What is phonics?
There has been a big shift in the past few years in how we teach reading in school. This is having a huge impact and helping many children learn to read and spell. Phonics is recommended as the first strategy that children should be taught in helping them learn to read. Phonics runs alongside other teaching methods to help children develop vital reading skills and give them a real love of reading.
Phoneme? Grapheme? Sounds confusing!
Words are made up from small units of sound (phonemes) and phonics teaches children to listen carefully and identify the phonemes that make up each word. This helps them learn to read and spell words.
In phonics lessons children are taught three main things:
1. GPCs (grapheme phoneme correspondences)
GPCs simply means that children are taught all the phonemes in the English language and ways of writing them down.
Children are taught to blend sounds together by merging the individual sounds together until they can hear what the word is. This is a vital reading skill.
Segmenting is the opposite of blending! Children are able to say a word and then break it up into the phonemes that make it up. This is a vital spelling skill.
Why is phonics so tricky?
The English language is very complicated! England has been invaded so many times throughout its history and each set of invaders brought new words and new sounds with them. As a result, English only has around 44 phonemes but there are around 120 graphemes or ways of writing down those 44 phonemes. Plus, we only have 26 letters in the alphabet so some graphemes are made up from more than one letter. Phew! No wonder it’s confusing!
ch, th, oo, ay (these are digraphs – graphemes with two letters)
There are other graphemes that are trigraphs (made up of 3 letters) and a very few made from 4 letters.
Some graphemes can represent more than one phoneme i.e. ch can make different sounds – chip, school,chef
It’s too hard!
Learning to read is like cracking a code so teaching phonics is a way of teaching children to crack the code. As reading is the key to learning it is important that we teach phonics clearly and systematically learning easy bits first, then progressing to trickier bits!
As we said above, there are 26 letters of the alphabet but they make 44 sounds. Click on this link to hear the sounds spoken aloud.
How do we teach phonics at St Matthew’s C of E Primary School?
At St Matthew’s C of E we use the ‘Letters and Sounds’ document which is a systematic, synthetic phonics programme published by the Department of Education. It aims to build children’s speaking and listening skills as well as prepare them for learning to read by developing their phonics knowledge and skills. We teach phonics for 20 minutes each day in groups which allows teaching to specifically target the different phases of the programme. Each phonics session is made up of games, songs and actions.
In Nursery and Reception children are introduced to the sounds using Jolly Phonics. This system introduces letter sounds to children in a fun and exciting way by using actions and songs.
Both children and teachers enjoy using the Phonics Play website. You can access some of these games for Free! Follow the link to the website, then click on ‘Free Phonics Play’ – Parents – Interactive Resources – Phase (this is where you will need to know which phase your child is currently accessing; perhaps your child can tell you!). If you are unsure as to which Phase you need to access to support your child, ask your child’s class teacher.
An important aspect of Phonics is learning about ‘sound buttons’ and non-words or ’Alien’ words
Year 1 Phonics Screening
Click here to read about the Year 1 phonics screening test, first introduced in summer 2012. This is where the children get to show off all that they have learnt and display their blending and segmenting knowledge – they will have lots by now! It’s important that children remember not every word they see in the test is a real word; some are aliens! Click here to see the document that the children will be shown during the test. Look out for those aliens!