Phonics is one of the cues or sources of information a reader uses to gain meaning from print. Along with meaning and the structure of language, a student uses the knowledge of letters or combinations of letters and sounds (phonics) to read. Read the following sentences to experience the three sources of information.

Tim hit the baseball with his __.
Most of us would put the word bat in the blank space. We are relying on meaning and our prior knowledge of baseball to make sense. We are using meaning as our source of information as we read.

Tim __ the baseball with his bat.
We could put the words hit, struck, whacked in the blank space. These words are structurally (grammatically) correct. We are using our knowledge of language structure as our source of information.

Tim h the baseball with his bat.
When we read this sentence, only one word can fit — hit — because it begins with the correct letter/sound symbol. We are using our knowledge of phonics as we read.

As proficient adult readers, we use all of these sources of information quickly and automatically. When one source of information doesn't work for us, we immediately try another to derive meaning from the print we read.

Our classroom instruction needs to focus on all the sources of information: Meaning, Language Structure, and Phonics. To help students gain a knowledge of sound/symbol associations (phonics), I focus my instruction during shared reading and shared writing times. This helps students see a purpose for knowing the letter names and their sounds, and to learn how letters work in words in the meaningful context of real reading and writing.