Four Types of Phonics Your Child Must Know to Help Them Learn How to Read

Every time I meet a mom or dad who has a child between the ages of 2 and 4 and they find out that I help kids learn how to read for a living, they always have a million questions about what they should do to get their kid reading early. Likewise, parents who have kids who are already in elementary school, and are struggling in reading, also ask 50 million questions. They want to know if this book or that book is the best way to learn. Should they just read to their kids? Do they tell them the right word or let them struggle? Are they supposed to figure all this out in school? Ultimately what they want to know is, how do I help my kid learn how to read. The answer to the question is simple. The best way to teach your child how to read is through a phonics based system.

I talk to a lot to parents who have heard all about phonics (hooked on phonics works for me….remember that?), but they aren’t so sure what exactly phonics is.  I’m not only going to explain to you what phonics is, but I’m also going to give you different types of phonics groups that will have your kid reading fast. Everyone starts to learn how to read based on phonics I’m just going to make sure you’re able to help your reader see it through.

In this post you’ll learn….

  • – what phonics is
  • – what order to learn phonics in
  • – how to learn phonics
  • – a tip on how to help your child learn phonics, instead of memorize words.

What Is Phonics?

If you want to be super simple, phonics is just sounds that are associated with one or more letters. For the most part that is how the English language is built. We all remember this from school, “a  like apple”. But it’s a lot more than just “a like apple”. There are 74 basic phonograms (which are basically phonics sounds). That’s what you want your reader to master. I know 74 sounds like a lot to have to know. But that’s why we break them up into groups. By the way apple is not a basic phonics word, we’ll get into why later.

Why break phonics into groups?

Breaking the sounds into groups does a few things for us, but mostly it just makes it easier for us to teach kids, and for your reader to learn. Sometimes we combine some of those sounds and create a combination of phonics sounds. This too is done just to make your child’s reading life easier.

The First Phonics Group: Letter Sounds

If your reader is at the very beginning or is struggling at all with reading you should start here.  This is the simplest, but also the most important part of reading. Think of this as your child’s foundation. There are 26 basic letter sounds ( 1 for every letter in the alphabet…. you knew that). Before you start working with your child on these, make sure you’re clear on what they are.

First, remember they are sounds not letters. Do not teach your child a,b,c,d,e,f,g as phonics. While it’s definitely important to know the names of the letters, that’s not phonics. There’s no shame in having to brush up on  exactly what the basic phonics sounds are, you can go here to do it. It’s a simple game you can do with your child, and help them learn phonics.

To be clear, the basic phonics “a” makes the sound like the a in apple or, accolade or alley.  It’s not the a in apologize, or appreciate. It’s really important that you only teach your child the basic phonics sounds  first (these are the 26 alphabet sounds). Nothing else. B is like the b sound in bat, c is like the c sound in cat, and so on and so forth. These basic letter sounds are the first thing your child should learn, and they should learn them well. Everything is built upon this.

While we’re on the subject of phonics sounds, let’s go back to why apple is not a completely basic phonics word. Think about the sounds that each letter makes. a-p-p-l……e. Since we don’t pronounce the e at the end of apple it’s not a word that you can sound out, so for that reason it’s not a basic phonics word. When you start making up words to practice with your child, just keep that in mind. Sound out the words first, to make sure that it’s a word that they are capable of reading at this stage.

How to learn Letter Sounds…..Group the Letters

I think the easiest way to teach those basic 26 phonics sounds is to break them up into groups. I like to break them up into 6 groups (msat, bfox, henrd, cupz, wiglj, and vkqy. You’ll see these groups all over this site, and it doesn’t matter which order your reader learns them in (although I’d recommend doing vkqy last) It also doesn’t matter if you use different letter combinations for your groups.  Just break up the alphabet, so that your kid doesn’t have to learn 26 new things in one day.

Why Groups?

The benefit of breaking the alphabet up into groups is that your child will be able to start reading words right away. For example, if you start with the group msat, your child can read and spell mat, sat, at, am, and sam. You can teach them all of this in a day or two. When kids can start reading right away it also reinforces the letter sounds that they’ve already learned, and they feel successful. Also,  you feel like an awesome teacher. Once your reader has learned the first group of letters and can make and read words, they should move onto the next group, bfox (box, ox, fox). And there you go…..they are already reading and know the first 26 of the 74 basic phonics sounds that they’ll need to learn. You can practice them on this site here

The Second Phonics Group: Word Endings

These next two groups can be learned in either order. They also will reinforce those basic 26 phonics sounds. We’re still going to stick with those 26 sounds. This time we’re going to take two or three of those basic phonics sounds and put them together. The sounds that the letters make will not change. The only thing this does is make reading easier and faster. It’s also a great way to subtly introduce blending to your child.

So, it goes like this. I like to break down word endings into two groups. Two letter word endings and three letter word endings. The two letter word endings that I like to teach are at, en, am, eg, an, ig, og, un, um, ip, ug, ut, in, op, ag. These are at the end of short phonics words like cvc words (consonant vowel consonant words) like bat, or leg.  By using word endings your reader will already start to blend, and it’ll cut their reading time in half. Instead of reading cat, c-a-t, they will read it as c-at. Two sounds instead of three. Practice….practice…practice here.

The second group of word endings that I like to teach are three letter word endings, and those include, and, ilk, amp, est, ent, ink, ist, ift, ock, ing, ast, ack, ang, ank, int, end, uck. These endings tend to be at the end of longer simple phonics words and of course they are also in the middle of much longer words. Duck goes from d-u-c-k to d-uck. Much simpler for your child. You and your reader can practice those here. This simple game just allows your reader to hear the sounds of words and select the right letters, making practicing these word endings easy.

The Third Phonics Group: Consonant Blends

Just like with word endings consonant blends just use those basic 26 phonics sounds that your reader will learn at the beginning of their reading journey. Also, like word endings, consonant blends take two or three sounds and puts them together. The sounds of the letters do not change, they are just combined to make reading easier. And again this is another opportunity for young readers to practice blending sounds.

It doesn’t matter if kids learn word endings or consonant blends first, they are both kind of the same thing (one is at the end of the word, the other is at the beginning of a word). I like to do word endings first, just because they are used in those short little 3 letter words that kids usually start building and reading first. Consonant blends are almost always in words that are at least 4 letters long, so in my mind it just makes sense to learn them after word endings. But it doesn’t really matter.

What Are Consonant Blends?

As I’ve already mentioned they are two or three sounds (letters) put together that tend to go at the beginning of a word. These are the ones that I think are most important, bl,br, cl, cl,dr,fl,fr,gl,gr, pl, pr,qu,sm.sp,st,sl,tr.  These appear in words like black, stomp, pray, grass. Again they make reading words easier and faster. For example grass becomes, gr-a-ss, instead of g-r-a-ss and plant becomes pl-a–n-t, instead of p-l-a-n-t.  And, if you combine consonant blends with word endings, it gets even better. Take the word plank for example. Instead of p-l-a-n-k (5 sounds), it becomes,pl-ank (two sounds). It just makes life easier.  All of this also helps your reader reinforce those 26 letter sounds that they learned in the beginning. They’ll be experts by the time they are done. You and your reader can practice those here.

There are also three letter consonant blends. These are sounds like str, or scr. I think that these are helpful for kids to learn for the same reasons as the two letter consonant blends, but they aren’t as necessary, just because they don’t appear as often. It’s nice to mix them in with the next thing we’re going to talk about…digraphs.

What’s A Digraph?

Simply put, digraphs are two letters put together to make a sound. Unlike word endings and consonant blends they do not make the same sound as the basic 26 letter sounds of the alphabet.  Some of the most important ones are ch, sh, th, ck, ph ,and wh. I like to have kids learn these sounds at the same time that they learn consonant blends. Since word endings and consonant blends are basically a little bit of a review of the same sounds that they’ve learned before, adding in a few new sounds isn’t a big deal. It’s actually probably a nice little change. This also allows them the be able to read a bunch of new words.

The Fourth Phonics Group: The Rest of the Phonograms

Earlier I said that there are 74 basic phonics sounds, called phonograms and these are the sounds kids need to learn in order to be proficient early readers. Phonograms include a lot. They of course include those basic 26 sounds. They don’t include word endings or consonant blends, because those are really just blending techniques, not new sounds.  They do include digraphs. So at this point your reader knows almost half of these sounds. Learning the rest of these sounds will allow them to have the ability to spell and read a ton of words. It will also help them tremendously with their ability to spell in the future.

Ok so here we go…phonograms…. The rest of the phonics sounds. Pretty much all of the sounds appear in the middle of words. Many of them include vowel combinations, such as ai, ay, au, and oy. Some of them make the same sound like er and ir, and ou and ow. Some of the same phonograms make more than one sound, like ey (valley and hey) or oo (book, smooth). This is where things can start to get a little confusing for your reader. My recommendation is that if two different phonograms make the same sound, learn them together. That way your child doesn’t start questioning if they have the right sound. I always teach er and ir together. Same sound, learn them together. It’s easier.  You can find phonograms on this site here.

How to Learn Phonograms

I also recommend only introducing a few at a time (I usually do about 5 or 6) and then start learning words with those phonograms, in the same way that you did with those original letter sounds. Let your reader take their time with these, because it’s a lot of new sounds.

What’s Building Words?

I’ve mentioned this building words thing a lot, so you may be wondering what I’m talking about. One of the things that I find most important is having kids build words, and not just read them. Think of building words like spelling words. Instead of just being presented with a word, your child will hear the sounds in the word and have to select every individual sound. Why does this matter? Because if your child is constantly reading words, especially those with the same sounds and patterns it becomes easier for them to memorize words instead of learning the sounds. It’s also a great way to reinforce what they’ve learned. It also makes reading words much easier and more natural. Your child will also become a great speller, and truly understand how words are put together.


Hopefully by now you have a good idea of the importance of phonics when it comes to helping your kid learn how to read. Hopefully you also have a good idea of how you can support them in their reading development. Learning how to read doesn’t have to be hard, and it doesn’t have to be boring. Just remember a few things….

    • Learn those letter sounds first.
    • Reinforce them and practice blending with word endings and consonant blends.
    • Phonograms are the key to phonics. Knowing them will allow your child to read many difficult words with ease.
  • Build words, don’t just read them. Only reading can inadvertently cause memorization of words, instead of actually learning the sounds (phonics)

This site is full of little games that will help your reader learn, build and read words. What do you find is the most challenging part of phonics for your child?

More Ways to get your child reading

CVC Word Stories 

Free Stories for Kids

Teach Your Child How to Read in 15 Days

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