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 practice 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.

In a typical week of phonics lessons, children would typically learn 4 new grapheme-phoneme correspondences (one a day) and spend the 5th day consolidating and practising what they have learnt.

Understanding 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.

Phase 1: Learning to recognise and discriminate everyday sounds

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: Learning the first letters

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: Learning further letters, digraphs and trigraphs

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: Consolidation of Phase 2 & 3 learning

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: Learning the remaining sounds and alternative spellings of a phoneme

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.

What can I do at home to help my child?

Firstly, it would be a good idea to as your child’s teacher where your child is currently placed with their phonics learning.

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 the 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.

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 are not sure what they mean. Below is a list of common terms used in phonics teaching:

phoneme (P) – the smallest unit of sound in a word

grapheme (G) – the letter used to represent that unit of sound

digraph – two letters joined together to represent a phoneme (unit of sound)

split digraph – two letters separated by another in the middle eg. i-e

Blending – the practise of sounding out letters in a word and blending the sounds together to read

Segmenting – the practise of hearing a word and breaking it down into its individual phonemes

HFW’s – high frequency words that appear the most commonly in the English language

V – vowel

C – consonant

CVC – a word with consonant – vowel-consonant pattern, e.g. cat

Initial sound – the first sound in a word

GPC – grapheme-phoneme correspondence. This is the connection between the letter(s) and the sounds they make (phonemes)