What is Phonics
Phonics is an effective way of teaching children to read and write. It helps children hear, identify and use sounds within words. Children learn to recognise the sound each individual letter makes and the sounds that different combinations of letters make. Then they learn to blend these sounds together to make a word. This new knowledge is also used to de-code new words the children hear or see. Alongside this, they learn how to form letters and start using their phonics knowledge to write simple words, before building up to writing captions and sentences.
How We Teach Phonics
Our phonics programme is systematic and synthetic meaning there is a clear plan of progression and the children are taught to break up words into sounds. They begin with Phase One in nursery – with lots of work on developing crucial listening skills – and the scheme ends with Phase Five which is usually completed in Year 2. Once the children have successfully completed the sequence, they move on to spelling rules and patterns.
Phoneme – Any one of the forty-four sounds which make up words in the English Language.
Grapheme – How a phoneme is written down. There can be more than one way to spell a phoneme. For example, the phoneme ‘ay’ is spelt differently in each of the words ‘way’, ‘make’, ‘fail’, ‘great’, ‘sleigh’ and ‘lady.’
Blending – Putting together the sounds in a word in order to read it e.g. ‘f-r-o-g’ – ‘frog’
Segmenting– Breaking a word into its constituent sounds in order to spell them e.g. ‘frog’ – ‘f-r-o-g’
Digraph – Two letters making one sound e.g. ch as in chin
Trigraph – Three letters making one sound e.g. air as in hair
Split – digraph – A digraph – usually a long vowel sound that is split up by a consonant e.g. a-e as in cake, i-e as in five
Decoding – the process used in reading. Children look at the graphemes in a word, identify them as phonemes and blend them together to read words.
A Whole School Approach
If all children are to access the school curriculum fully, they need to be competent, confident readers and writers so we model and refer to phonics daily whenever reading and writing is used. This is for all our children up to, and including, those in Year 6.
Staff across the school will use the same terminology, same strategies, same resources (rhymes, actions, hook words) to reinforce learning.
Daily interventions also take place for any child who moves on to KS2 without having successfully completed the phonics programme. Weaker readers also received additional support.
Phonics in the Classroom
Phonics is taught daily, using first thing in the morning, and lessons last between 15 to 25 minutes. Sessions are fast and challenging and each session follows a structured format so that the children become familiar with what is coming next. The children are taught actions when learning new phonemes and how to form letters using chants/rhymes.
Children are taught to read words using sound buttons to help them blend sounds together. We also encourage them to use ‘sound fingers’ to count phonemes or when rehearsing for writing. We teach the children ‘hook’ words for each grapheme to help them hold on to new sounds. And we also encourage them to Ask the Question for example, is ‘ai’ as in rain or ‘a-e’ as in cake, when they begin to learn alternative spellings for the same sound.
How Progress Is Measured
Hearing the children read frequently and observing them as they write helps teachers assess a child’s knowledge of phonics. Children are also assessed using a phonics tracker at the end of a phonics phase (or at least once a term) so any gaps can be identified and addressed, in addition to new learning.
Towards the end of Year 1 all children complete a statutory phonics screening check and the results are recorded by the DfE. The aim is to check that a child is making expected progress in phonics. The check contains a mix of real words and nonsense words. Nonsense words such as ‘vap’ or ‘jound’ are included because children cannot read them by using their memory or vocabulary. They must use their decoding skills. Results are not published but the class teacher will report individual results to parents.
Parents As Partners
We value parents’ involvement in helping children as they learn to read and write and we give parents as much support, help and information as we can. Each year parents are invited to school to learn about how we teach phonics and what support they can give at home.
We use a home reading diary to record what children are reading in school and at home and we let parents know what sounds a child is being taught each week, along with the actions and rhymes so they can practise at home.
Phonics at Home
Parents, carers, grandparents or older siblings can prepare children for phonics and support their reading journey in different ways. Here are some ideas.
- Sing nursery rhymes with your children from an early age.
- Share books regularly. Read books by the same author and reread your child’s favourites.
- Listen to your child read and remember to continue to read to them. It is important that your child is exposed to vocabulary beyond their reading ability.
- Talk about books. Ask your child what is happening, how the characters are feeling, what they have enjoyed.
- Use puppets and other props to retell stories.
- Use ambitious vocabulary, explaining its meaning.
- Make reading a pleasure not a chore.
There is help online too. Some websites offer parents advice for helping children with reading at home. Others offer lots of free interactive games which children can play to help embed previously taught phonics knowledge.
We place huge emphasis on helping all our children become fluent, accurate and enthusiastic readers who go on to achieve academic success – and it all starts with phonics.