Rachel Doyle

An Introduction to Phonics

What is phonics

Phonics is a method of teaching children to read quickly and skilfully. Pupils are firstly taught to recognise and write each sound in the alphabet. Once they have a secure understanding of this, they are taught to recognise and write the sounds that groups letters e.g. sh, oo make. These groups of letters are called grapheme phoneme correspondences, and there roughly 40 of these. When pupils learn a new sound, they are taught to recognise the sound in new words. They are then taught to blend these sounds together from left to right to read whole words. It is through this model of teaching that pupils are taught the strategies to ensure they can decode unfamiliar words.  

Why do we use phonics in School? 

Research has shown that phonics is the most effective way to teach pupils to read. This is due to the repetitive nature and the engaging learning material available from different phonics programmes. The consistency and repetition of such programmes combined with engaging rhymes and games helps pupils to memorise the letter/sound correspondences more easily. It has been proven that phonics is most effective when teaching begins with the easiest sounds - moving onto the more complex letter/sound correspondences overtime as pupils become more confident. Phonics equips pupils with the correct skills to be able to tackle unfamiliar words with confidence.   

How does phonics look in practice?  

Phonics in schools is usually taught for 15- 30 minutes each day depending on the age of the pupils. It starts being taught in the early years and is continued into Key Stage 1. Phonics is taught to pupils until they can recognise, identify, and read all 44 letter/sound correspondences independently with ease. Once pupils can read fluently, the focus then shifts to pupils’ comprehension and understanding of what they are reading. Pupils have regular assessments to monitor their progress and ensure they do not have any gaps in their learning.

What are the key factors for effective phonics teaching? 

With so many different phonics programmes available for schools to choose from, it is important they find one that is the right fit for them. According to the English Hubs Programme, there are seven key features that have been identified as characterising phonics teaching in highly successful schools. These are: 

- direct teaching in frequent, short bursts 
- consistency of approach  
- secure, systematic progression in phonics learning  
- maintaining pace of learning
- providing repeated practice 
- application of phonics using matched decodable books  
- early identification of children at risk of falling behind, linked to the provision of effective keep-up support 

Schools will look for these key features when choosing a phonics programme to introduce. Additionally, schools that plan their own phonics programme will aim to include these key features to ensure a highly successful programme that equips pupils with the skills needed to be confident readers.  

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