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 ‘oo’;
  • blend these sounds together from left to right to make a word.

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

Phonics worksheets

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
  • 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.

There are various methods of teaching phonics but they all have the same basis:

a – makes the sound a (as in apple)
b – makes the sound b (as in baby)
c – makes the sound c (as in cat)

Children need to learn reading and writing in stages:

Stage 1 – learning the letter sounds
Stage 2 – learning letter formation (how to write each letter)
Stage 3 – learning about blending (e.g. combining a and i as ai as it sounds in aim)
Stage 4 – identifying sounds in words
Stage 5 – spelling tricky words (English is a complex language, often illogical)

These skills are usually taught separately but depending on the ability and progress of the child the stages may overlap. Phonics is one area of teaching where parents can reinforce the work done in school. If in doubt always speak to the teacher to find out:

  • What method of phonic teaching they are using
  • How you can help
  • If there is any additional material to use at home to reinforce the work done in school

3 children reading

Helping your child with phonics
Phonics works best when children are given plenty of encouragement and learn to enjoy reading and books. Parents play a very important part in helping with this. Some simple steps to help your child learn to read through phonics:

  • Ask your child’s class teacher about the school’s approach to phonics
    and how you can reinforce this at home. For example, the teacher will
    be able to tell you which letters and sounds the class is covering in
    lessons each week.
  • You can then highlight these sounds when you read with your child.
    Teaching how sounds match with letters is likely to start with individual
    letters such as ‘s’, ‘a’ and ‘t’ and then will move on to two-letter sounds
    such as ‘ee’, ‘ch’ and ‘ck’.
  • With all books, encourage your child to ‘sound out’ unfamiliar words and
    then blend the sounds together from left to right rather than looking at
    the pictures to guess. Once your child has read an unfamiliar word you
    can talk about what it means and help him or her to follow the story.
  • Your child’s teacher will also be able to suggest books with the right
    level of phonics for your child. These books are often called ‘decodable
    readers’ because the story is written with words made up of the letters
    your child has learnt. Your child will be able to work out new words from
    their letters and sounds, rather than just guessing.
  • Try to make time to read with your child every day. Grandparents and
    older brothers or sisters can help, too. Encourage your child to blend the
    sounds all the way through a word.
  • Word games like ‘I-spy’ can also be an enjoyable way of teaching
    children about sounds and letters. You can also encourage your child to
    read words from your shopping list or road signs to practise phonics.
  • Most schools use ‘book bags’ and a reading record, which is a great way
    for teachers and parents to communicate about what children have read.
    The reading record can tell you whether your child has enjoyed a
    particular book and shows problems or successes he or she has had,
    either at home or at school. © Crown copyright 2013

Letters and Sounds 

Letters and Sounds is a phonics resource published by the Department for Education and Skills in 2007. It aims to build children's speaking and listening skills in their own right as well as to prepare children for learning to read by developing their phonic knowledge and skills. It sets out a detailed and systematic programme for teaching phonic skills for children starting by the age of five, with the aim of them becoming fluent readers by age seven. There are six overlapping phases. The table below is a summary based on the Letters and Sounds guidance for Practitioners and Teachers.


Phonic Knowledge and Skills

Phase One


Activities are divided into seven aspects, including environmental sounds, instrumental sounds, body sounds, rhythm and rhyme, alliteration, voice sounds and finally oral blending and segmenting.

Phase Two

(Reception) up to 6 weeks

Learning 19 letters of the alphabet and one sound for each. Blending sounds together to make words. Segmenting words into their separate sounds. Beginning to read simple captions.

Phase Three

(Reception) up to 12 weeks

The remaining 7 letters of the alphabet, one sound for each. Graphemes such as ch, oo, th representing the remaining phonemes not covered by single letters. Reading captions, sentences and questions. On completion of this phase, children will have learnt the "simple code", i.e. one grapheme for each phoneme in the English language.

Phase Four

(Reception) 4 to 6 weeks

No new grapheme-phoneme correspondences are taught in this phase. Children learn to blend and segment longer words with adjacent consonants, e.g. swim, clap, jump.

Phase Five

(Throughout Year 1)

Now we move on to the "complex code". Children learn more graphemes for the phonemes which they already know, plus different ways of pronouncing the graphemes they already know.

Phase Six

(Throughout Year 2 and beyond)

Working on spelling, including prefixes and suffixes, doubling and dropping letters etc.

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