What is Phonics?

Phonics is a way of teaching children to read quickly and skilfully. They are taught how to:

– recognise the sounds that each individual letter makes;
– identify the sounds that different combinations of letters make such as /sh/ or /ee/; and
– blend these sounds together from left to right to make a word.

Children can then use this knowledge to ‘decode’ new words that they hear or see. This is the first important step in learning to read.  

Why Phonics?

Research shows that when phonics is taught in a structured way – starting with the easiest sounds and progressing through to the most complex – it is the most effective way of teaching young children to read. It is particularly helpful for children aged 5 to 7.

Almost all children who receive good teaching of phonics will learn the skills they need to tackle new words. They can then go on to read any kind of text fluently and confidently, and to read for enjoyment.

Children who have been taught phonics also tend to read more accurately than those taught using other methods, such as ‘look and say’. This includes children who find learning to read difficult, for example those who have dyslexia.

(The information above is directly from the Department of Education’s ‘Learning to read through phonics : information for parents’ document .)

At Avanti House Primary School, we follow the Letters and Sounds document as our core programme to support with our planning and teaching of synthetic phonics. The Letters and Sounds document provides information and guidelines on how best to equip children’s phonic knowledge from Nursery to the end of KS1.

We have adapted our teaching to ensure that all the elements of the new National Curriculum (2014) have been included and therefore being taught to all pupils.

Subject Knowledge

Phonics is the process of learning the sounds of all graphemes and learning the process of blending sounds to read and segmenting sounds to write. A high level phonics programme also provides guidance on teaching words that cannot be phonetically decoded; these are known as tricky words or common exception words.

There are 44 phonemes, represented by 26 letters in a range of different combinations.

What is the difference between analytical phonics and synthetic phonics?

Analytical phonics focuses on recognising words from sight, children are taught to identify or guess words by recognising initial sounds and the formation of the remaining letters in the word.  When teaching analytical phonics, children are taught single phonemes and words that begin with that sound (e.g.: S – sun sat snow sink), following from this children are then taught diagraphs (e.g. – ee, oo, ai, ew).

However, synthetic phonics focuses on teaching children to identify phonemes and to use these to blend and segment in their reading writing. Blending and segmenting begins almost within the second week of the programme, this means the children do not guess words, but use phonic knowledge to break up sounds to read and write as correctly as possible.

At Avanti House Primary School we use the synthetic approach, by following the Letters and Sounds programme, this allows us to teach all phonemes, words that begin with particular sounds (e.g. N – neck) and words which contain those sounds (e.g. N – bend). This is taught through on-going blending and segmenting activities.

Key Vocabulary / Glossary

Phonemes: A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound
Graphemes: The grapheme is the letter used to represent the sound
Digraph: two letters used to make one sound (e.g. ch/ sh/ th)
Trigraph: three letters used to make one sound (e.g. igh/ ure/ air)
Split Digraph: A digraph in which the two letters are not adjacent (e.g. make/ bone/ like)
Vowel Digraph: A digraph that uses two vowels to make one sound (e.g. oo/ ai/ ee)
Consonant Diagraph: A digraph that contains two consonants (e.g. ck/ sh/ ch)
CVC: Consonant Vowel Consonant (c-a-t/ sh-ee-p)
Blending: Combining sounds together to read the word
Segmenting: Breaking up the sounds in a word to help spell the word
Homographs: Words that have the same spelling but differ in meaning and pronunciation, for example, a row of chairs or a row like an argument
Homophones: Words with common pronunciations but different spellings, for example, to / two / too or there / their
Syllable: One or more letters representing a unit of spoken language consisting of a single uninterrupted sound
Polysyllabic word: A word containing more than one syllable
Adjacent Consonant: Two consonants next to each other in a word, for example, trip or bend. These used to be known as ‘blends’ but must not be now. They need to be taught as separate sounds.

Useful Documents

Please click on the three links below to download documents which contain essential information that will help you support your child in the development of their phonics, reading and writing:

Phonics Parents Handout
Phonics Word List
Phonics Alternative Pronunciations and Spellings

Useful Website Links


Click on the picture to access an excellent website containing lots of information and activities to use with your child.




Click on the picture to gain access lots of useful information, print out activities and interactive games that you can use with your child. Print out the flashcards from Phases 2, 3, 5a and then use them with your child to practise the individual sounds. Print out the picture/match cards for Phases 2, 3, 4 and child love to first read the words and then find the matching pictures.


Useful Videos to Support Phonics Learning

Basic phonemes (sounds) for Reception students

How to read words by blending individual sounds together.

Phase 3 digraphs and trigraphs.

Phase 5 sounds with the correct pronunciations.

Demonstrates use of sound buttons, which is what we use in school, to support the children in their learning

What is the Year 1 Phonics Screening Check?

The phonics screening check is taken individually by all children in Year 1 in England. It is designed to give teachers and parents’ information on how your child is progressing in phonics. It will help to identify whether your child needs additional support at this stage so that they do not fall behind in this vital early reading skill.

There are two sections in this 40-word check and it assesses phonics skills and knowledge learned through Reception and Year 1. Your child will read up to four words per page for their teacher and they will probably do the check in one sitting of about 5-10 minutes. It is a school-based check to make sure that your child receives any additional support promptly, should they need it. It is not a stressful situation as the teacher will be well-equipped to listen and understand your child’s level of skills.

It checks that your child can:

  • sound out and blend graphemes in order to read simple words
  • read phonically decodable one-syllable and two-syllable words, e.g. cat, sand, windmill
  • read a selection of nonsense words which are referred to as pseudo words

These are words that are phonically decodable but are not actual words with an associated meaning e.g. brip, snorb. Pseudo words are included in the check specifically to assess whether your child can decode a word using phonics skills and not their memory.

The pseudo words will be shown to your child with a picture of a monster and they will be asked to tell their teacher what sort of monster it is by reading the word. This not only makes the check a bit more fun, but provides the children with a context for the nonsense word which is independent from any existing vocabulary they may have. Crucially, it does not provide any clues, so your child just has to be able to decode it. Children generally find nonsense amusing so they will probably enjoy reading these words.

The school will report your child’s results to you by the end of the summer term as well as to the local authority.

What should I do if my child is struggling to decode a word?

  • Say each sound in the word from left to right.
  • Blend the sounds by pointing to each letter, i.e. /b/ in bat, or letter group, i.e. /igh/ in sigh, as you say the sound, then run your finger under the whole word as you say it.
  • Talk about the meaning if your child does not understand the word they have read.
  • Work at your child’s pace.
  • Always be positive and give lots of praise and encouragement.

* Teachers will be in touch nearer the time of the check, which is usually in June.