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June 9. 2017

Teaching Phonics with Fountas & Pinnell Literacy™

This is the last in a series of blogs about Phonics and Fountas & Pinnell Literacy™. 

Learning how words work doesn’t have to be a boring, mundane drill. There are ways to turn your students into enthusiastic explorers of words by getting them engaged in active thinking about language and how it works. Fountas and Pinnell have developed a lesson structure for phonics, spelling, and word study that uses a balance of direct teaching and inquiry, which will encourage students to become active examiners and analyzers of print.

“Children learn much more than we can teach them; they often astound us with the creativity of their insights.” ~Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell

Fountas and Pinnell believe that in the tug-of-war between direct teaching and discovery, going to extremes can be dangerous.  It’s dangerous to leave everything to discovery because students may not acquire the understanding they need, but it’s equally dangerous to let students learn only through direct teaching and neglect the excitement that makes learning real. Below is the structure Fountas and Pinnell use in their phonics, spelling, and word study lessons, which provide well-planned, organized direct teaching of language principles, but also contain an element of inquiry.

The Simple Framework

Each phonics, spelling, and word study lesson that appears in a Fountas & Pinnell Literacy™ resource follows a simple structure: teach, apply, and share. Ideally, these lessons would be embedded in a design for responsive literacy teaching that offers a coherent, organized combination of experiences, each of which contributes uniquely to students’ literacy development. Here’s what a lesson looks like:

  • TEACH whole-class lessons based on a principle related to phonics. Each principle is listed and explained in The Comprehensive Phonics, Spelling, and Word Study Guide, and each incorporates an element of inquiry. The inclusion of inquiry, where possible, rivets students’ attention to discovering something about language; it makes the lesson enjoyable, even exciting! Students become pattern seekers and word discoverers, which, hopefully, will be a lifelong habit.
  • APPLY through hands-on practice to apply the principle. Students can learn much more through these hands-on activities because they provide an experience in constructing their own knowledge. You can choose to have all the children do the Apply activity simultaneously, individually, or with a partner after the lesson, or they could rotate to a word-study center to engage in the activity during independent work time as they develop the ability to manage their own learning. 
  • SHARE, as students meet briefly in a whole-class meeting, to talk about the discoveries they made. This brief sharing time gives you a chance to assess the effectiveness of your lesson, return to the principle and summarize the learning, and link to reading and writing so students know how to use what they have learned.

A general goal in presenting any lesson is to pique students’ curiosity about words. We want them to seek patterns, notice similarities, take words apart and reassemble them, think about various chunks of words and what they mean, and more. When students perceive word study as word play, an important instructional goal has been achieved.

To learn about all of the Fountas & Pinnell Literacy™ resources that contain this effective phonics, spelling, and word study lesson structure, click here to read last week’s blog. And don’t forget to keep an eye out this August for the NEW Phonics, Spelling, and Word Study System for grades K and 1!

~The Fountas & Pinnell Literacy™ Team

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