Top 5 Tips to Maximise Reading Success – Part 2

Tip No. 2 – Teaching according to a set sequence

In my last post I briefly outlined the basics of explicit instruction and its importance to children.  I described that it is essentially teaching children things before you expect them to use or do them.  Explicit instruction provides certainty and predictability for students and teachers alike.

My next tip to maximise reading success is to teach to a set sequence of knowledge and skills.    Scroll to the end of the page to find a free downloadable skills monitoring sheet. Generally, teaching using a set sequence means starting with the simple and moving to the complex, enabling children to build on what they have previously learned.  This might seem obvious, but when we present the entire alphabet or alphabetic code chart to children and teach them sounds as they occur in their reading or writing, we are doing exactly the opposite. 

Consider the student in their first few weeks of school. They are bright eyed and bushy tailed and are excited to learn to read, but they are little people with limited ability to focus and process information. Then consider the presentation of sounds above. Which do you think would be more accessible to most children? There is nothing wrong with a full alphabetic code chart above. In fact, for more advanced learners it can be an important part of their learning, but for novice learners, it is way too complex for them to take in, in my opinion.

This simple to complex model of teaching is part of preventing cognitive overload. Imagine beginning a French cooking course where all of the lessons were taught in French and you were going to be graded on the quality of your French Cooking as well as your ability to speak French.  In addition, these classes were taught by showing you a French dish and then presenting you with a box of ingredients to figure out how to make it on your own.  Complex? You bet!

Using a sequence of steps that gradually build on the one before significantly reduces the risk of cognitive overload. A sequence of teaching also allows for cumulative learning.  “You are now going to deal with the material you already know, plus a little bit more”.  

Teaching in a set sequence of steps not only makes sense for the reasons outlined above, but it is really practical when you have 22 children in front of you.  Allowing children to acquire skills and knowledge all in their own timing, according to their interests (yes, some schools do this) makes it a mammoth and near impossible task for a teacher to appropriately pay attention to children’s development and plan for moving them on to the next steps.   Similarly, teaching based on what your class incidentally encounters in books also adds a degree of complexity to teacher workload and prevent you from presenting material in a cumulative manner.  (Students aren’t the only ones who experience cognitive overload!)

So what sequences could you use?

Phonological and Phonemic Awareness

When learning phonological skills children typically learn to rhyme before they learn to substitute sounds in words.  By being aware of the expectations of typical development and the order of acquisition, we can create a clear and concise plan for teaching during this time and beyond. Remember that for really effective teaching, these skills need to continue to be developed right into the upper primary years.

You can find this graphic and more information here


Systematic Synthetic Phonics teaching involves teaching ‘sounds’ in a systematic and cumulative way.   There are no hard and fast rules about which teaching sequence to use, but many commercial programs use the SATPIN progression. If your school uses a commercial program, it will hopefully have words and texts designed to provide practice based on the sounds that the child has learned so far.

While I have a couple of concerns about how non-sense words are explained in the follow video, the fundamentals of the order of phonics teaching is spot on.  In addition, the advice in the following video is to not move on until the whole class knows the set of sounds you are teaching. In our school, this would be a disaster so use your judgement and knowledge of your students when considering this point.

When using the simplex to complex progression, the 26 ‘single sounds’ and most common digraphs (sh, th, qu, ch, ng)  are only the first step.  The next phase of teaching phoneme grapheme correspondence involves teaching other vowels (there are 20 altogether in Standard Australian English) and other representations of the consonants.

Some programs teach children 1 representation of all 44 sounds of English first up, so that children can then write anything they want to.   Other programs teach the initial code and then the most common representation of the long vowels together. 

Here are 4 different sequences used by 4 programs available for purchase:

The above sequences come from the programs:
Read Write Inc (not the full sequence)
Get Reading Write
Jolly Phonics
Little Learners Love Literacy

I have taught with Get Reading Right and Read Write Inc have seen great success with both. There isn’t one right way. The important thing is that the words and texts that children read on their own match the sequence of sounds you teach.

Once you have established a sequence of teaching, you can then develop a word list to provide practice that is cumulative in nature.

The above word list is for Jolly phonics UK. Note the inclusion of pasta, which in Australia is pronounced ‘parsta’. You can find the PDF of this document here.

All good phonics programs will have a similar list to ease teacher workload. Many come with word cards and resources and the really good ones have decodable texts that follow the sequence.


As with reading, the skills of writing also need to be taught in a sequence. In a previous post I discussed the simple view of writing and its importance in support beginning writers. 

 Below is a brief outline of the sequence of teaching writing.  How often do we ask children to ‘write a story’ when they can barely write a simple sentence? All too often and this practice leads to disengaged and ‘reluctant’ writers.

Teaching using a set sequence of skills and knowledge supports both teachers and students. It reduces the cognitive load of students and allows us to tackle the complex business of teaching literacy with the certainty that we are not ‘missing something’.

Free Downloads

Download this informal phonics assessment to give you the data you need to target teaching right at the level your students are ready for.

Keeping track of your student’s progress can be challenging. Click below to download a free monitoring sheet for phonological and phonemic awareness, phonics and foundation writing skills. To use, simply write the assessment date at the top of the page and use a different highlighter colour each time. This enables a data conversation with students and families and is a a great way to engage everyone in monitoring progress and setting goals.

Here is an example of how you could use this sheet to monitor student progress

Are you searching for affordable professional learning or coaching about literacy instruction? Looking to support those students in your class who aren’t making the progress you’d like, but you aren’t sure how? Click the button on the right to get in touch and let me know how I can help (Coaching, webinars or online courses). Support and PL tailored to your needs.

My next tip to maximise reading success is:
“Don’t ask students to read things they don’t know the sounds for.”

If you would like to find out when the next blog post is published, simply subscribe below. I would love to hear about your own experiences in teaching literacy. Please feel free to share in the comments box below!

4 thoughts on “Top 5 Tips to Maximise Reading Success – Part 2”

  1. This looks really good. Thank you. Can I clarify are we asking the students to tell us the sound for each of the graphemes in the boxes and then read the words? What happens when they see the ‘e’ as in ‘he’ and say it as the short ‘e’ sound? Thanks!

    1. Hi Donna. Yes, you ask the children to tell you the sounds in the boxes and then read the words. If they don’t know the sound on its own don’t ask them to read the word. When it gets to the point of more than one sound per grapheme, if they say a different (but correct) sound you can ask, “and what other sound that can be?” If they tell you the one you are looking for, then it’s fine. Without context, it’s difficult to know what the sound is when presented with a grapheme on its own.

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