What Is Analytical Phonics?

Analytical phonics is a method of teaching reading that breaks down words into their individual sounds after recognizing the whole word. It contrasts with synthetic phonics, where sounds are taught first, then blended together. This approach can be particularly effective for visual learners. How might this technique unlock the world of literacy for your child? Continue reading to find out.
Emily Daw
Emily Daw

Analytical phonics is a method of teaching reading based first on memorizing sight words, then on analyzing the phonetic structure of those sight words. It differs from other popular phonics approaches, such as linguistic phonics or synthetic phonics primarily by being a "top-down" approach. This means that it begins with authentic stories, then works its way down to words and individual letters or phonetic units. Analytical phonetics is often used as part of a whole language curriculum.

Whole language approaches to teaching reading begin with a teacher reading fiction or nonfiction stories to students while they follow along. The students then learn to recognize words by sight without necessarily necessarily being able to sound out new words, because they do not have much knowledge about phonics, which is the way the letters correspond to the sounds of the words. Analytical phonics is one way to deal with this shortcoming in whole language, by having students analyze the phonics of words they already know.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

Generally, a lesson in analytical phonics will involve the teacher showing the students sets of words that have some letter or letter combination in common, such as "sound," "flour" and "cloud." The teacher guides the students toward discovering how the sounds and letters are related. In this instance, the "ou" in all three words sound like "ow." Once students are able to recognize the letter combinations that make up words they already know, they will be able to sound out other words that they have not encountered before.

Analytical phonics is comparable to linguistic phonics in that both focus on sound patterns within words rather than on the individual sounds of letters, but linguistic phonics relies less on the use of sight words gained from reading. Students learn to read clusters of words that all contain similar patterns, such as "king," "ring" and "sing." They then might be given a reading assignment that uses these and other similarly structured words. Proponents of the top-down approach might criticize this method because it uses artificial, and therefore usually uninteresting, texts.

Synthetic phonics is almost the complete opposite of analytical phonics. Whereas analytical phonics begins with whole stories and works down to individual sounds, the synthetic phonics takes a "bottom-up" approach by teaching students to recognize the sounds of individual letters. Those sounds are then combined, or synthesized, to make words. Synthetic phonics teaches reading and spelling with writing simultaneously, in contrast to analytical phonetics that emphasizes reading first and then moves on to spelling and writing.

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Discussion Comments


The English language is so hard to learn. With the many general slang words mixed in and all the regional slang words, you could sometimes think someone is speaking a foreign language, and they may still be speaking English.

Words you know well can have different pronunciations depending on where you are. For instance, in Boston, the word park sounds different from a local citizen there. A person from New Mexico may not even recognize the word, even though they use it all the time.

Pittsburgh Pennsylvania has the word y'unz, which is a local contraction between the words you and ones. It is purely a local slang word heard only in the area, but it is a word you could come across in a regular speaking situation.

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      Woman standing behind a stack of books