Basic Code, in phonics instruction, refers to the one-to-one relationship between one letter and one sound. For single consonant letters, their most common sound is the one associated with them in the Basic Code. Thus, even though the letter "s" can be the sound /z/ in was or has, its Basic Code sound is the sound /s/.

The single vowel letters all have multiple sounds associate with them, but their Basic Code sounds are /a/ (cat), /e/ net, /i/ (hit), /o/ (hot), and /u/ (cut).

Teaching the Basic Code

Whenever a child with whom I worked still required some Basic Code instruction, I always used the curriculum in Chapters 3 and 4 of Reading Reflex by Geoffrey and Carmen McGuinness. I'm convinced that every teacher in the lower grades should be familiar with the content of the first chapter of that book. In the first chapter the authors clearly explain the level of logic required to learn English phonics, and show that a five-year-old child can easily master that level of logic. They then went on to design Basic Code lessons consistent with that logic, not necessarily an easy task.

Chapter two instructs parents in how to set up an instructional environment in the home and goes over potential problems that might be encountered and how to handle them if they occur.

Chapters three and four present in detail their Basic Code curriculum for use by a parent or teacher.

Excellent Instructional Choices in Reading Reflex

The instructional choices made in Reading Reflex are excellent as well. What I mean by choices is that they chose to first cover three-sound CVC (Consonant-Vowel-Consonant) words, then VCC words, and then CVCC words and finally CCVC words, because research has shown that to be the order of increasing difficulty to learn. And, indeed, I observed time and again that my younger clients had an easier time blending CVCC words like hand, fast and lift than they did blending CCVC words like trip, flat and brim.

As many parents of young children can testify, the sounds represented by the letters “l” and “r” are some of the harder basic code sounds to learn to pronounce correctly. Unfortunately, they are quite common in many of the words that start with two blended consonant sounds (bl, br, cl, cr, dr, fl, fr, gl, gr, pl, pr, sl, tr, shr and thr plus three-sound blends like scr, spl, spr and str.) In fact, the letters “l” or “r” are found in well over half of the permissable initial blends in English words. It makes sense then that children just learning to read would have an easier time working on VCC words like ask and then CVCC words like task before being exposed to words of the CCVC and CCVCC construction.

The next page will cover Advanced Code Instruction, the point where confusion begins to multiply rapidly when it comes to English phonics instruction.