What is phonics?
Phonics is a method of teaching children to read by linking sounds (phonemes) and the symbols that represent them (graphemes, or letter groups). Phonics is the learning-to-read method used in primary schools in the UK today.
How do we teach Phonics at St Helen’s?
At St Helen’s Primary School, we teach phonics using the Letters and Sounds programme which is designed to help teach children to read and spell with phonics.
Letters and Sounds
Phase One (Nursery /Reception)
The aim of this phase is to foster children’s speaking and listening skills as preparation for learning to read with phonics. Parents can play a vital role in helping their children develop these skills, by encouraging their children to listen carefully and talk extensively about what they hear, see and do.
Phase Two – Four (Reception / Year One)
Phase Two is when systematic, high quality phonic work begins. During Phase Two to Four, children learn:
- How to represent each of the 42 sounds by a letter or sequence of letters.
- How to blend sounds together for reading and how to segment (split) words for spelling.
- Letter names e.g. through an alphabet song. There is some debate as to when letter names should be introduced, but it is generally best to leave teaching letter names until children are secure with the alphabet letter sounds, as these are what are important when learning to read with phonics.
- How to read and spell some high frequency ‘tricky’ words containing sounds not yet learnt (e.g. they, my, her, you).
The Letters and Sounds Programme suggests an order for teaching the letters, and a fast pace of one set per week. It recognises, however, that children’s personal experience of letters varies enormously. Most importantly, it progresses from the simple to the more complex aspects of phonics at a pace that is suitable for the children who are learning.
Phase Five (Year 1/ Year 2)
Children learn new ways of representing the sounds and practise blending for reading and segmenting for spelling.
Phase Six (Year 2)
During this phase, children become fluent readers and increasingly accurate spellers.
Phonics Screening Check – Information for Parents
The phonics screening check is a quick and easy check of your child’s phonics knowledge. It helps your school confirm whether your child has made the expected progress.
Click the link below to see a parental information booklet about the check which includes useful websites for you to use with your child at home.
Phonics Technical Vocabulary
As a school we appreciate that some of the terms associated with phonics are difficult and are unfamiliar to parents. Below you will find some information that will help you understand the terms that your children are being introduced to
Phoneme - A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound. The phonemes used when speaking English are:
Decoding - Children are taught letter sounds in Reception. This involves thinking about what sound a word starts with, saying the sound out loud and then recognising how that sound is represented by a letter.
The aim is for children to be able to see a letter and then say the sound it represents out loud. This is called decoding.
At St Helen’s we start start children off by learning the letters s, a, t, n, i, p first. This is because once they know each of those letter sounds, they can then be arranged into a variety of different words (for example: sat, tip, pin, nip, tan, tin, sip, etc.).
Blending - Children then need to go from saying the individual sounds of each letter, to being able to blend the sounds and say the whole word. This can be a big step for many children and takes time.
While children are learning to say the sounds of letters out loud, they will also begin to learn to write these letters (encoding). They will be taught where they need to start with each letter and how the letters need to be formed in relation to each other. Letters (or groups of letters) that represent phonemes are called graphemes.
Decoding CVC words - Children will focus on decoding (reading) three-letter words arranged consonant, vowel, consonant (CVC words) for some time. They will learn other letter sounds, such as the consonants g, b, d, h and the remaining vowels e, o, u. Often, they will be given letter cards to put together to make CVC words which they will be asked to say out loud.
Decoding consonant clusters in CCVC and CVCC words - Children will also learn about consonant clusters: two consonants located together in a word, such tr, cr, st, lk, pl. Children will learn to read a range of CCVC words (consonant, consonant, vowel, consonant) such as trap, stop, plan. They will also read a range of CVCC words (consonant, vowel, consonant, consonant) such as milk, fast, cart.
Vowel digraphs - Children are then introduced to vowel digraphs. A digraph is two vowels that together make one sound such as: /oa/, /oo/, /ee/, /ai/. They will move onto sounding out words such as deer, hair, boat, etc. and will be taught about split digraphs (a_e, e_e, i_e, o_e, u_e) They will also start to read words combining vowel digraphs with consonant clusters, such as: train, groan and stool.
Consonant digraphs - Children will also learn the consonant digraphs (two consonants that together make one sound) ch and sh and start blending these with other sounds to make words, such as: chat, shop, chain and shout.
Encoding (learning to spell as well as read) - Alongside this process of learning to decode (read) words, children will need to continue to practise forming letters which then needs to move onto encoding. Encoding is the process of writing down a spoken word, otherwise known as spelling. They should start to be able to produce their own short pieces of writing, spelling the simple words correctly.
It goes without saying that reading a range of age-appropriate texts as often as possible will really support children in their grasp of all the reading and spelling of all the phonemes.
Phonics learning in EYFS and KS1
By the end of Reception, children should be able to write one grapheme for each of the 44 phonemes.
In Year 1, they will start to explore vowel digraphs and trigraphs (a group of three letters that makes a single sound, like 'igh' as in 'sigh') further. They will begin to understand, for example, that the letters ea can make different sounds in different words (dream and bread). They will also learn that one sound might be represented by different groups of letters: for example, light and pie (igh and ie make the same sound).
Children in Year 2 will be learning spelling rules, such as adding suffixes to words (such as -ed, -ing, -er, -est, -ful, -ly, -y, -s, -es, -ment and -ness). They will be taught rules on how to change root words when adding these suffixes (for example, removing the 'e' from 'have' before adding 'ing') and then move onto harder concepts, such as silent letters (knock, write, etc) and particular endings (le in bottle and il in fossil).
Phonics Learning in KS2
At St Helen's, we are committed to every child leaving Year 6 with the required skills to decode words. This is an essential life skill. With this in mind, if a child cannot decode by the end of KS1 then they will be identified for and receive Phonics Intervention throughout KS2 until they have the required skills.