Analytic Phonics is based on the idea that the most effective way to teach the brain how to read is by breaking words down into their discrete sound units (phonemes) and look for familiar patterns of letters and their related sounds.
Phonics was first proposed as a teaching method by John Hart in 1670.
It is based on coaching of the different sounds used in English, combined with instruction on which letter patterns can represent them. Once a learner has been taught all of the phonemes and graphemes, s/he is then taught how to match them up and blend them into words.
Analytic Phonics begins with building up "phonemic awareness". A child is exposed to the different sound patterns and how to manipulate them through games and exercises. As letter patterns are introduced, the child begins to negotiate how graphemes in English may have more than one phoneme and vice versa (for example, the letter 'a' can be pronounced many ways, and the sound 'oo' can be spelled many ways). English is especially complicated as it has more phonemes than letters of the alphabet.
Spelling patterns within the language are explored through groups of similar words. So all the words 'bat', 'cat', 'fat', 'hat', 'mat', 'rat', 'sat' and 'vat' will be grouped as "-at" words. In that way a child can learn one word and be able to read five or ten others.
Phonics is referred to as a 'sub-lexical approach' to language learning. 'Sub' means 'below' and 'lex' stands for 'words - so in a 'sub-lexical' approach, words can be broken down into smaller parts. In contrast, Whole Word methods use a 'lexical approach' where words are the smallest discrete units, rather than phonemes and graphemes. As a result, Whole Word methods encourage memorization of whole words.
Currently, in the majority of English-speaking countries, phonics is the preferred method of instruction over Whole Word theories. However, some classrooms do incorporate sight-word learning for high-frequency phonetically irregular words.
There have also been times when most classrooms just used Whole Word strategies. The two approaches tend to switch over every 20-30 years, as a political response to poor results.
Generally the functional literacy rate during times of mainly phonics teaching is around 80%.
Opponents to Analytic Phonics believe that it is boring and unengaging as a teaching method, which leads to problems for some children. Also the analysis of the phonemes in a word can be difficult for a child with a weak auditory processing facility.