Phonics or Whole Language?

What type of approach should I use to teach my kids to read?

While there are several approaches that you can use to teach your kids to read, phonics and whole language are the two most common. Which do I suggest? Well, I’m a big proponent of reading in general, so I’d say to use what works. The big key is patience on the part of the instructor, as reading and decoding are skills that take time to develop.

Phonics: Pros and Cons, Simply Put


  • If students can learn to decode basic sounds to form into words, they can read almost anything. This is a real advantage when reading books like the Bible, technical journals, and even learning other languages.


  • Especially when learning a new segment of phonics, students can get so bogged down in decoding that they totally miss the plot or meaning of the words they are reading.
  • There are so many irregularities in the English language that beyond beginning phonics results in sight words for many phonics programs.

Whole Language: Pros and Cons, Simply Put


  • Speed. If a student can recognize at a glance an entire word, he’ll read a sentence, paragraph, or book more quickly.
  • Understanding. If you recognize the golden arches, you immediately know what they have available. It’s the same with words, really, if you see the word “cat” and know what a cat is, then you put context to the words.


  • The speed “pro” above breaks down when encountering a word that is unfamiliar, or for which the reader has no context.
  • It’s basically a memory approach, and not everyone learns best that way.

All-in-all, my suggestion is to start with a phonics program and adapt as necessary. So, here’s my favorite breakdown on teaching phonics. Spend the money on a good program that will last through all of the phonics years (usually around 3rd grade, but all kids learn at different speeds).

  • Play ‘n Talk – In my opinion, it’s the best phonics program around and uses a variety of modalities to teach.
  • Victory Drill – For my boys, this was an indispensable one-minute, daily activity that helped tremendously. We called it our “race” and we never had complaints.
  • Explode the Code – Follow the progression through Play ‘n Talk, but add in these workbooks as you deem necessary. Do them orally if you’d like, or have the kids write in the books. Your choice based upon how your kids learn!

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