Units of Study in Phonics
A Research-Based Curriculum
The Units of Study in Phonics have grown out of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project’s decades of research and practice in the
teaching of reading and writing. Given that phonics is important only insofar as it transfers to and informs literacy writ large, we think it is
essential that a phonics curriculum draw on broad, deep, applied knowledge of how students develop as writers and readers, speakers and
The sequence of the Units of Study in Phonics follows a pathway that is widely supported by an enormous body of research including the work
of Bear, Beck, Blevins, Cunningham, Fountas, Pinnell, Rasinski, and others. In general, whether children are studying the Units of Study in
Phonics or any one of many other programs, the sequence of topics they study will not be widely different.
Always, children first develop phonemic awareness: learning to segment words into phonemes, to blend phonemes into word parts and words,
and to rhyme and play with language. Simultaneously, children learn the alphabetic principle—learning letter names and sounds and formation.
They also become immersed in concepts of print. Throughout all of this, kids learn high-frequency words.
Researchers have some differences of opinion—should students develop phonemic awareness prior to any involvement with phonics (with
visible letters) or can phonemic awareness develop in synchrony with phonics knowledge? How much emphasis should be given to word
families (rimes) as opposed to letter-by-letter cumulative word solving? These differences of opinion are relatively small, however, compared to
the consensus that emerges among people who know about and study phonics instruction.
Aligning Phonics with Reading and Writing Instruction / Celebrating Approximation
Our commitment to teaching phonics in ways that give kids wings as readers and writers has important implications for the nature of phonics
instruction. It means that the pace and content of instruction need to align to the work children do as readers and writers.
Instead of starting kindergarten by teaching one letter a week, for example, we quicken the pace of that instruction, knowing that children can
cement their knowledge of letter-sound correspondences as they use that knowledge to label their drawings during writing time. The demands
that books pose will also influence the pace of phonics instruction. If you keep in mind that level C books contain contractions and that children
reading level E books will need to draw on a knowledge of long vowels, then it is clear that your phonics curriculum cannot proceed slowly
enough that children master one bit of content before proceeding to another. And if your phonics instruction aims to keep pace with your
children’s reading and writing development, you won’t be able to give equal time to all twenty-six letters, the thirty-seven most common
phonograms, and to each and every blend.
Phonics Instruction in the Units of Study in Phonics, K-2
© 2019 by Lucy Calkins, all rights reserved 2