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Whole Language
The ongoing debate
Which is the best way to teach a
child to read?

Whole Language
Phonics : Emphasizes the alphabetic principle
- Children also learn how to segment and chunk
letter sounds together in order to blend them to
form words (trap = /t/, /r/, /a/, /p/ or /tr/, /ap/).

"Whole language" : Method of teaching
reading that emphasizes literature and text
- Students are taught to use critical thinking
strategies and to use context to "guess"
words that they do not recognize. In the
younger grades, children use invented
spelling to write their own stories.
Whats the difference?
children are taught to dissect unfamiliar words into
parts and then join the parts together to form words.
By learning these letter-sound relationships the
student is provided with a decoding formula that can
be applied whenever they encounter an unfamiliar
Whole Language
With whole language, teachers are expected to provide
a literacy rich environment for their students and to
combine speaking, listening, reading, and writing.

Whole language teachers emphasize the meaning of
texts over the sounds of letters, and phonics instruction
becomes just one component of the whole language

Whole language is considered a "top down
approach where the reader constructs a
personal meaning for a text, based on using
their prior knowledge to interpret the
meaning of what they are reading.

Pros for a Phonics based Program
Builds better pronunciation and word
Formulas can be applied again and again
Will help children with spelling far more
than the memorization and guesswork of
whole language
Cons for a Phonics based Program
A child may have difficulty understanding
the full meaning of a text, due to the
constant breaking down of words into
The rules and rote learning it entails are
stifling and may cause children to develop
the attitude that reading is a chore
Pros for a Whole Language based
Provides a better understanding of the text, and a
more interesting and creative approach to
More emphasis on meaning and comprehension
and less emphasis on phonics
Children memorize large numbers of sight words
Children learn to read by reading
Cons for a Whole Language based
Whole Language learning may come at the
expense of accuracy and correctness

Ex. A child may be awarded high marks for
overall language use, even if he or she
has misspelled many words
Which is better?
Visual learners tend to benefit from the
whole language approach
Auditory learners learn what they hear so
they rely more on phonetics

Does this mean you should categorize
your child, and push for one teaching

NO- most children learn through a
combination of techniques

The different strengths that each method
offers, suggests that a mixed approach for
each child will probably be most beneficial!
What do others
have to say?
Many combinations and permutations are necessary to
provide an optimal learning environment for an entire class
of readers. (
To provide balanced reading instruction, schools must give
thoughtful consideration to such elements as curriculum,
assessment, and professional development.(
Good instruction in reading must combine these two
approaches and balance the instruction. So in a classroom I
would hope to see lots of reading and writing, but also
some focused word study going on. (Dr. Woody Trathen)

Combining Phonics with Whole Language
Balance your reading program by focusing on literature and fun.
Read to students often, choral read with them, and give them
time to read both alone and in pairs.
Guard against boredom- Spend only a brief time each day on
phonics and do no more than one worksheet daily.
Use many word games in your teaching. For most children,
phonics is easier to learn if they are having fun.
If students are not able to learn phonics easily, try other reading
approaches, like recorded books or story writing.
Develop a classroom library. Have children browse, read, and
discuss books.
Combining Phonics with Whole
Language Programs
Balance the reading program by providing as much structure as
needed and some step-by-step skill work, especially for analytic
students, while emphasizing literature and fun.
Provide sufficient tools for decoding words, using small amounts
of direct instruction in phonics for auditory and analytic learners.
Tape-record phonics lessons so that students can work
independently to improve skills.
Don't use invented spelling for long periods with highly analytic
learners or students who have memory problems.
Works Cited
Donat, Dorothy J. Reading Their Way: a Balance of Phonics and Whole Language. Lanham: The Scarecrow P,
Inc., 2003.

Krashen, Stephen D. Three Arguments Against Whole Language & Why They are Wrong. Portsmouth:
Heinemann, 1999.

Dr. Woodrow Trathen, Appalachian State University

Krashen, Stephen D. "Defending Whole Language." 4 Apr. 2006

"Whole Language." Wikipedia. 23 Feb. 2006. 4 Apr. 2006 <>.

Cromwell, Sharon. Whole Language and Phonics: Can They Work Together? 2 Apr. 2006

North Central Regional Educational Laboratory 12 Apr. 2006

Reyhner, Jon. The Reading Wars. 26 March 2006 <>