Phonics is a way of teaching children to read quickly and skilfully. They are taught how to:
recognise the sounds that each individual letter makes;
identify the sounds that different combinations of letters make – such as ‘sh’ or ‘oo’; and
blend these sounds together from left to right to make a word.
Children can then use this knowledge to ‘de-code’ new words that they hear or see. This is the first important step in learning to read.
At St John’s Primary School, we use Letters and Sounds along with Jolly Phonics to learn to read and write. Jolly Phonics is a fun and child centred approach to teaching literacy through synthetic phonics. Actions and stories are introduced for each of the letter sounds to support a multi-sensory approach to teaching and learning that is highly motivating for the children.
The letter sounds (phonemes) are taught in phases and in a specific order.
Phase 1 supports children’s understanding and ability to tune into sounds and is taught during their induction period.
Phase 2 introduces most of the single letter sounds. These are:
Set 1: s, a, t, p
Set 2: i, n, m, d
Set 3: g, o, c, k
Set 4: ck, e, u, r
Set 5: h, b, f, ff, l, ll, ss
Learning the letter sounds in groups as above, rather than alphabetically, enables children to begin building words as early as possible.
Phase 3 introduces the remaining single sounds, double sounds, known as digraphs and triple sounds, known as trigraphs
Set 6: j, v, w, x
Set 7: y, z, zz, qu
Consonant digraphs: ch, sh, th, ng
Vowel digraphs/trigraphs: ai, ee, igh, oa, or, oo, ar, ou, oi, er, ue, ie, ear, ure, air
Alongside these sounds, children are taught to recognise more tricky words, including ‘me,’ ‘was,’ ‘my,’ ‘you’ and ‘they’. They learn the names of the letters, as well as the sounds they make. Activities might include learning mnemonics (memory aids) for tricky words, practising writing letters on mini whiteboards, using word cards and singing songs like the Alphabet Song.
Phase 4 teaching is about consolidating and refining children’s knowledge, introducing more spelling patterns and tricky words, and increasing vocabulary,
By now, children should be confident with each phoneme. In Phase 4 phonics, children will, among other things:
Practise reading and spelling CVCC words (‘such,’ ‘belt,’ ‘milk’ etc)
Practise reading and spelling high frequency words
Practise reading and writing sentences
Learn more tricky words, including ‘have,’ ‘like,’ ‘some,’ ‘little’
Children should now be blending confidently to work out new words. They should be starting to be able to read words straight off, rather than having to sound them out. They should also be able to write every letter, mostly correctly. This phase usually takes four to six weeks, and most children will complete it around the end of Reception.
Phase 5 generally takes children the whole of Year 1. Here, we introduce alternative spellings for sounds.
Children learn new graphemes (different ways of spelling each sound) and alternative pronunciations for these: for example, learning that the grapheme ‘ow’ makes a different sound in ‘snow’ and ‘cow’.
They learn about split digraphs such as the a-e in ‘name.’
They’ll start to choose the right graphemes when spelling, and will learn more tricky words, including ‘people,’ ‘water’ and ‘friend’. They also learn one new phoneme: /zh/, as in ‘treasure.’
At the end of Year 1, all children are given a Phonics Screening Check to ensure they have mastered the appropriate knowledge.
Phase 6 takes place throughout Year 2, with the aim of children becoming fluent readers and accurate spellers.
They will learn, among other things:
Memory strategies for high frequency or topic words
How to use a dictionary
Where to put the apostrophe in words like ‘I’m’
Formal phonics teaching is continued as children enter into KS2. The aim of phonics teaching is not just to learn the sounds, but to use them as a tool for reading and spelling.