Ask us anything! What are the most important elements in a phonics programme?

When we teach reading with phonics, we need to include two important elements:

  1. Introduction of the alphabetic code in small steps (these are the letter/sounds correspondences) starting with simple letter/sound correspondences and progressing to more complex.
  2. Teaching children the phonemic awareness skills that underlie reading and spelling, so that they can use the phonic knowledge successfully to read and spell. These skills are blending (pushing sounds together into words – for reading); segmenting (separating single sounds in words – for spelling); manipulating sounds in words (being able to swap, delete or add sounds in words – for error correction when reading).

A good phonics programme will have a clear scope and sequence to follow. This will be the scaffolding upon which teaching and learning progress. It should be cumulative so that students can revisit and consolidate previous learning. It is also advisable to interweave revision at certain intervals so that retrieval will take place and ensure that learning is committed to long-term memory.

Most programmes introduce a unit of learning (e.g. several letters/sounds of the alphabet) over a two-week period. This will entail a great deal of practice at each stage.

As the graphic below shows, most programmes will address the simple part of the Alphabetic Code first, while developing phonemic awareness skills – this is called the Simple or Initial Code. Once this is in place the more complex letter/sound relationships are introduced. This is called the Complex or Advanced Code. It will entail teaching children about alternative spellings for sounds (phonemes) and alternative pronunciations for some spellings (graphemes). There will also need to be a unit on reading and spelling multisyllabic words and a unit on morphology that will help children to read, spell and comprehend new and longer words.


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