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Phonics – what’s all the fuss about?

During the pandemic, parents were more exposed than ever to what their children were learning in school (or remotely depending on the government guidelines). It was challenging for a majority of parents to teach phonics to their children, as they had minimum experience of it as a child. Here at Primary Tutor Project, we often get parents asking us how to go about helping their children with phonics. We thought that it would be useful to explain more about phonics and why it is important for your child’s education. We’ll also include some helpful resources that we like to use here at Primary Tutor Project and mention why the use of phonics in the classroom might be changing!

What is phonics?

Phonics is a way of learning to read that focuses on the individual parts of the word instead of the word as a whole. At a basic level phonics involves matching the sounds of everyday spoken English with individual letters or groups of letters within a word. The sounds for c, k, ck or ch representing k are perfect examples. Using this method of teaching children to blend the sounds of letters together, helps them break down unfamiliar or unknown words by sounding them out.

Primary school children are generally taught to write by splitting words into their component sounds. This also allows them to blend the component sounds together in order to read. We often find it useful to describe the parts of the word as being like building blocks – building these up helps children to read and taking them apart helps them to write.

The basics

There is a definite period of frustration for all parents when they first approach phonics. This usually comes from all the new terms that are involved in phonics. So to make this a bit easier, here is a list with some useful terms:

  • Phoneme – basically means the individual sounds in a word, a simple example would be in the word bat where the phonemes would be b, a and t. In bigger words such as lake there are also three phonemes: l, ay, k.
  • Grapheme – means how a sound is represented when it is written. The difficulty here comes from the fact that one sound can have numerous different written representations.
  • Digraph – is used to describe when two letters make one sound. An example of a digraph is ay.
  • Trigraph – following from a digraph, a trigraph describes when three letters make one sound. An example of a trigraph is igh.
  • Tricky Words – not a very scientific term but tricky words are words which (unfortunately for teachers and students) can’t be sounded out – therefore, they must be learned as entire words. A perfect example is ‘said’ which doesn’t conform to phonemic rules.
  • Phase 1,2, etc – is a term used to represent the learning phase of the child. It goes from initial learning sounds to learning spelling rules and developing reading and writing skills to a proficient level. The government released a really useful document on this called Letters and Sounds, which laid out for teachers the order in which phonics was to be taught. It’s definitely worth a read for further information!

Learning tips for phonics

As with most things in life, the key ingredient for learning phonics is little and often. Your child should have daily phonics sessions at school that last between 20-30 minutes. This generally lasts until age 7! If this isn’t happening at your school, its always a good idea to have a discussion with the teacher to see how they are supporting this in the classroom. Reading with your child is one of the best things you can do. Point out letters, and words such as ‘a’, ‘I’ and ‘the’ as you read. Encourage your child to try to guess the sound or to spot the words you have identified on the page – reading with your child from a young age is the best way to ensure phonemes, graphemes and digraphs are not an issue as they get older!

Resources

Read, write Inc is a phonics programme taught in many schools around the UK. We find at Primary Tutor Project that it fosters quick progress in our students. You’ll find some useful free resources here.

ICT Games is a useful and fun free site with numerous games – and not just phonics!

Twinkl and twinkles YouTube Channel have amazing resources – most of their resources are subscription only but there is an extremely useful free section to get lost in!

Phonics Bloom has some lovely free games, however, again it has a subscription fee – but it is a reasonable fee and worth it if it gets used regularly

Final thoughts

The use of phonics is definitely a useful tool in the classroom and when a child understands and progresses with the skill, their progression is often amazing to watch. If phonics is used as part of a varied and interesting teaching program based around fun and reading, it helps encourage learning. However, phonics does have some limitations and if this article is anything to go by, these limitations could cause it’s use in primary schools to be decreased or even removed (although this is unlikely). For now, it will continue to be used in schools, and we will continue to use it as one of our many tools to help children fall in love with reading here at Primary Tutor Project. Please contact us if you would like any advice around phonics or if you would like to book a free trial lesson for your child with one of our amazing tutors where we take the fuss out of phonics. 😉

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