Imagine with me the recipe that most first grade teachers attempt to create a class of readers:

A dash of phonemic awareness, a larger measure of phonics, sprinkled with sight word games, simmered with an engaging read aloud, but not neglecting the obligatory 10 minutes in a writing journal.

Does the careful mixing of these many reading skills bake make a strong reader?

In many cases, yes! When that happens, it is delicious.

However, if we examine reading outcomes such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), just a few years later in 4th grade the outcomes for over 30% have turned sour.

This batch of readers does not demonstrate even basic reading achievement. 🙁

Bitterness and dis-engagement often follow fast upon repeated disappointed with learning to read. Tragically, each year the distance between the reading “haves” and “have-nots” grows larger.

What if?

Mother And Daughter Baking Together At Home

What if we have forgotten to stir the ingredients and haven’t really finished the dish?

Might an approach that integrates phonemic awareness, phonics knowledge, high frequency word practice, spelling, and writing boost reading outcomes?

With child after child, from beginners to strivers, we do find that an integrated approach to the foundational reading skills prepares great readers.

Integrate; Don’t Isolate

Rather than teaching

  • 10 minutes of phonemic awareness
  • 20 minutes of phonics instruction, and then
  • 15 minutes of handwriting and spelling instruction,

integrate these reading skills into one 5 – 10 minute instructional activity.

What does that look like?

One of our favorite fully integrated activities is called Switch It. This is what it looks like:

Or, here's another visual on the Switch It procedures:

Switch It Example image

  1. The teacher calls out a switch,Switch ‘map' to ‘mop.'”
  2. Then the student makes the switch and says each sound as she moves each letter-sound tile/card:
  3. After she creates each new word, she segments, or separates, each sound in the word:

             “/mmmmm/  /o—–/ /p/……'mop.'” 

A Switch List for a beginner might look like this, with CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words:








While a slightly more advanced student might be challenged by this with some CVCC words:










Here's a beginning reader, who is four, learning more about phonics information and phonemic awareness in the video below.

Notice how he is able to manipulate sounds in the easier CVC (Consonant-Vowel-Consonant) level, such as “chick,” but then demonstrates a leap forward by also manipulating the harder CCVC (Consonant-Consonant-Vowel-Consonant) word: “prick.”


Simultaneous, Integrated Sub-Skills

What skills do the children practice when they manipulate these letter-sound cards and say their sounds?

Several, you say?

Yes! Here are some of sub-skills that were addressed by just this one integrated activity:

  • Phonemic segmentation
  • Phonemic manipulation
  • Consonant letter-sound knowledge
  • Short vowel letter-sound knowledge
  • Decoding
  • Spelling
  • High Frequency word analysis
  • Connections between word identification and vocabulary
  • Concept of the alphabetic principle.

Notice these multiple sub-skills were integrated and practiced simultaneously, and in short order….hmmm…does that pun work with short order cook? 😉

If you'd like a more scholarly dive into this activity and its benefits, read this article written by Bruce McCandliss, Isabel Beck, Rebecca Sandak, and Charles Perfetti.  These researchers term what we call Switch It a “Word Building” technique, but the gist of the activity is very similar.  With just this simple activity, these researchers demonstrated significant growth in phonemic awareness, decoding, and even….comprehension. Yep!

What are the benefits of this integrated approach to foundational reading skills?

  1. Saves time.
  2. Provides the pivotal transfer ability necessary for the child’s independent reading skills the next day and week.
  3. Develops the phonemic (sound-based) decoding precision necessary to be a strong reader and speller.

So, you want to be a better cook?

Re-examine your recipe.

Consider your scope and sequence and the isolated sub-skill after sub-skill tack.

Perhaps make a more effective, and efficient product if you mix phonemic awareness at the same time you teach decoding and letter-sound knowledge.

We follow a 1-page Streamlined Pathway that guides our thinking in a scope-and-sequence kinda way.

For example, in the first, bottom-left section, we teach multiple, integrated sub-skills: consonants, short vowels, phonemic awareness (all types), decoding, and high frequency words. All in just a couple of activities such as Switch It.

[See this post about Blend As You Read for our other early main activity that integrates multiples skills simultaneously.]Streamlined Pathway still

After working with hundreds of students and watching others work with thousands of students, we testify that students learn to read more rapidly and easily with an integrated approach.

And, the National Reading Panel demonstrated the value of this key ingredient to word identification when they noted greater impact from phonemic awareness integrated with letter-sound instruction.

Finally, consider this admonition from Marie Clay, creator of Reading Recovery:

“The lowest literacy achievers will have extreme difficulty bridging any gaps in the teaching programme and linking together things that have been taught separately.”

Please select a student and try the Switch It approach with him/her.   A list of words will make it easier to get started….Download our FREE Switch It packet below to jump start your students' decoding!

Please report back here with what you found after trying Switch It.  What have you discovered?