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Phonics and Early Reading


At Okehampton Primary School children learn their phonics by following the Letters and Sounds document from the Department of Education. In EYFS and Key Stage 1 they have a daily phonics lesson where they learn to recognise the 44 phonemes (the speech sound) and the grapheme (how we write it). The information below aims to explain a little about our approach to phonics and the way we teach it.


So, What Exactly is Phonics?

Words are made up from small units of sound called phonemes. Phonics teaches children to be able to listen carefully and identify the phonemes that make up each word. This helps children to learn to read words and to spell words. In phonics lessons children are taught three main things:

• Phonemes: Each letter in the alphabet has a ‘name’ (a = ay, b = bee, c = see, etc), but spoken English uses about 44 sounds (phonemes). These phonemes are represented by letters (graphemes). In other words, a sound can be represented by a letter (e.g. ‘s’ or ‘h’) or a group of letters (e.g. ‘th’ or ‘ear’).These sounds are taught in a particular order. The first sounds to be taught are s, a, t, p.

• Blending: Children are taught to be able to blend. This is when children say the sounds that make up a word and are able to merge the sounds together until they can hear what the word is. This skill is vital in learning to read.

• Segmenting: Children are also taught to segment. This is the opposite of blending. Children are able to say a word and then break it up into the phonemes that make it up. This skill is vital in being able to spell words. What makes phonics tricky? In some languages learning phonics is easy because each phoneme has just one grapheme to represent it. The English language is a bit more complicated than this. Obviously we only have 26 letters in the alphabet so some graphemes are made up from more than one letter, such as ch th oo ay. These are all digraphs (graphemes with two letters), but there are other graphemes that are trigraphs (made up of 3 letters, e.g. igh) and even a few made from 4 letters (e.g. ough). Another slightly sticky problem is that some graphemes can represent more than one phoneme. For example ch makes very different sounds in these three words: chip, school, chef!


Why Phonics?

Reading and writing is one of the most fundamental skills children need to be successful learners. There are many different strategies that we use to teach our children to read and write but the most vital one is phonics. In the past people argued that because the English language is so tricky, there was no point teaching children phonics. Now, most people agree that these tricky bits mean that it is even more important that we teach phonics and children learn it clearly and systematically. A written language is basically a kind of a code. Teaching phonics is just teaching children to crack that code. Children learn the simple bits first and then easily progress to get the hang of the trickier bits.


How is Phonics Taught?

Phonics sessions are very structures and last for approximately 10 minutes per day. Children are then given the opportunities to explore what they are learning in phonics in independent or adult-led activities throughout the school day. Phonics forms a part of how we teach reading, but it is also important to help children become fluent readers by teaching them to recognise key words by sight. The overarching aim of phonics is to break the code in reading and in writing as it gives children the skills to blend words for reading and segment words for spelling.


At the end of Year 1, the children will take part in the Year 1 Phonics Screening which is set by the government.


What is this?

  • A screening check for Year 1 to encourage schools to pursue a rigorous phonics programme.
  • Aimed at identifying the children who need extra help are given the support.
  • Assesses decoding skills using phonics.
  • 40 items to be read (20 real words, 20 words that are not real, called alien words).
  • If children do not pass in Year 1 they have to retake the test at the end of Year 2.


How can I help at home?

  • Try to find time to read with your child every day.
  • Talk about the book, the character, what is happening in the story, predict what may happen next. Encourage a love of reading – not a chore!
  • Ask your child to find items around the house that represent particular sounds, i.e. ‘oo’ - ‘spoon’ ‘bedroom’
  • Play matching pairs – with key words or individual sounds/pictures.
  • Flashcard letters and words – how quickly can they read them?
  • Notice words/letters in the environment.
  • Go on a listening walk around the house/when out and about.
  • Lots of activities online for children to practice their phonic knowledge.


Here are some useful websites and sound mats


Technical Vocabulary

  • phoneme is the smallest unit of sound in a word. A phoneme may be represented by 1, 2, or 3 letters. (e.g. t ai igh)
  • syllable is a word or part of a word that contains one vowel sound. (e.g. hap/pen bas/ket let/ter)
  • grapheme is the letter(s) representing a phoneme. Written representation of a sound which may consist of 1 or more letters eg. The phoneme ‘s’ can be represented by the grapheme (e.g. (sun), se (mouse), (city), sc or ce (science)
  • digraph is two letters, which make one sound.
  • A consonant digraph contains two consonants ( th ck ll)
  • A vowel digraph contains at least one vowel ( ee ar oy)
  • split digraph is a digraph in which the two letters are not adjacent (e.g. make)
  • trigraph is three letters, which make one sound. (e.g. igh)
  • Oral Blending – hearing a series of spoken sounds and merging them together to make a spoken word (no text is used) (e.g. when a teacher calls out ‘b-u-s’, the children say bus)
  • Blending – recognising the letter sounds in a written word, (e.g. c-u-p, and merging in the order in which they are written to pronounce the word ‘cup’)
  • Segmenting – identifying the individual sounds in a spoken word (e.g. h-i-m) and writing down letters for each sound to form the word ‘him’.


Phonics is taught by progressing through the phases.

Phase 1:

To distinguish between sounds and become familiar with rhyme, rhythm and alliteration.

Phase 2:

To introduce 19 grapheme-phoneme correspondences and be able to read and write words containing them.

Phase 3:

To teach one grapheme for each of the 44 phonemes in order to read and spell simple regular words.

Phase 4:

To read and spell words containing adjacent consonants.

Phase 5

To teach alternative pronunciations for graphemes and alternative spellings for phonemes. The focus during this phase is the application of the sounds they have learnt in their independent reading and writing.

Year 2 spelling pathway

To develop their skill and automaticity in reading and writing.


Okehampton Primary School has developed a rigorous assessment procedure to ensure all children leave our school as confident spellers and with a love of reading.

Phonics Programme and Phase Guidance at OPS

Early Reading
At Okehampton Primary School we want children to learn to read quickly and accurately and to then keep on reading. We want children to see reading not only as a task set by teachers in school but as an activity which provides pleasure and escape from the modern world.

We use a range of schemes such as Rising Stars and Collins Big Cat to provide a rich and varied text base. These texts are organised into bands using book bands and bench-marking guidance. We passionately believe that, with the right support, all children can and will learn to read. In order for all children to be successful we assess them each half term and place them in a group that is matched to their ability. We are constantly informally assessing the children to make sure the books they read are neither too easy nor too hard. If needed, children receive additional support in the form of daily 1:1 coaching, to help them on their journey to becoming a confident reader. Within their daily sessions, children are encouraged and supported not only to develop their decoding skills but also their comprehension and fluency skills. The writing aspect of the programme will teach the children how to use key skills to record their ideas and they will be encouraged to formulate their sentences orally before writing these on paper.​

​Teaching of phonics is integral to the teaching of reading and although a major part, it is not the only thing we do. We have a range of phonetically decodable reading books from which the children can choose. Children are also free to borrow books from our extensive school library.
We will teach pupils to speak, read and write fluently so that they can communicate their ideas and emotions effectively. With regards to reading, children will be exposed to a wide range of texts to develop their knowledge of themselves and the world in which they live. Phonics will be used as a tool to develop an appreciation and love of reading through teaching fluency. Children will be challenged in their thinking through comprehension and their immersion in the wider curriculum. It is our intention to ensure that, by the end of their primary education, all pupils are able to read fluently, and with confidence, in any subject in their forthcoming secondary education.

The aim for Phonics and Early Reading at our School is to promote high standards of language and literacy by equipping pupils with a strong command of the spoken and written word from an early age and to develop their love of literature through widespread reading for enjoyment.

The National Curriculum and EYFS for Reading and Phonics aim to ensure that all pupils:

  • Read easily, fluently and with good understanding;
  • Develop the habit of reading widely and often, for both pleasure and information;
  • Acquire a wide vocabulary, an understanding of grammar and knowledge of linguistic conventions for reading, writing and spoken language;
  • Appreciate our rich and varied literary heritage