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 classes which allows all children to experience all elements of phonics. If a child is struggling with what they have been taught in class they then take part in extra sessions and precision teaching. Each phonics session is made up of games, songs and actions.
In Nursery and Reception children are introduced to the sounds using pure sounds. In Nursery there is a focus on Phase 1 which includes lots of listening and distinguishing sounds. With Reception moving onto Phase 2 and 3. At the end of Reception children will be introduced to Phase 4.
In Year 1 children will recap the learning in Phases 2, 3 and 4. Phase 1 never ends and children are always exposed to activities which include listening carefully. Year 1 will then work on Phase 5 towards the Phonics Screening Check in June.
In Year 2 the phonics journey continues and children will recap their previous learning whilst moving onto Phase 6 and spelling.
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!
The Letters and Sounds Phases are:
Phase 1 - develops children's abilities to listen to, make, explore and talk about sounds. This phase is split into 7 aspects that are explored and developed through games.
Aspect 1 - General sound discrimination – environmental
Aspect 2 - General sound discrimination - instrumental sounds
Aspect 3 - General sound discrimination - body percussion
Aspect 4 - Rhythm and rhyme
Aspect 5 - Alliteration
Aspect 6 - Voice sounds
Aspect 7 - Oral blending and segmenting
Phase 2 - children learn the following sounds:
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 s ss
Phase 3 - children learn the following sounds:
Set 6 - j v w x
Set 7 - y z zz qu
Consonant digraphs - ch sh th ng
Vowel digraphs (and trigraphs) ai ee igh oa oo ar or ur ow oi ear air ure er
Phase 4 - focusses on blending and segmenting words with adjacent consonants.
Phase 5 - Children entering Phase Five will already be able to read and spell words with adjacent consonants, such as trap, string and flask. They will also be able to read and spell some polysyllabic words. In Phase Five, children will learn more graphemes and phonemes. During Phase 5, the following tricky words (which can't yet be decoded) are introduced:
Phase 6 - At the start of Phase Six of Letters and Sounds, children will have already learnt the most frequently occurring grapheme–phoneme correspondences (GPCs) in the English language. They will be able to read many familiar words automatically. When they come across unfamiliar words they will in many cases be able to decode them quickly and quietly using their well-developed sounding and blending skills. With more complex unfamiliar words they will often be able to decode them by sounding them out. At this stage children should be able to spell words phonemically although not always correctly. In Phase Six the main aim is for children to become more fluent readers and more accurate spellers.
The Phonics Co-ordinator in school is Mrs Chorlton, who is happy to help and provide any extra support if needed.