Build solid foundations for reading success

Now that kids are back in school, teachers must make sure that they have solid foundations for reading.  These foundations will ensure reading success throughout their education and beyond.  Who knows what exciting opportunities lay ahead for our young readers?  But first they will need to learn to read.

So what are the foundations we need to put into place?

Initial Phonic (Alphabetic) Code

The English Phonic Code is complex.  44 sounds represented by more than 175 letters or letter combinations is a lot to learn and get confused about.  We need to break this body of knowledge into smaller steps and initially break off a simple part of the code that kids can learn.  This is the Initial Code.  Not all programmes divide the code in this way but I have found it very useful.  It is the foundation on which the next levels are built.  If it is shaky – the structure will collapse once more knowledge is heaped upon it.  So, what does the Initial Phonic Code include?  Many programmes will include the following: sounds of the alphabet, double consonants, e.g. ll, ff, ss and consonant digraphs, e.g. sh, ch, ck, th, ng.  Children will need automatic recall of this limited number of sound/letter correspondences.

Blending CVC words and beyond 3-sound words

Another really important part of the foundation kids need is the ability to blend sounds into words. Most children can blend 3 sound words, e.g. CVC words like /c/ /a/ /t/.  The difficulty comes when they need to blend 4 and 5-sound words.  All too often they don’t have sufficient opportunities for blending practice.  Why is this so important?  If kids can’t blend more than 3 sounds in a word, later on, as you introduce vowel digraphs, they will struggle with learning the new digraphs AND reading words that have more than 3 sounds.  For example, when teaching the grapheme ‘ai’, kids may be able to read ‘p ai n’ but not ‘t r ai n’, ‘f r ai l’ or ‘s p r ai n’.  Once children can blend, the complex part of the code can be introduced and children can focus on learning the new spellings.

Teachers will also need to teach children how to manipulate sounds within words.  This will help them identify and correct their reading errors as they learn to read.  Phoneme manipulation involves short activities that entail adding, deleting and swapping sounds in words.

Introducing the Extended Code

Once children have mastered the Initial Code, they can start to learn more and more spellings from the Extended Code.  This is the point that many children can get confused.  Structured, explicit and cumulative teaching is essential.  And of course, providing sufficient practice for reading and spelling at each stage.  The Extended Code will include alternative spellings for vowel and consonant sounds, e.g. ai, ay, ea,  a-e and a for the sound /ae/.  At a later stage, the teacher can introduce less common spellings for this sound, e.g. aigh, ey, and ei for the sound /ae/.  It will also include the alternative sounds for some spellings, e.g. the sounds /ow/ and /oe/ for the spelling ‘ow’ as in ‘c ow’ and ‘s n ow’.

Don’t forget multisyllabic words

As children start to learn the Extended Phonic Code, is it important they also learn how to build and segment multisyllabic words.   All too often, teachers assume that a child who can read a single syllable word can transfer his/her decoding skills with ease to a multisyllabic word.  Many children find reading and spelling multisyllabic words daunting and difficult.  We need to teach them how words can be split into syllables and how each syllable has phonemes within it.  When this is taught explicitly, a vast number of words become accessible to the novice reader.


Written English is a graphophonemic script.  This means that words are built of letter/sound representations but also morphemes.  Morphemes are units of meaning in the word.  When teaching the suffix -ed, for example, it is important for children to learn why the suffix is there, what it means and how to spell it.  Teaching morphology will help kids with reading, spelling, vocabulary, and as a result, comprehension.

I created this image for the solid structure we want all kids to have, when learning to read.  You can see that the Initial Code is the bedrock of this structure. The Extended Code block overhangs – because there is so much to learn.  But it is shored up by the Initial Code underneath it.  Then the multisyllabic words are secured on top.  Finally, the roof is the morphology part.  I used a blue colour to fill that in because once we have this solid structure in place – the sky is the limit for our children!


If you would like to find out about a quality programme with this solid structure go to



#structuredliteracy #readingintervention #teachreading #phonicsclass #readingtutor


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