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Make the Most of Your Phonics Program

Practice Rapid-Accurate Naming (RAN)

Once your learner has learned a few Phonics sounds, and if your Phonics program does not include a Naming drill-game for the letter-sounds it is teaching, it is a good idea to add one.

First: Make a flashcard for each known letter-sound. Print neatly, in bold marker. I cut index cards in half for Phonics letter-sounds, and cut off the top left corner to show which end is ‘up.’

Then: Lay the flashcards out on a table in rows, and take turns naming the set. Or arrange them into a ‘road’ and take turns ‘traveling’ down it (naming each card by its letter-sound).

“S-s-s, m-m-m, er-r-r . . .”

Find more about Rapid-Accurate Naming drills at the ‘Rapid Naming’ page here at the Reading Treehouse.


Remember that Rapid-Accurate Naming, or RAN, is key to success in Phonics.

The Rapid part of RAN develops with experience--as long as the Accurate part is there.

For best results, learners need to practice their Phonics letter-sounds at about 85% accuracy--better than 8 out of 10 correct responses.

Emphasize accuracy.

Spend as much time as needed on preliminary or warm-up tasks in order to keep your learner at his level of success.

(Matching and Pointing can be preliminary or warm-up tasks, described below.)


Use strategies to stay at your learner’s level of success.

These strategies allow you to adjust your Rapid-Accurate Naming rehearsal, so that your learner is generally about 85% successful, or better.

When learners practice getting the ‘right answer,’ with whatever help,
they develop independence in knowing the ‘right answer.’

When learners practice struggling in any way,
struggle is what they are learning!

So keep with success.

Here is a three-task progression, from easiest to hardest,
to help kids practice at the level of their success.


Matching is the easiest task.
In Matching, you show the child a sample letter,
and let her pick out another one just like it
from a small group of flashcards.

You use the opportunity to ‘feed-in’ the sound of the letter she is looking for:

“Here’s a ‘s-s-s’ . . . Let’s see . . . Where’s that other ‘s-s-s’?”

In other words, let her hear the letter-sound over and over again,
as she
sees what it looks like.

Use this strategy for letter-combinations, too.
For example, with ‘oa’ you can say

“Here’s ‘oh’ . . . Hmmm . . . Do you see the other ‘’oh’?”

If your learner makes a mistake, just say “Look again.”

Keep it happy! Nervous or criticized students cannot learn well.



Pointing is the next-easiest task.
In Pointing, you show a small group of letters
and sa
y the sound of one of them

(without showing a matching, sample letter).

“Show me ‘s-s-s.’” The learner points to the one you say.

By Pointing, he is demonstrating that he knows which letter goes with the sound, even if he could not think of the sound quickly on his own.

This is like being able to point to a slightly familiar person named at a party,
even if you could not think of their name quickly on your own.

Pointing is a great warm-up for the next task . . .



Naming is the hardest task, and the reason for practicing the others.

In Naming, the learner sees a letter, or combination,
and says its sound.

Naming can be out loud, or in the ‘Mind’s Ear’ when the learner is reading silently.


Adjust the Rapid-Accurate Naming Drill

The goal is to keep your student successful every day.

  • Practice with a small-enough set of letter sounds so that your student stays successful.
  • Add new sounds gradually as your student is ready for them.
  • If the learner keeps stumbling or hesitating on certain sounds, pull them out for an extra warm-up before rehearsing the whole set.

  • Practice an easy-enough task so that your student stays successful: Matching, Pointing or Naming.
  • Move up to harder tasks gradually as your student is ready for them.
  • Matching . . . prepares the learner for Pointing . . . prepares the learner for Naming.


Always focus on tasks in which your student is accurate and successful.

Trust the process of accurate rehearsal to teach accurate performance.

Trust the process of easy rehearsal to prepare your student for the next hardest level.


Learn tasks from all angles for best learning.

For maximum power, it is always a good idea to turn a task inside out.

The child sees a tree and says the name, “Tree.”
Turned inside out:
The child hears the name ‘Tree’ and thinks of a tree--maybe draws it.

The child sees a letter M and says the sound, “M-m-m.”
Turned inside out:
The child hears the sound ‘M-m-m’ and thinks of and writes letter M.

So students can practice writing the Phonics sounds and words they are learning to read. (You can give hints, a peek--if needed)

Writing is reading turned inside-out.


A good way to practice from all angles is ‘You Be the Teacher.’

After a round of practice, say ‘You be the teacher.’
The student does your job, and you do hers.

For example, after a round of ‘pointing’ practice, say ‘You be the teacher.’

The student names a sound, and you point to it.
(If you make a mistake, she has to ‘catch’ you.)


Keep practicing Blending and Segmenting.

From his Phonemic Awareness training, your student is already skilled in blending separate sounds into words;
and pulling apart, or segmenting, words into pieces.

Continue Blending and Segmenting games as you practice with
the Phonics words he is reading.


Master the stories in your Phonics program.

Help your student to read them again and again.

The goal is a happy sense of ease and capability for your child.

Don’t worry that your child is ‘just memorizing.’

As long as her eyes are looking at the word she is naming, your student is learning from the experience.

For ways to encourage your student to read a text over and over again, see the
Rapid Naming page here at the Treehouse.


Demonstrate that some words are not completely Phonics-friendly.

If you write
Natural Language Stories with your student, you will find examples of words that follow the common Phonics rules

.  .  .  and those that do not.

Bone, Cone, Lone, Tone, Zone . . . Done, Gone.

You might point out, “‘come home’ . . .

“that looks like it should be ‘c-ohhh-m home.’

“‘Come’ doesn’t follow the rules very well.”


Students should not attempt to ‘sound out’ every new word exactly.

Consonants are fairly reliable.

Vowels are often tricky.

Students can gain the skill of ‘vowel flexibility’
by using Phonics clues plus sentence clues together,
to help them name an unfamiliar word.

When students think of sentence clues along with Phonics,
they are thinking about the meaning of the sentence.

They are plugging in the whole language system.

This is a good thing, necessary for comprehending what they are reading.

Remmber: All of the skills of reading work together as a system.


Short Cut Through the Treehouse ~ The Whole Treehouse

More on this topic:
Teacher’s Guide to Pronouncing the Sounds