Phonics and Phonics Teaching

What are phonics?

The reading system of English words from an Anglo-Norse heritage is fairly systemised and follows distinct rules. Most of these words are monosyllabic (one syllable) e.g. dark, come, fish, great. More complex words of a Latin origin are harder for the reader to decipher, often containing neutral vowel sounds such as effect, affect, accountant.

Blends and digraphs

Phonics teaching is divided into three main levels - Phase 3, Phase 4 and Phase 5. In each of these Phases the pupil is introduced to groups of letters which represent a sound in English. The two consonants put together for example in "bl" is called a blend. Other phonics blends include "ch", "th", "gr", "gl". When two vowels are combined, for example "ea", they are called vowel digraphs.

Phase 3

Phase 3 includes all single letters of the alphabet commonly known as CVC ( consonant -vowel- consonant) for example "cat" and CVCC (consonant- vowel-consonant -consonant) for example "back" or "grin". Phase 3 is approximately what an average child would cover and be able to read at reception level. Phase 3 also includes some vowel digraphs (two vowels together) e.g. "ee", "oo" both as in "fool" and "good" and "ai" as in "main". In addition pupils are introduced to a list of tricky words and although they are relatively simple, they do not necessarily follow the spelling rules pupils have learnt previously. Pupils are first encouraged to be able to read these words without being able to spell them.

Phase 4

Phase 4 introduces the following phonic vowel digraphs "lake", " like", "stone", "cube", "or", "air", "igh", "old", "wind", "wild", "ay", "ea", "bow", "saw", "blew", "her", "car", "fir", "oa", "oi", "oy", "ou", "er" at the end of a word e.g. "hammer" and double letters e.g. "address" and "bible". As for Phase 3 there is a list of irregular words to recognise and learn. This is the level of achievement for for a 5 to 6 year old.

Phase 5

By now at phase 5 pupils should be quite competent at deciphering phonics and should show that they are able to build on what they have learnt previously and be able to read new combinations of letters. This level of recognition is what would be expected of a 6 to 7 year old, again with the emphasis on reading and not on spelling the words. The list of irregular words is greater and includes longer words with more syllables. Unexpected spellings such as "treasure", "television", "bacon", "tuba" "who", "when", "wash" are introduced and the remaining vowel digraphs of "blue", "tie" and "hoe" appear.

Flash cards

Flash cards are a good tool to have when teaching phonics. You can make your own flash cards or download ones you can find online and print them off. Flashcards that show the different blends and vowel digraphs in different colours help the learner to separate different sounds and groups of letters. Use these cards to play games like snap or dominoes.

Interactive games

With the advent of computers and other technology learning has become more interactive. There are a lot of interactive phonics games online which include drag and drop games and other arcade style games.

Learners who are not visual learners

Readers who really struggle with recognising letters visually could use more kinaesthetic means. This could be by using pipe cleaners or fingers to shape letters. In a sand tray learners can trace letters in the sand. Sometimes a sensory activity helps dispel frustration, for example flashcards can be buried in the sand and the learner find them again. Letters can be modelled in playdough and plastercine or cut out with cake style cutters in the shape of letters.