In this blog, Rosie sets out a step-by-step guide to phonics: a method which teaches children to read by identifying the individual sounds in a word and blending them together.
Before reading the following step-by-step guide to teaching phonics, it is advisable to read the previous article in this series, which introduces readers to the key principles and terminology of the method.
Most phonics programmes start by teaching children to see a letter and then say the sound it represents. Children are often taught the letters S,A,T,P,I,N first, so that they can sound out a wide variety of words (e.g. sat, pin, pat).
Children should also begin to learn how to write these letters using the correct formation.
Tip: There are a host of songs and videos available on Youtube to support learning letter sounds.
Children are taught how to blend individual sounds together to say a whole word. They will start with CVC (consonant, vowel, consonant) words such as sit, pan, tap, before moving on to CCVC words (e.g. stop, plan) and CVCC words (e.g. milk, past).
Tip: Invest in a set of magnetic letters for the fridge. Children can arrange different combinations of letters to form words.
Once the children have learnt individual letter sounds, they will start learning to read and write digraphs. They will learn consonant digraphs (e.g. ch, sh, ng) and vowel digraphs (e.g. ea, oo, ai). Then they will move on to sounding out whole words such as hair, moon, chin etc.
Alongside this, children should be introduced to ‘tricky words’ (also called common exception words). These are common words that don’t follow the normal phonics rules (e.g he, she, was, they, all).
Tip: Purchase a set of phonics flashcards. Collins do a good version of these, available at https://collins.co.uk/products/9780008201050. You can use these to play games (e.g. which sound is missing?) and to make new words.
Once children are confident with the above, they will start learning more graphemes. They will learn that one sound can be represented by different graphemes. For example, the ‘ai’ sound (rain) can be represented as ‘ay’ (day), ‘a_e’ (make), ‘eigh’ (eight) and ‘a’ (apron). Alternative pronunciations for graphemes will also be introduced, e.g. ‘ea’ in sea, head and break.
Tip: Reading to your child is key. It is important that your child continues to listen to and (most importantly) enjoy stories while they are learning phonics. When you’re reading aloud to your child, ask them to read one sentence per page. They will enjoy using their phonics skills to decipher new words.
By this point, children should be able to read many familiar words automatically and sound out unfamiliar words. They should be able to spell words phonetically, but not necessarily correctly.
The aim now is to support children to become more fluent readers and accurate spellers. Children will begin to learn more complex spelling rules such as prefixes, suffixes and silent letters. They should continue to practise reading on a daily basis to develop speed, fluency and comprehension.
Good luck! With plenty of practice and praise, your child should be reading in no time.