Four Methods for Teaching Phonics

Abstract: This essay discusses three alternatives to Synthetic Phonics Instruction: Analytic Phonics Instruction, Analogy-Based Phonics Instruction, and Embedded Phonics Instruction. Definitions and examples are given for each method, and the different strategies are compared to each other. The Synthetic and Analytic methods are traditional approaches, and the Analogy-Based and Embedded strategies are modern approaches. While the traditional approaches focus on the technical details of words, the modern approaches are more literature-based. All three of the alternatives discussed are more authentic than Synthetic Phonics Instruction, as they focus on whole words or entire texts, instead of isolated phonetic sounds. However, none of the methods can be labeled as the correct or incorrect way to teach phonics. This essay can give insight into the different nuances of each method, so the best method can be chosen based on the specific student or situation. No matter which method is chosen, the other methods can be used as supplements or as occasional replacements for variety.

Suppose that one of my students, Johnny, is not gaining much from my Synthetic Phonics Instruction. This old-fashioned method involves teaching phonetic sounds and building them into words (Vacca, et al., 2015). For instance, Johnny and I could be working on the soft g sounds in conjunction with the short /i/ and /f/. Once these individual sounds are thoroughly learned, Johnny would work on composing them into words such as giraffe or fridge (Vacca, et al., 2015). If this approach is unsuccessful, or if I wish to introduce some variety, there are three alternative methods that I could use: Analytic Phonics Instruction, Analogy-Based Phonics Instruction, and Embedded Phonics Instruction.

The first alternative method I could use is “Analytic Phonics Instruction” (Vacca, et al., 2015, p. 185). This traditional method (Vacca, et al., 2015) is, in essence, the Synthetic approach in reverse. While Synthetic Phonics Instruction begins with the smallest units of sound within each word, the Analytic approach begins with the words themselves and breaks them down into phonetic sounds (Vacca, et al., 2015). In other words, instead of teaching Johnny to recognize and correctly pronounce /a/ and then comparing it to words with that sound such as apple, I would begin with a word that interests Johnny, such as bike, and analyze each of its sounds (/b/, long /i/, and /k/). We could connect each of these sounds to words with the same sounds (Vacca, et al., 2015). This approach offers a more authentic way to learn phonetics than Synthetic Instruction, as sounds are encountered in daily life through whole words, not individual phonemes.

Another meaningful alternative I could try is “Analogy-Based Phonics Instruction” (Vacca, et al., 2015, p. 189). This is a contemporary method based on constructivist principles (Vacca, et al., 2015) that involves taking unknown words from a meaningful text and learning them by “comparing and contrasting” them with other, similar known words (Vacca, et al., 2015, p. 189). I could choose a book that would be fun to read that also contains the phonetic sound or sounds Johnny is focusing on at present. For example, A Mouse in the House (Henrietta, 2001) would be a great book to use to teach the /ou/ sound. By activating prior knowledge, the Analogy-Based method empowers children to analyze and learn unknown words on their own, and the incorporation of interesting literature gives an added incentive for learning the technical details of the text.

If all else fails, or as a supplement to the aforementioned instructional methods, I could employ the “Embedded Phonics Instruction” strategy (Vacca, et al., 2015, p. 189). This is another modern approach based on constructivism (Vacca, et al., 2015). It is also a completely top-down method of instruction, which means that it focuses on working backwards from comprehension to an understanding of the technical details of a meaningful text (Vacca, et al., 2015). For example, Johnny could read a book that he really enjoys. As he reads, we would have discussions about the book’s content. If he runs into words that puzzle him, I would encourage him to think of a word that makes sense in the context of the story, or I could encourage him to compare the word to one he already knows (Vacca, et al., 2015). The structure of this method emphasizes that meaning and context are more important than technical details and instills the message that the phonics instruction has real-life applications.

All four of these methods—Synthetic, Analytic, Analogy-Based, and Embedded Phonics Instruction—offer useful ways to teach phonetic sounds in different situations for different learners. None of the methods are necessarily right or wrong. Some just work better for some learners and environments than others. As a teacher, I would base which phonics instruction method I use on the learner’s individual needs, the desire for authentic instruction, and the belief in occasionally using a different strategies for variety.


Henrietta. (2001). A mouse in the house: A real-life game of hide and seek. London, England: DK Publishing.

Vacca, J. A., Vacca, R. T., Gove, M. K., Burkey, L. C., Lenhart, L. A., & McKeon, C. A. (2015). Reading & learning to read [9th ed.]. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.


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