Ideally, you would start in kindergarten, but I taught my second graders these skills, and it really helped a lot of them become better readers. For younger students, the program starts with teaching the 42 sounds of the alphabet. Then you move on to 5 phonetic skills, and 2 decoding skills. Here's an example of what students will be able to do:
I know it probably doesn't make any sense to you now, but each marking helps in telling you how to decode the words.
These are the 5 phonetic skills that go along with the words above:
So for example, in Phonetic skill #1, you would mark the vowel and then mark the guardian consonant, like in the word sun above. Then you know that the vowel is short.
If you want to learn more about this program, there is a free online workshop you can do. Just go to http://www.readinghorizons.com/reading-workshop. I actually started teaching my students these skills just from watching the workshop, and then later our principal decided to buy the entire program for us. I think if you just teach some of these basics to your kids, it could really help improve students' understanding of words.
Hopefully this will be useful to you! I really enjoyed learning these skills myself and being able to show the students why a word is pronounced how it is.