Teaching of phonics

Phonics is the link between letters (graphemes) and the sounds they make (phonemes). At Queenborough School and Nursery Phonics is taught from Nursery through to Year Two. We follow the Government document Letters and Sounds as our main teaching resource but also use other Phonic schemes.

The programme starts very basically with individual letter sounds. Letters and Sounds is taught in phases and gradually increases in complexity as the lessons move forward.

Children learn that a sound can be made up of more than one letter (grapheme). They are shown various ways of making one sound and are given the opportunity, through games and word play, to find out common spelling patterns. Words from the current lesson of learning are put into context through sentences to help combine their understanding and add relevance to their learning.

Phonics is the tool for decoding (reading) and encoding (writing) in the early years of learning. It can also be useful to children with some literacy difficulties and to people learning English as a second language. However, phonics is really a very small part of learning to read once the basics are known. Other strategies children use are much more useful to them. For example, it is really important that children understand what they are reading, so context plays a big part. Fluency and phrasing, using expression and having the right voice pitch are essential for good reading.

Phonics is a very useful tool to have for reading, but it is not the most important part, past the early years. It does help with spelling, but again, children are taught that there are always exceptions to the rules. Phonics are the building blocks of words, but reading is so much more.

Once the basics are understood, the best way of improving reading is to read plenty of level appropriate books of varying topics to build up ‘reading milage’. This can be done through individual reading and reading as part of a group (guided reading).

Letters and Sounds

Letters and Sounds is a phonics resource published by the Department for Education and Skills in 2007. It aims to build children’s speaking and listening skills in their own right as well as to prepare children for learning to read by developing their phonic knowledge and skills. It sets out a detailed and systematic programme for teaching phonic skills for children starting by the age of five, with the aim of them becoming fluent readers by age seven.

There are six overlapping phases. The table below is a summary based on the Letters and Sounds guidance for Practitioners and Teachers.

Phase One (Nursery/Reception)Activities are divided into seven aspects, including environmental sounds, instrumental sounds, body sounds, rhythm and rhyme, alliteration, voice sounds and finally oral blending and segmenting.
Phase Two (Reception) up to 6 weeksLearning 19 letters of the alphabet and one sound for each. Blending sounds together to make words. Segmenting words into their separate sounds. Beginning to read simple captions.
Phase Three (Reception) up to 12 weeksThe remaining 7 letters of the alphabet, one sound for each. Graphemes such as ch, oo, th representing the remaining phonemes not covered by single letters. Reading captions, sentences and questions. On completion of this phase, children will have learnt the “simple code”, i.e. one grapheme for each phoneme in the English language.
Phase Four (Reception) 4 to 6 weeksNo new grapheme-phoneme correspondences are taught in this phase. Children learn to blend and segment longer words with adjacent consonants, e.g. swim, clap, jump.
Phase Five (Throughout Year 1)Now we move on to the “complex code”. Children learn more graphemes for the phonemes which they already know, plus different ways of pronouncing the graphemes they already know.
Phase Six (Throughout Year 2 and beyond)Working on spelling, including prefixes and suffixes, doubling and dropping letters etc.