What is phonics?

16 January, 2023

Phonics is a method of teaching children to read by helping them to understand the relationship between letters and the sounds they make. The goal of phonics instruction is to enable children to decode words by sounding them out, rather than relying on memorisation or guessing.

Phonics instruction typically begins with the introduction of the alphabet and the sounds associated with each letter. Children are taught to blend the sounds of individual letters together to form words, such as "c-a-t" making the word "cat." They also learn to segment words into their individual sounds, such as "c-a-t" when they hear the word "cat".

Children are also taught to recognise spelling patterns and corresponding pronunciations. For example the word family ‘-ake’ as in ‘cake’ ‘bake’ ‘take’ ‘make’.

Phonics instruction generally takes place in a highly structured format; sounds are taught in a set order (s, a, t, p, i, n...) and each lesson follows a set format that involves teacher instruction alongside plenty of opportunities for students to practise and apply what they’ve learnt.

One of the key benefits of phonics instruction is that it equips students with the skills they need to sound out unknown vocabulary when reading independently. Likewise, it also equips them to record the sounds in words more accurately in their writing.

Whilst phonics instruction makes up an important component of an early years literacy programme, remember that it is just one part and you should continue to develop students’ skills in other areas such as vocabulary, comprehension and fluency. As students gain competence, phonics instruction will become a smaller and smaller component of your reading programme.


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