Teaching phonics: a rundown

12 Jun 2020 | News & Advice, Primary

Teaching phonics is a method that helps children to decode words by sounds. As part of the system, words are broken down into the smallest form of sound from the word itself. These parts are known as ‘phonemes’ deriving from the Greek word “phonema”, which translates as ‘sound and speech’.

What are the benefits of teaching phonics?

The shift in phonics teaching in the UK has had an impact on how children spell and read. It’s strongly recommended as the first plan of action in teaching young children to begin to read. When coupled with other techniques such as guided reading, children develop rounded reading skills quickly, and hopefully a passion for reading as a result!

What is phonics?

Phonics helps children to identify the phonemes (sounds) that make up each word. This helps children to learn to read and spell properly. Children are taught three key things within phonics lessons:

Grapheme Phoneme Correspondences (GPCs)

As a starting block, children are taught every phoneme which exists within the English language, there are 44 in total. The first sounds that are taught are s, a, t, p and all are taught. Below is the full list of phonemes, graphemes and their International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbol, in no particular order:

Consonants

Phoneme

IPA Symbol

Graphemes

Examples

1

b

b, bb

bug, bubble

2

d

d, dd, ed

dad, add, milled

3

f

f, ff, ph, gh, lf, ft

fat, cliff, phone, enough, half, often

4

g

g, gg, gh,gu,gue

gun, egg, ghost, guest, prologue

5

h

h, wh

hop, who

6

j, ge, g, dge, di, gg

jam, wage, giraffe, edge, soldier, exaggerate

7

k

k, c, ch, cc, lk, qu ,q(u), ck, x

kit, cat, chris, accent, folk, bouquet, queen, rack, box

8

l

l, ll

live, well

9

m

m, mm, mb, mn, lm

man, summer, comb, column, palm

10

n

n, nn,kn, gn, pn

net, funny, know, gnat, pneumonic

11

p

p, pp

pin, dippy

12

r

r, rr, wr, rh

run, carrot, wrench, rhyme

13

s

s, ss, c, sc, ps, st, ce, se

sit, less, circle, scene, psycho, listen, pace, course

14

t

t, tt, th, ed

tip, matter, thomas, ripped

15

v

v, f, ph, ve

vine, of, stephen, five

16

w

w, wh, u, o

wit, why, quick, choir

17

z

z, zz, s, ss, x, ze, se

zed, buzz, his, scissors, xylophone, craze

18

ʒ

s, si, z

treasure, division, azure

19

ch, tch, tu, ti, te

chip, watch, future, action, righteous

20

ʃ

sh, ce, s, ci, si, ch, sci, ti

sham, ocean, sure, special, pension, machine, conscience, station

21

θ

th

thongs

22

ð

th

leather

23

ŋ

ng, n, ngue

ring, pink, tongue

24

j

y, i, j

you, onion, hallelujah

 

Vowels

Phoneme

IPA Symbol

Graphemes

Examples

25

æ

a, ai, au

cat, plaid, laugh

26

a, ai, eigh, aigh, ay, er, et, ei, au, a_e, ea, ey

bay, maid, weigh, straight, pay, foyer, filet, eight, gauge, mate, break, they

27

e

e, ea, u, ie, ai, a, eo, ei, ae

end, bread, bury, friend, said, many, leopard, heifer, aesthetic

28

i:

e, ee, ea, y, ey, oe, ie, i, ei, eo, ay

be, bee, meat, lady, key, phoenix, grief, ski, deceive, people, quay

29

ɪ

i, e, o, u, ui, y, ie

it, england, women, busy, guild, gym, sieve

30

i, y, igh, ie, uy, ye, ai, is, eigh, i_e

spider, sky, night, pie, guy, stye, aisle, island, height, kite

31

ɒ

a, ho, au, aw, ough

swan, honest, maul, slaw, fought

32

o, oa, o_e, oe, ow, ough, eau, oo, ew

open, moat, bone, toe, sow, dough, beau, brooch, sew

33

ʊ

o, oo, u,ou

wolf, look, bush, would

34

ʌ

u, o, oo, ou

lug, monkey, blood, double

35

u:

o, oo, ew, ue, u_e, oe, ough, ui, oew, ou

who, loon, dew, blue, flute, shoe, through, fruit, manoeuvre, group

36

ɔɪ

oi, oy, uoy

join, boy, buoy

37

ow, ou, ough

now, shout, bough

38

ə

a, er, i, ar, our, ur

about, ladder, pencil, dollar, honour, augur

39

eəʳ

air, are, ear, ere, eir, ayer

chair, dare, pear, where, their, prayer

40

ɑ:

a

arm

41

ɜ:ʳ

ir, er, ur, ear, or, our, yr

bird, term, burn, pearl, word, journey, myrtle

42

ɔ:

aw, a, or, oor, ore, oar, our, augh, ar, ough, au

paw, ball, fork, poor, fore, board, four, taught, war, bought, sauce

43

ɪəʳ

ear, eer, ere, ier

ear, steer, here, tier

44

ʊəʳ

ure, our

cure, tourist

 

Blending

Children then move through to what is known as blending. As a key skill for reading, children must learn to merge individual sounds together to create words.

Segmenting

This is essentially the opposite of the blending skill. Children say entire words and then break them down into the individual phonemes that make them up, this is a technique that children will use for spelling throughout their life.

Why do children sometimes find phonics difficult?

In other languages, phonics can be simple. With the English language, it’s slightly more complicated. This is because each phoneme may have multiple graphemes (ways to pronounce the sound) to represent it, whereas in some other languages, phonemes only have one grapheme each.

English has 44 phonemes but there are around 120 graphemes (ways to write the phonemes). Whilst we only have 26 letters that represent our alphabet, meaning that plenty of graphemes are made up of multiple letters.

Fr, sw,pr, th are all examples of digraphs, or graphemes that are made up of two letters. Graphemes that are made up of three letters are called trigraphs, such as str, air, dge, spr. There are even some graphemes that are made up of as many as four letters!

English is also a language where some graphemes represent more than one phoneme… e.g. ‘ch’ makes a different sound for chirp, school, chef – of course, this helps add difficulty for children.

Why is teaching phonics so important?

Phonics makes the difficult English language much easier to digest for young children. By breaking down complex words and sounds into manageable chunks, it helps children to piece them back together whether they are reading, speaking or writing. Learning it clearly and in a systematic way, helps them to retain the information, leading to a better control of language from an early age.

When beginning to learn, gaining a foundation of language is extremely important. Think of an adult who is starting to learn a foreign language, this is essentially what the child is having to do by using phonics in English. Phonics is an internationally proven method of teaching language and it doesn’t have to be boring! Take the lesson outside and learn how to effortlessly merge it into lessons for a more engaged reaction from children.

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