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Home » Blog » Literacy » Phonics » How to Teach an Explicit Phonics Lesson

How to Teach an Explicit Phonics Lesson

Literacy, Phonics, Science of Reading

Written by: Mary Kate Bolinder

New and experienced teachers alike are diving deep into explicit phonics instruction. According to one of our Lucky 2nd grade teachers, “I am learning that explicit phonics instruction is important but it’s SO much – it’s going to take me hours to plan and prepare – and there are so many parts to an explicit phonics lesson!”

We are here to help! Consider Lucky Little Learners your teacher bestie, who you can turn to for tips, advice, and knowledge of best practices. In this post, we’ll learn what an explicit phonics lesson looks like, explore each step, and show you how to simplify planning and prep with our favorite grab-and-go tools and resources.

Explicit phonics lessons in a Science of Reading classroom

If you are applying the Science of Reading in your classroom, let’s think about the benefits of this approach. Each step in an explicit phonics lesson is essential to help build orthographic mapping (neural pathways) in the brain to connect language, visuals, and sounds. Research has shown that direct, explicit phonics instruction is the most effective way to grow students into readers. Students that have a strong understanding of letter-sound recognition will be able to recognize spelling patterns in new words. When they can recognize patterns, they can decode. If they can decode, they can develop word recognition. And if they can develop word recognition, they can become fluent, lifelong readers! Each step is a small part of the larger picture of student success.

7 Steps of an Explicit Phonics Lesson

Follow along or plan your own phonics lesson with this template!

Download this Explicit Phonics Lesson Plan Template

Step 1) Warm Up/ Review

In Step 1, review a previously taught skill. This is not something related to the current lesson. For example, if the week before you worked on short /a/, the warm-up might be a quick letter-sound review to work on fluency and automaticity. A quick game of thumbs up/thumbs down to show whether or not a word has the short /a/ sound would work well here! The warm-up could be a phonemic or phonics activity. It could also be a quick review of sight words.

Step 2) Phonological Awareness Activation

classroom sound wall displayed on a bulletin board above the classroom library

It might be tempting, but it’s important not to skip the phonological awareness portion of your phonics lessons. Why? The brain is wired for language – but not for reading. So, through phonological awareness, we are building connections between the visual and language centers of the brain. Read more about our favorite routine to use for Phonological Awareness Activation here.

For this sample lesson, we are focusing on the pattern /ar/. For Phonological Awareness Activation, show students /ar/ on the sound wall. Practice mouth formation of the sound with mirrors, and identify where the sound is in each word. For example in the words sharp, car, art.

AR cardsfrom a classroom sound wall

Step 3) Letter-Sound Correspondence

Introduce the new phonics skill of the day. Practice naming the letter(s) and saying the sound. In our /ar/ example lesson: Tell students that r changes the vowel sound to /ar/. Write /ar/ on the board. Students point to /ar/ on their individual sound wall.

individual sound wall

Step 4) Word Blending & Reading

In this step, decode & blend words that contain the new sound. Hold up your word cards for the sound, and model continuously blending for each word. We have Phonics Posters and Phonics word lists for all the sound patterns you need!

phonics poster and word list for teaching the AR spelling pattern

Step 5) Word Building

Use magnetic letters or tiles to create words. Phonics ladders also work well. Phonics Toothy is a fun option too! In this lesson example, students will use teacher directions on phonics ladders to build words. For more on how to use phonics ladders in the classroom, click here.

Step 6) Dictation & Encoding

Write words that contain the new sound/ spelling pattern. In this step of the lesson, students will write the words that match the pattern on their phonics ladders.

Phonics Ladder and Teacher Script for practicing vowel Team IE

Step 7) Decodable Text

Practice reading the new phonics sound/ spelling pattern in the decodable text. Our decodable phonics passages have every pattern you need! These decodable phonics passages also include a fluency tracker, word-building review, and comprehension question, to incorporate even more of the essential reading skills in your curriculum.

Decodable Phonics Reading Passage for practicing 'ILD and 'IND words Tttled "In the Wild".

Explicit Phonics Teaching Tips

explicit phonics lesson template
Download this explicit phonics lesson planning template.
  • The first time you try it, it’s a little slower for you because you aren’t in the routine yet, but you’ll get in the groove! It will get faster!
  • After a while, it might start to feel repetitive to you and you’ll want to change things up. Our advice is to stick with it! When you change activities and routines too often, the power of repetition is lost. (How many times have you gotten to Friday and your students don’t seem to have mastery of a skill you’ve been practicing in different ways all week?) THIS helps kids build from accuracy to automaticity.
  • Keep it moving at a peppy pace! Each part of the lesson should only take a few minutes. Have all your cards, word lists, and materials organized and ready to go.
  • The warm-up is QUICK. Choose 5 words, and then move on. This routine will help keep you on pace! You can dig deeper with students who need more review during small group or one-on-one lessons.

Ready to simplify Science of Reading alignment? Join Team Lucky Little Learners member Katie to see how easy and engaging it can be.

What part of the explicit phonics lesson do you find to be the most challenging? We are here to help! Drop us a line in the comments and let’s work together to build strong readers!


  1. Leah

    That video was great. You mentioned that was day one. How long was that group? It seems like a lot to get through. Thank you for the information..

    • Katie Palmer

      Hello Leah! I am glad you enjoyed the video! The day 1 routine shown in the video is activities I do in my whole group AND small groups! The whole group lesson is 10-15 minutes, then a 10-12 small group with my two to three lowest groups/whoever needs work on that sound. Hope this helps!


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