Major reviews of reading not only agree on the key components of reading programs – the five ‘keys’ to reading – but also the most effective way of teaching them. They find that explicit or ‘direct’ instruction is the most effective teaching method, especially for the fundamental code-based components ­―phonemic awareness and phonics.

According to Professor Keith Stanovich, “That direct instruction in alphabetic coding facilitates early reading acquisition is one of the most well established conclusions in all of behavioural science.”

Explicit instruction is a teaching model, rather than a specific teaching program. Explicit instruction has the following characteristics:

  • Teacher directed
  • Planned and sequenced lessons
  • Clear and detailed instructions and explanations
  • Content / skills are introduced in small steps
  • Practice after each step
  • Modelled and guided instruction and practice – (‘I do – we do – you do’)
  • Teaching to mastery
  • Frequent, systematic monitoring and feedback
  • High level of teacher-student interaction
  • Cumulative reviews and spaced practice

Explicit instruction in phonics

A specific form of explicit instruction has been found to be most effective for the teaching of phonics — a systematic synthetic phonics (SSP) approach, in which letter–sound correspondences are taught in a clearly defined sequence, and the skills of blending and segmenting phonemes are assigned high priority. This approach contrasts with the less effective analytic phonics, in which the phonemes associated with particular graphemes are not taught in isolation (i.e., outside of whole words). In the analytic phonics approach, students are asked to analyse the common phoneme in a set of words in which each word contains the phoneme being introduced. Even less effective is implicit or incidental phonics instruction, in which letter-sounds are taught only in the context of guided text-reading.

The links below provide information about the evidence base for explicit instruction in general and for phonics in particular.