What is Phonics?

Phonics is the practise of teaching children to read and write by helping them identify sounds within words (phonemes). They are taught that letters (graphemes) have a corresponding sound so that when they come across an unfamiliar word, they are equipped with the knowledge and skills to recognise the sounds within a word and combine them to read it. Knowing the sounds also helps them to say aloud a word and then choose the corresponding letters to spell it.

How is it taught in schools?

Synthetic phonics is the main method that is used in British schools. It is the practise of breaking down words into their smallest unit of sound

Synthetic phonics is the approach assumed with the games produced by The Phonics Gamer. The games are designed to complement a synthetic phonics system.

Understanding the Phonics Phases

Many schools use the Letters and Sounds system which includes Phases 1-6. You may hear your teacher say that your child is in Phase 2, or Phase 3 say, and you have no clue what they are talking about. Here is an explanation of the phases and what your child will be learning at each stage. Please note that our digital games do not cover Phase 6 of the Letters and Sounds programme.

Phase 1

Phase 1 is where a child will start their phonics learning. It consists of simple tasks, songs, stories and games to enable children to begin to recognise and name everyday sounds in their surrounding environment, as well as learning to recognise rhyme and alliteration and the sounds of the letters of the alphabet. Children should also be able to blend and segment words orally by the end of this phase.

Phase 2

In Phase 2, children will learn to recognise and sound out at least 19 letters. They will progress on from blending and segmenting orally to working with simple words and letters in print.  They will work on reading and spelling VC and CVC words and also be introduced to some two-syllable words and to reading simple captions using the letters they are learning in this phase. They will also begin to learn some ‘tricky’ (non-decodable) words.

Phase 2 Sounds: s, a, t, p, I, n, m, d, g, o, c, k, ck, e, u, r, h, b, f, ff, l, ll, ss.

Phase 2 tricky words: the, to, I, no, go, into.

Phase 3

In Phase 3, children will learn a further 25 graphemes, most of which consist of digraphs (two letters that combine to make one sound, e.g. “sh”) and trigraphs (three letters that combine together to make one sound, e.g. “igh”). They will continue to practise the reading and spelling of words and sentences using their new phonic knowledge.

Phase 3 sounds: j, v, w, x, y, z, zz, qu, ch, sh, th, ng, ai, ee, igh, oa, oo, ar, or, ur, ow, oi, ear, air, ure, er.

Phase 3 tricky words: he, she, we, me, be, was, you, they, all, are, my, her

Phase 4

In Phase 4, children consolidate their learning from Phases 2 & 3. They will learn to apply their knowledge to read and spell longer and polysyllabic words.

Phase 4 sounds: no new sounds learnt in this phase.

Phase 4 tricky words: said, have, like, so, do, some, come, were, there, little, one, when, out, what.

Phase 5

In Phase 5, children broaden their knowledge of graphemes and phonemes in reading and spelling. They learn further graphemes for reading including split digraphs (e.g. a-e as in cake). In Phase 5 children will become more fluent readers as they will become quicker at recognising graphemes and should not need to sound out every single word, only perhaps unfamiliar ones or words with new Phase 5 graphemes. In addition to learning new graphemes, children will also learn alternative pronunciations for known graphemes and alternative spellings for each phoneme.

Phase 5 new graphemes: ay, ou, ie, ea, oy, ir, ue, aw, wh, ph, ew, oe, au, a-e, e-e, i-e, o-e, u-e

Tricky words: oh, their, people, Mr, Mrs, looked, called, asked, could.

Phase 6

In Phase 6, children learn to become increasingly fluent readers as well as beginning to learn some simple spelling rules and conventions. Typically, they would learn the rules for applying suffixes and investigate how adding suffixes and prefixes to a word can change words. The past tense is also introduced to children at this stage.

What would a typical phonics lesson look like?

With the exception of Phase 1, which would consist of play-based tasks and games, a typical phonics lesson would normally follow this teaching sequence:

Introduction – Sharing the objectives and criteria for success for the lesson

Revisit and Review – this is where the teacher would recap the previous lesson’s learning and it would usually consist of using flashcards with graphemes and tricky words learnt so far.

Teach – A new grapheme would be introduced as well as one or two tricky words. Some direct teaching of how to segment and blend words would also be included, especially at the beginning of Phase 2.

Practise – This is where the children would practise reading or spelling words with the new grapheme for that lesson.

Apply – Children would be asked to read or write a caption using previously learned high frequency words and words containing the new grapheme.

A phonics lesson should be short and swift (around 20 minutes long). Typically children would learn 4 new grapheme-phoneme correspondences each week (one a day) with some revision on the 5th day of the week.

What can I do at home to help my child?

Firstly, it would be a good idea to identify what phase your child is currently working at and that can be determined by asking your child’s teacher or teaching assistant.

Your child may come home with a list of words or sounds that they are learning so it’s a good idea to keep this going with some short bursts of practise at home. Maybe you could make a game of it by hiding word cards around the room and asking them to find them.

We also have a set of offline phonics games you can download, print and play at home. Click here to access the game resources.

Another thing you can really do to help is to take time to read with your child every day. Just enjoying a good book for just 5 or 10 minutes a day can really help support their learning. When I was a teacher, I could really tell which children were read with at home. It really showed in their progress. Just a little a day really makes a big difference. Not only is it fun but it is a great way to bond with your child too.

Phonics Jargon Buster

In the world of education, you will hear a lot of jargon and technical terms used to describe various elements of phonics teaching and learning. Your child’s teacher may have even used these terms when talking about your child, but you were not sure what they actually meant. Below is a list of common terms used in phonics education.

  • phoneme (P) – the smallest unit of sound in a word
  • grapheme (G) – the letter(s) used to represent a unit of sound (phoneme)
  • digraph – two letters grouped together to represent one phoneme (one unit of sound). For example “sh”
  • trigraph – three letters grouped together to represent one phoneme (one unit of sound). For example, “igh”
  • split digraph – two letters that make one unit of sound but split between another letter. For example, “i-e” as in pine.
  • blending for reading – the practise of sounding out letters in a word and then blending the individual sounds together to read the word.
  • segmenting for spelling – the practise of breaking down a word into its smallest units of sound (phonemes) then writing down the graphemes that represent those sounds to create the word.
  • High-frequency words / HFW’s – high-frequency words that appear most commonly in the English language.
  • Tricky word – a word that doesn’t follow phonetic rules. If they were sounded out they would not sound anything like the actual word. For example, “said” is a tricky word as it would not sound as intended if sounded out.
  • V – vowel
  • C – consonant
  • CVC word – a word composed of consonant-vowel-consonant. For example, “cat.”
  • Initial sound – the first phoneme you hear in a word.
  • GPC – grapheme-phoneme correspondence. This is the connection between the letter(s) (graphemes) and the sounds they make (phonemes). For example, knowing that the grapheme “s” makes the “sssss” sound.

Should I use technical terms with my child?

Some schools actively encourage and use the technical terms with the children. Try to be consistent with what your child’s school are doing so as not to confuse them. Simply ask the teacher if they are using the technical terms with the children and match what they do.

Is Phonics the only way to teach my child to read?

No. Phonics would not and should not be used in isolation to teach children to read. It is a good place to start and it is an important tool used by educators to teach reading. Reading is a complex cognitive skill and there are other factors to consider as you sit and read a book with your child. Looking at the pictures can give your child a clue about an unfamiliar word, as well as context. There are also the tricky words (ones that cannot be decoded using phonic knowledge directly) and these just have to be learnt. You must also ensure that a child understands what they are reading and this is why age appropriate books are important. Although your child may be able to technically decode words and ‘read’ a book that is meant for an older child, they may not understand some of the vocabulary or subtle inferences built into the language of the story. This requires a little more ‘life experience’ or maturity. It is important to bear this in mind when choosing books. Your child’s teacher is well placed to help you and should be willing to help you.

Phonics information videos – coming soon.

We understand that there may be some concepts that you are still unsure about and you need further information. With that in mind we have some information videos coming soon covering such topics as;

  • How to help your child with reading
  • How to pronounce each of the graphemes from Phase 2 – 5.
  • Segmenting and blending