Teaching Your Child Phonics - How to Grow a Bookworm
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Teaching Your Child Phonics

What is Phonics?

Phonics is a reading system which teaches children to break words into sounds. The sounds can then be said together to form a whole word. During phonics lessons children learn sounds, look at how they are written down and practice methods to help them read. Because not all words follow the same spelling and reading rules children also learn some whole words and talk about the differences and similarities they find between words.


Head to the bottom of this post for your free printable word and sound cards.

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To teach phonics you must:

Teach what each sound sounds like. This is called a phoneme.



Teach how each sound can be written down. This is called a grapheme.




Teach how to blend sounds together to read whole words.



Teach how to sound out individual sounds to write words down.



A Full List of Phonic Sounds

The teaching of phonics is divided into phases with developing focuses and focus sounds in each phase increasing in difficulty from phase 1 (begun in Early Years and Foundation Stage) to phase 6 (usually completed in year 2).


Phase 1

This can be seen as a conditioning phase and is used to attune children to the sounds around them and the sounds that they can make in different ways. It finishes with the introduction of oral blending and segmenting which is breaking words into single sounds and being able to recognise words from those sounds.



Phase 2

This introduces the first set of written sounds.



Pronouncing Phase 2 Sounds


These sounds are taught to children in a variety of different ways so that:

  • When they are seen on their own the child can say the sound.
  • When they hear the sound they can write it down.
  • They can find and say the sound when it is presented in a word.


Each sound is taught through a variety of activities to help children remember the phoneme and its associated grapheme. These can be accompanied by actions, pictures or even stories. The more memorable this is the more effective the learning can be because children will be able to quickly recall the phoneme.


Phase 3

This comes with another set of sounds.



Pronouncing Phase 3 Sounds


As you can see phase 3 is mainly made up of graphemes written with two letters. These are called digraphs. It also includes trigraphs which, yes you guessed it, are made up of three letters.


Phase 4

This doesn’t come with any new sounds but gets children to work more with the phonemes and graphemes that they have already learned. Children learn to read and write two syllable words containing the sounds already learnt. They are also introduced to words that have consonants adjacent to one another:



Pronouncing Phase 4 Blends


Phase 5

This phase introduces more sounds and begins to group graphemes that make the same sound.



Pronouncing Phase 5 Sounds


Split vowel digraphs

In this phase children are introduced to the split vowel digraph. This is a sound made up of two vowels but it is split across a consonant. Children often find these quite tricky to recognise in words so they require lots of practice. When using sound buttons a split digraph can be shown like this:



The curved sound button shows that the letters while not next to each other still form one sound.

The best resource I have seen to help children with split vowel digraphs can be found here.


Phase 6

This focuses on increasing children’s reading fluency and builds up the accuracy of their spelling. It is this stage that takes children from words that just sound right to words that are spelled correctly. Some of the knowledge to achieve this comes from phonics lessons and spelling teaching but a lot also comes from the examples of correct spelling in the child’s own reading.


Common Exception and High Frequency Words

At the same time as children are learning this range of sounds and strategies children are also taught to recognise and recall several whole words. These are words that occur frequently so that they can be recognised quickly without sounding out to aid in reading fluency. Common exception words are words that you may also see regularly but don’t always follow the rules that you would expect if you sound them out. For example


Key points to remember:



Improving Phonics Step by Step


Step 1: Revisit

Effective phonics teaching must be both engaging and relevant to your child. To keep it relevant you must have a good idea of what your child already knows.



Printable sound cards can be found here.

Jolly Phonics sound cards can be bought here.

Now that you have a good idea of which sounds your child is secure in and what they still need to be taught you can briefly revisit sounds that they already know. This is an important strategy that keeps children fluent and prevents gaps forming. Play some quick fire games with sounds they are secure in. The best ones will present the sounds within words or in ways that will stretch them while covering familiar ground.


3 Quick ways to revisit sounds


  1. Quickfire: Show them each of a group of sounds and get them to say it aloud. Record how many correct in a minute. Aim to improve each time.
  2. Kim’s Game: Place a range of sound cards face up. Ask them to say each sound, memorise them then close their eyes. Now take one away. Can they tell you which sound?
  3. Online Games: For some great online phonics games visit Phonics Play.
  4. Magnets: Sound charts. Rainbow phonics sounds and board. Individual letters.
  5. Sound Dominoes: Short vowels. Digraphs. Long vowels.


Step 2: Teach

Introduce your child to a new sound. The more memorable this experience is the more the sound will stick in their mind. Lots of schools use Jolly Phonics actions to help children recognise and remember the sounds. Get a set of Jolly Phonics activity books or the full teaching kit. I recently saw a fantastic scheme called Storytime Phonics that introduces each sound with a real story.


Start by looking at the sound you want your child to learn.

Can you link it to one of their interests?

Can you tell a funny story about it?

Can you dress up and tell the story?

Can you introduce it to them in a memorable place?


Make sure that they:

See the grapheme (how the sound is written). You could try these sound cubes.

Hear the phoneme (the sound it makes).

Act out the grapheme. (Either use the Jolly phonics action or make your own.)

Write the grapheme.

Say the phoneme.


Step 3: Practice

Give your child some simple words that contain the sound you have taught them. Try and make them relevant or linked to the memorable idea you used to teach the sound. The more you vary this the better.

You could:

Write the words in chalk on the pavement outside.

Write the words on large sheets of paper and stick them in different places all around the garden. Get your child to run from one to the next as quickly as possible.

Mix up the words with others that don’t contain the sound you taught. Can they pick out and read the correct ones?

Write the words on pebbles and hide them around the garden. To take this a step further have the words make up a message.

Use a game from Phonics Play.

Play these great phonics games.


The focus of this step is to read the sounds within a whole word. To do this your child will need to say each sound and then blend the sounds to say the word. Here some strategies to support this stage:


Sound buttons

To do this sound buttons can be drawn beneath each sound. Different schools will call these different things but most teachers will recognise sound buttons.



As you can see one sound button is drawn beneath each grapheme with one button per sound. Once the sound buttons have been drawn you can touch each button in turn and say the sound aloud.


While children say the sounds they listen carefully to see if they can recognise the word. If they say the sounds slowly or inaccurately it will be hard to blend the word so it is worth encouraging them to sound the word again until they can hear the word.



Phonic Fingers

Another strategy used in schools is sounding out words on your fingers. These are sometimes called phonic fingers and can be used to read words and to break them into manageable pieces for writing.



This is an example of how to read the word ‘dream’ using phonic fingers.


As with the sound buttons say one phoneme (sound) aloud as you touch each finger.

Digraphs and trigraphs only make one sound even though they have multiple letters.


Digraph- A grapheme that contains two letters.

Trigraph- A grapheme that contains three letters.


Once you have said each sound in turn make the shape of a rainbow over your fingers to indicate blending the sounds together and say the word as a whole. Hold your hand so that you are sounding left to write. This is important because it supports the correct strategy for writing.

To use this strategy to write a word reverse the steps. Say the whole word then break it into sounds as you touch each finger. Write down each sound as you say to spell out the word.


Step 4: Apply

Now you need to give your child the experience of approaching each sound in a real situation. This could be short piece of writing, sentences or poetry. The best way would be to support them to read these sounds in a real book that they have chosen themselves. They will need to read other sounds to do this but the closer to a real reading situation the more effective it will be.


Another way to make this memorable would be to make a game of it:

Write questions or instructions including words that contain the sound you taught. Your child can read it and then answer or follow the instruction to show you that they under stand.

Write several sentences using the sound. Cut each sentence in half and mix them up. Ask your child to read them and put them back together.


For further ideas on how to apply these skills to reading check out my tips about hearing reading.


Step 5: Spelling

Introduce this at any step or whenever appropriate. When you child has learnt the sound say a word that contains the sound. Ask them to say each sound in the word in order and write each sound down. Let them check their work and correct any errors.


Key points to remember

  1. Revisit: Briefly revisit sounds that they already know.
  2. Teach: Introduce your child to a new sound.
  3. Practice: Give your child some simple words that contain the sound you have taught them.
  4. Apply: Give your child the experience of reading each sound in a real situation. This could be short piece of writing, sentences or poetry.




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  • Ana Elisa Miranda
    Posted at 16:40h, 04 December Reply

    Hi Thomas! What a detailed yet accessible post about teaching phonics. I’ll share it with my group of parents 🙂

    • tomrussell
      Posted at 20:29h, 04 December Reply

      Thank you! That’s very kind. If you need any further information or want someone to talk over phonics with you or your parents group please let me know.

  • Lizzie
    Posted at 23:04h, 10 December Reply

    This is so useful. As a parent of a 4 year old who starts school next year, these are some great ideas for getting the phonics ball rolling. Thanks!

    • tomrussell
      Posted at 23:10h, 10 December Reply

      Thank you Lizzie, that is great to hear. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask.

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