The Importance of Phonics
Word-reading is one of the essential dimensions of reading; the other is comprehension. Skilled word-reading involves working out the pronunciation of unfamiliar printed words (decoding) and recognising familiar printed words. Underpinning both of these is the understanding that letters represent the sounds in spoken words. Fluent decoding supports pupils’ comprehension, because they don’t have to devote mental energy to individual words. A good grasp of phonics is also important for spelling, contributing to fluency and confidence in writing. (DfE 2012)
Phonics is the method of teaching reading and writing by correlating sounds with letters or groups of letters. There are 44 sounds in the English language which we put together to form words. Some sounds are represented by one letter like the 't' in tin, whilst other sounds are represented by two or more letters like 'ck' in duck.
Children are taught the sounds, how to match them to letters and finally how to use the letter sounds for reading and spelling.
Phonics in Nursery
Phase One of Letters and Sounds concentrates on developing children's speaking and listening skills and lays the foundations for the phonic work which starts in Phase 2. The emphasis during Phase 1 is to get children attuned to the sounds around them and ready to begin developing oral blending and segmenting skills.
Phase 1 is divided into seven aspects. Each aspect contains three strands: tuning in to sounds, listening and remembering sounds and talking about sounds.
It is intended that each of the first six aspects should be dipped into, rather than going through them in any order, with a balance of activities. Aspect 7 will usually come later, when children have had plenty of opportunity to develop their sound discrimination skills.
Aspect 1 - General sound discrimination - environmental
The aim of this aspect is to raise children's awareness of the sounds around them and to develop their listening skills. Activities suggested in the guidance include going on a listening walk, drumming on different items outside and comparing the sounds, playing a sounds lotto game and making shakers.
Aspect 2 - General sound discrimination - instrumental sounds
This aspect aims to develop children's awareness of sounds made by various instruments and noise makers. Activities include comparing and matching sound makers, playing instruments alongside a story and making loud and quiet sounds.
Aspect 3 - General sound discrimination - body percussion
The aim of this aspect is to develop children's awareness of sounds and rhythms. Activities include singing songs and action rhymes, listening to music and developing a sounds vocabulary.
Aspect 4 - Rhythm and rhyme
This aspect aims to develop children's appreciation and experiences of rhythm and rhyme in speech. Activities include rhyming stories, rhyming bingo, clapping out the syllables in words and odd one out.
Aspect 5 - Alliteration
The focus is on initial sounds of words, with activities including I-Spy type games and matching objects which begin with the same sound.
Aspect 6 - Voice sounds
The aim is to distinguish between different vocal sounds and to begin oral blending and segmenting. Activities include Metal Mike, where children feed pictures of objects into a toy robot's mouth and the teacher sounds out the name of the object in a robot voice - /c/-/u/-/p/ cup, with the children joining in.
Aspect 7 - Oral blending and segmenting
In this aspect, the main aim is to develop oral blending and segmenting skills.
To practise oral blending, the teacher could say some sounds, such as /c/-/u/-/p/ and see whether the children can pick out a cup from a group of objects. For segmenting practise, the teacher could hold up an object such as a sock and ask the children which sounds they can hear in the word sock.
Phonics in Reception and Key Stage One
By the end of Reception, children should know all of phase 2 and all of phase 3 sounds and they should be able to confidently segment and blend sounds to read words and sentences containing all of these sounds.
By the end of Year One, all children should know phase 5 sounds. Phase 5 sounds are more complicated because they contain many alternative graphemes for the same sound. Children need lots of practise and exposure to these alternative sounds, so that when they spell words, they know which grapheme to choose.
Phase 6 phonics takes place throughout Year 2, with the aim of children becoming fluent readers and accurate spellers.
By Phase 6, children should be able to read hundreds of words using one of three strategies:
- Reading them automatically
- Decoding them quickly and silently
- Decoding them aloud
Children should now be spelling most words accurately (this is known as 'encoding'), although this usually lags behind reading. They will also learn, among other things:
- Prefixes and suffixes, e.g. ‘in-’ and ‘-ed’
- The past tense
- Memory strategies for high frequency or topic words
- How to use a dictionary
- Where to put the apostrophe in words like ‘I’m’
- Spelling rules
Although formal phonics teaching is usually complete by the end of Year 2, children continue to use their knowledge as they move up the school. ‘The whole aim of phonics teaching is not just to learn the sounds, but to use them as a tool for reading and spelling.‘Everything leads on to independent reading and writing.
Technical Vocabulary Explained:
- Phoneme: the smallest unit of sound. There are 44 phonemes in English. Phonemes can be put together to make words.
- Grapheme: way of writing down a phoneme. Graphemes can be made up from 1 letter e.g. p, 2 letters e.g. sh, 3 letters e.g. tch or 4 letters e.g ough
- Digraph: a grapheme containing two letters that makes just one sound (phoneme).
- Trigraph: a grapheme containing three letters that makes just one sound (phoneme).
- GPC: grapheme-phoneme correspondence
- Blending: Looking at a written word, looking at each grapheme and using knowledge of GPCs to work out which phoneme each grapheme represents and then merging these phonemes together to make a word. This is the basis of reading.
- Oral Segmenting: Hearing a whole word and then splitting it up into the phonemes that make it. Children need to develop this skill before they will be able to segment words to spell them.
- Segmenting: Hearing a word, splitting it up into the phonemes that make it, using knowledge of GPCs to work out which graphemes represent those phonemes and then writing those graphemes down in the right order. This is the basis of spelling.