Phonics and reading
There's more to Phonics than meets the eye - and ear!
While there are 26 letters in the English alphabet, there are 44 different spoken sounds and over 100 ways to spell those sounds.
Phonics is the teaching of reading by developing awareness of the sounds in words and the corresponding letters used to represent those sounds
A phoneme is a spoken sound that you hear in a word and is the smallest unit of sound that makes up a word - for example, "DOG" has 3 phonemes (d-o-g)
A grapheme is how a phoneme is written down (or spelt). It can be one (e.g. "s"), two (digraph e.g. "ch"), three (trigraph e.g. "igh") or four letters (e.g. "ough"). Some digraphs are separated within the word (such as "a_e" in made) - this is a split digraph (you may have heard them referred to as "magic E" or "hop over E").
There can be more than one grapheme to spell a phoneme (e.g. the phoneme ‘ay’ is spelt differently in each of the words ‘way’, ‘make’, ‘fail’, ‘great’, ‘sleigh’ and ‘lady’)
GPC stands for "Grapheme/Phoneme Correspondence" and means being able to match a phoneme to a grapheme and vice versa
Blending involves merging sounds (phonemes) together to pronounce the word and is important for reading - for example, SH-O-P blended reads the word SHOP
Segmenting is the opposite of blending and involves EITHER hearing a word, splitting it up into phonemes then using knowledge of GPC to work out which graphemes they represent (this enables you to write the graphemes down in the right order and is the basis of spelling) OR seeing a written/printed word, splitting it up into graphemes to read then using GPC to work out which phonemes they represent - this enables you to sound out the phonemes in the right order then blend them to pronounce the word (this is the basis of reading)
- High frequency words (HFWs) are words that occur frequently in print (the first 300 HFWs make up 65% of all printed words)
- Common exception words (CEWs - you may have heard them referred to as tricky words) are words which cannot be sounded out easily because the graphemes do not make the sounds you would expect (e.g. was)
- Expressions such as "VC" and "CVC" mean VOWEL-CONSONANT and CONSONANT-VOWEL-CONSONANT (see Phase 2 below) so, for example, "SHOP" is a CCVC word
- Long vowels are a, e, i. o and u pronounced as in hay, bee, pie, go and cute while short vowels are a, e, i. o and u pronounced as in sat, pet, tin, hot and cup (some words may be pronounced differently depending on regional dialects eg "path" is generally pronounced with a long vowel in Southern England and a short vowel in Northern England).
About phonics at Whitegrove Primary School
Phonics is taught from Foundation Stage as a secure basis for early readers and writers. We start with single-letter graphemes for basic phonemes (such as "s-a-t-p-i-n") and combine letters and sounds to say, read and write simple words.
The phoneme ‘ay’ is spelt differently in each of the words ‘way’, ‘make’, ‘fail’, ‘great’, ‘sleigh’ and ‘lady’.
The full range of phonemes is introduced in EYFS, with letter names (for spelling words) introduced in Key Stage 1. Graphemes of increasing complexity ("phases") are taught at appropriate times as children move up through the school. For example:
Consider the "OUGH" grapheme and how it is pronounced: THOUGH it may seem TOUGH, it can be THOUGHT THROUGH with a sound phonics knowledge which will also help you to recognise its phonemes in other words such as TROUGH.
Phonics is taught in phases, starting in EYFS and KS1 and continuing through KS2
- listening skills
- developing phonological awareness
- single letter sounds and matching them to graphemes
- some digraphs (e.g. -ck, -ss, -ll)
- blending to read "vowel-consonant" words (vc such as up, in) and "consonant-vowel-consonant" words (cvc such as cat, pin)
- reading the tricky words the, to, go, I, no
- consonant digraphs (e.g. -ng, -sh, -th)
- vowel digraphs (e.g. -ai, -ee, -oa)
- trigraph (-igh)
- blending words with 3 phonemes using these new graphemes
- blending and segmenting 2 syllable words
- more tricky words are taught
- consolidation of phases 1-3
- blending and segmenting adjacent consonants (eg -st in stop, -tr in train, -spr and -ng in spring)
- alternative graphemes for the phonemes they have already learnt
- learn strategies for choosing which grapheme represents a phoneme
- reading with more fluency and less need to "sound out"
Phase 6 (Year 2 and beyond):
- prefixes and suffixes
- apostrophes in contractions (e.g. it's)
- apostrophes showing possession
- more fluent, growing in confidence with spelling and reading for pleasure
- reading "in their head" and only sounding out longer or unfamiliar words
Saying a phoneme
There are lots of videos on YouTube that describe how phonemes are pronounced but not all of them demonstrate correctly. It's important to recognise that we mustn't say "uh" at the end of the phoneme (so "M" is spoken as "mmmmm" and not "muh"). This might take a bit of practice!
To help, here are a few examples of the accurate pronunciation of graphemes:
- Pure Speech Sounds - YouTube by Monster Phonics (our chosen phonics scheme)
- Parent video: How to say the sounds - YouTube with sounds spoken by a child
- Sounds of the English Phonic Code -Synthetic Phonics.wmv - YouTube presented by Tami Reis-Frankfort, a reading specialist and trainer.
Following the Government's 2021 revision of its core criteria for Systematic Synthetic Phonics, we have robustly reviewed our phonics teaching and chosen to use the Monster Phonics programme (validated by the Government in December 2021). Transition to Monster Phonics took place over the Spring term 2022.
We chose Monster Phonics as it:
- has the best fit for our children
- is fun and engages children in their learning
- supports children to become fluent readers with a love of books
- is structured to meet or exceed the expected standard in the Year 1 phonics screening check
- fits the national curriculum expectations for word reading through decoding by the end of Year 2
- achieves strong results for all pupils, including the most disadvantaged.
I want to hug every library, these miraculous institutions where new horizons line the shelves, where minds go to grow
Joseph Coelho, Children's Laureate 2022-24
Our KS1 reading schemes are varied because we believe that no one scheme can meet the needs of all children. Our schemes include Bug Club, Oxford Reading Tree, Rising Stars and Phonic Books.
Daily Reading in EYFS, Y1, Y2 and beyond
To become confident, life-long readers is something we want for all children at Whitegrove. In line with government guidelines, we provide all children working on early reading and phonics with a phonics reading book. These books are different to traditional reading books as they use only words containing the phonics the children have been exposed to in class. The purpose of these books is to:
- practise the phonics skills they have learned in phonics lessons
- develop reading fluency, an integral part in their development as a reader
- help build their confidence as a reader.
To this end, we would expect children to read these books through at least 3 times before changing them. They are also likely to receive the same book more than once and may receive books from a variety of colour bands, depending on which phonics sounds they are currently working on or revisiting.
To ensure a rich reading diet for our children, we also make regular trips to our school library where children will bring a library book home for you to share and enjoy together; the children are not expected to read this independently.
We also provide the children with guided reading sessions and daily class reading where we build on children’s comprehension but also instil a love and appreciation of reading. Please see the "Presentations to Parents" section of the school website for more information on how children are taught phonics at Whitegrove.
As the children move through the school: we continue to offer a rich and varied reading diet including class reads, whole class guided reading, text studies and reading for pleasure opportunities.
Our School Library
"The only thing that you absolutely have to know is the location of the Library", Albert Einstein
Our School Library is in our Central Learning Hub so prominently placed in the heart of our school, opposite the School Hall.
Libraries fuel curiosity, spark imaginations and foster a life-long love of reading and learning. With a wide selection of fiction and non-fiction books, our visits to our library are an opportunity for children to explore different genres and authors. We encourage children to take their time to browse our many books and to look at more than one before they choose one to take home. Our younger children may also have story time.
We have a separate, age-appropriate selection for EYFS and KS1 but don't apply "levels" to these books so, even if our younger children choose a book that might be a bit tricky, it's still an opportunity for them to read the book at home with their family. The book can be read to them or with them and is useful for extending vocabulary, topic knowledge and to help with understanding the structure of stories.
Another benefit of borrowing a school library book is that it also encourages our children to develop one of our School Values - RESPONSIBILITY (to take a library book home, read it, look after it and return it on time - children can usually change books once a week with reminders about late books usually sent at the end of each half term).
In late 2022, we developed our library to create a dedicated and comfortable environment for teaching and learning. Children are able to use Chromebooks alongside non-fiction books to enhance their learning across the curriculum while developing digital and information literacy. Our aim is that every year group will be able to visit our library once a week.