Why Teaching Phonics is Not Enough

It is time for me to lighten things up a bit after my emotional post last week. One of the things I love about working with kids is that they always manage to teach me. Prior to this past week, I had already known that there are an incredible amount of words that don’t follow the reading rules in the English language. What I didn’t know is how much this would be thrown in my face in the middle of my lessons with one particular small group of students that tend to ask questions (which is fantastic, BTW). It was a week of hilarity on the reading front proving to me, once again, that ONLY teaching phonics and phonetic rules is NOT enough to develop a reader.

Teaching phonics and phonetic rules is not enough to develop a reader. It is important to teach the rules of reading, but is equally important to teach about words that break these rules.

*Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I might make a small commission on purchases made at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support!

Great Question!

As I stated earlier, one of the groups I read with tends to question things (which I love!) I had already taught the general overview of rules such as the silent e, when a vowel should or shouldn’t say its name, and other long vowels/short vowels rules like that. Giving mini-lessons followed by authentic reading is what works for me. I’m not boring the students and they immediately get to practice what’s just been explained.

We had covered a number of examples. Then, when reading a book together, the word ‘onion’ came up. Hmmm. A hand went up. “Why does the word ‘onion’ not either start with u or have a long o sound? Why is it spelled o-n-i-o-n and not u-n-i-o-n?” What a fantastic question! Why DOES the ‘o’ in ‘onion’ make the short ‘u’ vowel sound??? I go over the words ‘union’ and ‘onion.’ Of course, the ‘u’ says its name in ‘union.’ It also does in the word ‘unit.’ The spelling of ‘onion’ truly doesn’t make sense to me.

I tend to put words that don’t follow the rules in ‘word jail.’ Readers simply have to learn them even though they break the rules. The fact that it is being questioned shows me that these kids are paying attention and starting to transfer their knowledge. This is awesome! ‘Onion’ is a jail word.

Vocabulary and Reading

More reading together brings us to some new vocabulary. The sentence in the book we were reading together was, “The moose waded in the water.”

A hand goes up. “What is the moose waiting for?” I eat up the opportunity to go through a mini-vocabulary lesson. Although each of the students knew what a wading pool is when it came to extending knowledge and using examples they would already be familiar with, they hadn’t come across using the root word ‘wade’ in other ways. We go through the definitions of ‘wade’ and ‘wait’. Both ‘wade’ and ‘wait’ DO follow the rules. They are just following different rules from each other.

BTW, if you are particularly great at enunciating the difference between ‘waited’ and ‘waded’ in your everyday talking, I commend you. I am not and neither are any of the students in this group apparently.

One side note here is that readers need to be taught what a root word is and the common suffixes that will be added onto them. I would argue this is especially true for the suffixes ‘ing’ and ‘ed.’ This helps tremendously in both reading and writing.

Teaching phonics and phonetic rules is not enough to develop a reader. It is important to teach the rules of reading, but is equally important to teach about words that break these rules.

One Last Lesson for Me

Another reading rule covered this week when reading was when we see two o’s together as in the words ‘cool,’ ‘pool,’ and ‘soon.’ I tend to call these o’s “ooey o’s” simply because they tend to make the oo sound (like a long u sound, but without the quick y sound in front of it). Wouldn’t you know it? The word ‘wool’ was in the same story that I went over that rule in! Yep, you guessed it! There was a question about this also.

Isango.com - Best Things to Do Around the World

In Summary

As you can see, ONLY teaching phonics and phonetic rules is NOT enough to develop a reader. Although it is important to go over the many rules of reading, it is equally important to go over words that break the rules during authentic reading time. Having kids that question these rules is fantastic as this truly does demonstrate that a rule is understood and starting to be transferred into everyday reading. This is when those exceptions to the rules become memorable! Don’t forget to have fun with it and see the humor in these moments. 😉

Teaching phonics and phonetic rules is not enough to develop a reader. It is important to teach the rules of reading, but is equally important to teach about words that break these rules.


If you have a young reader in your life who is experiencing difficulty with reading, I invite you to check out my FREE masterclass. This class goes over how I discovered the truth about my children’s reading difficulties and helped them soar in reading… and how you can do this with your child, too!

I know I’ve recommended this resource in previous posts, but I will recommend it again. One resource I love to use when teaching reading is The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo. What I LOVE about this resource is that each and every page is a one-page lesson with exemplars. Each page also states the reading level that the lesson is ideal for. Units are divided into sections such as comprehension and fluency, then filled with those one-page lessons. It truly is awesome for anyone in a teaching role.

If you are looking for reading strategies to go over with individuals, definitely check out some of my other posts like The Best Reading Comprehension Strategies, Five Quick Tips for Fostering a Reading Environment, Tips for Helping Readers Make Inferences, Introducing Tone and Mood to Young Readers, and Things Watching TV and Reading Should Have in Common. There really is so much more to teaching reading than just teaching phonics!

How About You?

Are there any words that you or your child have come across that seem to break all of the rules for teaching phonics? What are your favorite strategies for teaching kids to read? Have you had any hilarious moments on the reading front? Let me know in the comments below.

Why Teaching Phonics is Not Enough; Teaching phonics and phonetic rules is not enough to develop a reader. It is important to teach the rules of reading, but is equally important to teach about words that break these rules. phonetic reading; words that break the rules; teaching reading strategies; teaching reading to struggling readers
FREE Starter Kit With Annual Bluprint Subscription at mybluprint.com 3/15-3/18/19.
Spread the love

You may also like


  1. When working with reading with one of my sons we noticed some words that are technically mispronounced all of the time. These are ‘walked’ ‘talked’, etc. People tend to end these words with a ‘t’ sound instead of a ‘d’ sound. It is interesting because there are many words that come up all of the time during our reading time together. Do you suggest that we work on sight words a ton, or just talk about these words during reading time?

    1. For me, this depends on the type of reader that I am working with. Some readers find sight words the most difficult to read no matter how much they are worked on. This is because so many sight words can’t be sounded out phonetically and often look like other words (eg. three, tree, there, then; were, we’re). Others master them quickly and translate them into their reading without difficulty. I tend to go over the sight words, but also ensure that the students get to authentic reading where we first do a mini-lesson of what to focus on for the session followed by practice time to transfer the skill. I also write some problem sight words out and have students create something that will remind them of what that word stands for. Apostrophes are very important to teach as well… why they are used, where they are placed, etc. It is too often assumed that kids automatically know this, but most I’ve worked with have not had a great understanding of it. I hope this helps! 🙂

  2. This post has made me cry! As hard, as it is to teach a child phonics, you can’t imagine how much harder it has been teaching phonics and different “reading rules” to my daugther with dyslexia. It just doesn’t make sense at all. Just glad to have read this post. SO grateful!

    1. I teach a lot of individuals with dyslexia, so definitely can empathize with you. Each and every individual has unique needs when it comes to reading. I am glad that you found this post helpful and wish you all the best with your daughter on her reading journey.

      1. Thank you so much!! I would love to read any advice that you might have/apply when you work with kids with dyslexia! I have been trying to read anything I can get my hands on. I have to admit, sometimes it feels like I am up a creek without a paddle!

  3. I followed along like I was one more student sitting in your class. Learning English as a second language was so hard and things like this made it even harder. Great job! I learned something new today 👌

    1. I can definitely understand how learning English as a second language would not be an easy thing! There are so many exceptions to a rule in the English language.

  4. This is so true! As a homeschool mom, I began teaching reading with sight words, but my daughter wasn’t getting it. So i switched to phonics, she picked up reading in no time! Now we are back to sight words as most sight words can’t be “sounded out.”

    1. I love it! You are so right about those sight words, too! Words like ‘of’ and ‘the’ certainly aren’t spelled like they would be if they were phonetically correct.:D

  5. I agree so much with this. Although phonics are a fantastic first step and so required to be a successful reader, we can’t just stop there.

    Teachers are truly amazing. I spent years trying to teach my girl how to read, but when she went to kindergarten, something about the way they did it, she picked it up immediately and hasn’t been seen without a book in her hand since.

    So thank you teachers, for all you do.

    1. Awe, I love this! The fact that you were reading regularly to your daughter before she started going to school would have certainly helped with her success in reading. 😀

  6. Your students are very smart! I’m looking forward to teaching my children how to read but I’m also kind of dreading it. They’re bilingual and their second native language, Serbian, is very easy to read. G-d bless Vuk Karadjich who eliminated all the rif-raf and developed one reading rule: “Read as you write!”

    1. Your children are lucky. Being bilingual is a gift! I definitely agree that other languages seem to be much easier to read than the English language. 🙂

  7. Answer to: Then, when reading a book together, the word ‘onion’ came up. Hmmm. A hand went up. “Why does the word ‘onion’ not either start with u or have a long o sound? Why is it spelled o-n-i-o-n and not u-n-i-o-n?” The answer to this apparent exception is explained in author Denise Eide book “The Logic of English” page 126. The reason the o says short u in many words is because before the printing press when books were hand written by scribes and paper was probably expensive they made the letters small and close together to get as many words on a page. Whenever a word like muther (mother), wunder (wonder)and luve (love) were written it was hard to read because of all the vertical lines in M, TH, W, N or V. So the English decided to change the u to an o in many words thus enabling the English reader to read the small and squeezed together letters. Therefore, because in the word onion, and most likely spelled union, the o was next to n it was whiched to an o for the ease of reading. The rule is “O may say short u in a stressed syllable next to W, TH, M, N or V.”

  8. this is so true! My second-grader is a phenomenal reader but he will still say words sometimes that he’s only come across in reading, and he pronounces them phonetically and it’s so interesting. He read a book about mythology and all of the names of the gods were off — z E-us, pos-E-eh-don, etc.
    Reading is such a multifaceted skill!

    1. Yes, reading is multifaceted for sure! I love that you are listening to him read. This enables him to learn the correct pronunciations of those tricky words. 😀

  9. This is so interesting. Right now I am using sight words to teach my son (he’s in preschool) and he seems to be getting it really well. I will certainly give phonics a try as well.

    1. That’s wonderful, Adriana! A combination of both is a great approach. Many sight words do not follow the rules of phonics, yet many unfamiliar words that your son comes across as he progresses in reading will require phonics skills to figure out.

  10. I love this post! Will definitely be bookmarking this. My children are still quite young but I plan on homeschooling so this will be helpful when we get into reading. Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *