The Whole Word method of literacy instruction instructs learners to recognize words as whole units without breaking them down into sounds or letter groupings. It focuses on the word as the minimum unit of meaning and therefore the essential base element of reading.
Whole Word or whole language methods stand in direct contradiction to the Phonics method.
While Phonics instruction emphasizes sounds as the smallest units of language to be learned and manipulated, whole language focuses on comprehension with words as the smallest units. This movement emerged from the philosophy of Holism (gestaltism), with is the theory that whole entities are more than the sum of their parts. It was first proposed by Jan Comenius in 1720, roughly 50 years after John Hart proposed Phonics instruction.
A purely Whole Word approach would not include any phonics instruction. Instead, the focus would be on helping kids to understand how to recognize words in relation to other words, in their context, and as a representation of what the word means. Whole Word approaches always emphasize learning to read through the act of reading.
In practice, whole language instruction usually includes:
prioritizing finding engaging reading material
Whole Word approaches to teaching literacy are not currently much used in the mainstream English-speaking classroom, but elements have been incorporated into some phonics-based classrooms.