Teaching with phonics – The whole word approach

The widely accepted ‘phonics beater’ is the whole word approach, or the ‘look and say’ method is favoured by many teachers, language experts and parents the world over, but what exactly is it? In this, the 3rd part of our mini series, The trouble with phonics, we take a closer look.

The other parts of the series are:

Teaching with phonics Pt 1: Overview

Teaching with phonics P2: What is phonics?


Reading Horizons has the definition of the whole word approach as,


In the simplest terms, the “whole language approach” is a method of teaching children to read by recognizing words as whole pieces of language. Proponents of the whole language philosophy believe that language should not be broken down into letters and combinations of letters and “decoded.” Instead, they believe that language is a complete system of making meaning, with words functioning in relation to each other in context.


“… functioning in relation to each other in context.” which is exactly what I have been saying from day one, when explaining why I don’t believe phonics is the superior teaching method.



Psycholinguistics and the whole word approach


The whole word teaching method, or psycholinguistics (the psychology of language), is “the study of the psychological and neurobiological factors that enable humans to acquire, use, comprehend and produce language”

Wikipedia has a page that looks into psycholinguistics, and in great detail, but to summarise, at the risk of doing the page a disservice, it looks at how the brain perceives, processes and learns language.

During my own research, I have discovered that the human brain sees the written word, and even the entire page itself, in a way that may surprise you – but I’ll leave that for the final part of this mini series, where I will attempt to show you, beyond any doubt, that phonics is not just second best in the war in teaching to read, it is also potentially damaging to the education of our young people.


the whole word approach


The psychologist Jerome Bruner of New York University has described studies that show that people only remember 10% of what they hear and 20% of what they read, but about 80 percent of what they see and do.



people are visual learners



This does seem to support the idea that whole word reading, tackling the word in its entirety by sight,  is an excellent way of teaching anyone how to read regardless of their age.

Check back soon for the 4th, and final, part of this mini series – Teaching With Phonics.

Teaching with phonics - The whole word approach
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Teaching with phonics - The whole word approach
The whole word approach is regarded as the better option for learning to read, but what is it?

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