who are in a hurry to hear the word without all the sounding out, and who are not willing to wait through the process.

I would like to point out that if a student sounds out words often enough, e.g. is allowed and encouraged to practice, the words will, in time, begin to be recognized and read more quickly. Students who have been taught to use phonics correctly will begin to memorize words on their own, and after a while will only sound out those words with which they are unfamiliar.

There is, however, a drawback to the phonics method: how do you sound out laugh or rough or faux pas? This is where memorization and word association can be useful. They make good supplementary methods for those words that do not and can not fit into the phonetic method.

The benefit of knowing phonics and not just word association is that kids can read words they've never encountered because they are able to sound them out. However, for those words that defy the rules of English pronunciation, memorization and word association make great supplements, as well as does a complete course in spelling later on.

Circle the Blends

If you are using a book that can be written on or are able to print out material for early readers, here's a tip that helps them remember and recognize the sounds of letter combinations: circle blends and dipthongs.

If you can draw pictures or find and use clip art, make and post a chart where they can see it. Place something like cherries by the ch, a ship by the sh, a bandage by the ou (ouch is pretty easy to remember), or a cow by the ow. Also include sight words, especially ones that don't follow the normal rules, on your chart. (A good example of a commonly used, rule breaking word is the.)

Gray the Silent Letters

It also helps to use your word processor's capabilities to gray out the silent letters in a word. This should only be done for very early readers, for sooner or later they must learn to recognize which letters are silent by observing the rules for vowels. However, beginners gain confidence and learn to like reading more if you give them things they can read independently.

Have Fun!

Find as many ways as you can to make reading fun for your child. Create a treasure hunt by hiding notes as clues to follow. Promise a pizza after a stack of books gets read. Buy the book of the latest release BEFORE you buy the movie. Promise the movie upon completion of the book.

Keep all lessons short. Children do not possess our adult mental powers of concentration, and can quickly become frustrated if their lessons are too long. You want them to keep a positive mental attitude toward reading, so always leave them wanting more.


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    • savanahl profile image


      6 years ago

      Great information. I taught my daughter to read through word association when she was only 5 months old. As she got older we started to incorporate phonics. A 2 years old she now reads over 500 words but we've been a little stuck with blends and silent letters so this is going to help a lot. Thanks for sharing.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      6 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      An excellent very informative hub. I teach EFL in Thailand, and sadly very little phonics supplemented with word association is used when teaching young learners English.


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