Working with phonics

Phonics is a way of teaching children about the alphabetic system as letter–sound correspondences in a clearly defined, incremental sequence so that students can:

  • recognise that letters represent the sounds in spoken words
  • identify the multiple ways in which letters represent speech sounds and vice versa
  • use their knowledge of letter-sound relationships to decode and spell words accurately

Children begin their schooling having already acquired a range of literacy skills. For some, this might include understanding how sounds (or phonemes) correspond to letters and letter combinations (or graphemes) to make written words on a page or screen. Grasping this relationship not only assists children to become fluent and accurate readers but is needed for developing children's spelling and writing skills.

A typical Year 1 class might have some students who have cracked the reading code, some who are still developing their skills and others who are struggling to grasp the complexities of reading.

Teachers understand the importance of play in early years education so activities to develop phonics can be fun and engaging. Ideally, activities will be part of a broad and rich language curriculum that provides students with a variety of purposeful spoken and written language learning experiences. Teachers will link language with physical and practical experiences, and will provide an environment rich in print and abundant in opportunities to engage with books.

The importance of phonics

The development of phonics knowledge and skills is an integral part of learning to read, write and spell. Success in phonics depends on phonemic awareness, a prerequisite for learning the alphabetic code. If children cannot hear the separate sounds in words, they cannot relate these sounds to the letters of the alphabet and so cannot use decoding skills to analyse unknown words. This can be problematic for some learners, particularly those for whom English is an additional language.

To build confident letter–sound knowledge, students require explicit teaching and frequent opportunities to blend together and pull apart the sounds of words. Students also need to develop rapid decoding knowledge as fluency and automaticity will assist their reading comprehension. Students should have regular opportunities to read decodable words and connected texts, and apply their developing phonics knowledge in their writing.