Sep 18, 2023

Phonics Made Easy

Jane Magnani
Jane Magnani
Phonics Made Easy

What are Phonics?

Phonics is the foundational skill for reading and spelling. It is understanding the relationship between letters and sounds and how they form words. It is an essential tool for children to learn to read and write in their early years.

So, how do I teach my little one Phonics?

Phonics education in the early years is crucial for setting the foundation for literacy. The main goal of phonics is to teach children to decode words accurately and fluently.

This involves teaching them to recognise the sounds of individual letters and blend them to form words.

Practical phonics knowledge requires the understanding that words are made up of distinct sounds, and letter-sound correspondence, the connection between letters and their corresponding sounds. 

Teaching phonics should be interactive and engaging. Children need opportunities to apply their phonics knowledge to actual words and sentences in everyday situations.

Not only does it help children to become more skilled readers and writers, but it also enhances their overall language development.

Phonics Scaffolding

Phonics learning should be scaffolded, meaning that children should start with the basic sounds of letters and then progress to more complex sounds and spelling patterns. 

This helps to build children's confidence in reading and spelling.

There are a total of six phonics phases:

Phonics Phase One

Many people believe phonics is only for older kids starting school. However, this needs to be clarified.

The first phase of phonics begins at birth! This foundation stage is crucial for developing children's speaking and listening skills and helping them become aware of the different sounds around them.

During this phase, babies explore various sounds, such as voice, environmental, and instrumental sounds. They also learn about rhythm and rhyme. 

Before birth, babies use their senses to listen to the sounds around them, especially their parents' voices.

As they grow and develop, they are exposed to more sounds and begin learning about the world. This first phase of phonics is essential for babies, as it helps them to distinguish between different sounds and voices, which will be necessary for their future language development.


Environmental sound discrimination: Developing an awareness and understanding of the sounds around us helps improve listening skills. 

Instrumental sound discrimination: Developing an awareness and understanding of sounds made by noisemakers and instruments.

Body percussion sound discrimination: Children engage in activities that involve using their bodies to create rhythms and sounds.

Rhythm and rhyme: Children explore rhythm and rhyme through songs, chants, and rhyming stories.

Alliteration: Children are introduced to words that start with the same sound, promoting awareness of initial sounds in words. For example, "Silly Sally swiftly shooed seven silly sheep."

Voice sounds: Children experiment with different vocal sounds, including whispers, shouts, and soft tones.

Oral blending and segmenting: Children practice listening to sequences of sounds, blending them to form words, and breaking words into individual sounds. For example: Say the sounds /c/ /a/ /t/ and have children blend them to guess the word "cat."

Phonics Phase Two

This is the phase most people think of when they hear 'Phonics'. It is the foundation of your child's literacy journey and where the magic starts. Here, children are introduced to letter sounds and the idea of breaking words into individual sounds (phonemes).

Children do not learn the sounds alphabetically but rather in an order that makes it possible to form words sooner. 

Letter Sounds: Children are introduced to the sounds of individual letters and learn to associate each letter with its corresponding sound.

The focus is on introducing the most common and essential letter sounds to build a strong foundation for early reading and writing skills. 

  • s- as in "sun"

  • a- as in "apple"

  • t - as in "tap"

  • p- as in "pen"

  • i- as in "igloo"

  • n- as in "nest."

  • m- as in "moon"

  • d - as in "dog"

  • g- as in "goat"

  • o- as in "orange"

  • c- as in "cat"

  • k- as in "kite"

  • ck- as in "sock" (This is a digraph where two letters make a single sound.)

Common Exception or Sight words: Children begin exploring words that don't follow typical phonetic rules and are often taught as sight words. These words must be recognised by sight, as their pronunciation cannot be easily decoded.

  • the

  • to

  • I

  • no

  • go

  • into

  • he

  • she

  • we

  • me

Blending and Segmenting: Letter sounds are introduced gradually, and children learn to recognise and make them. 

They practice blending these sounds to read simple CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words like "cat," "dog," and "hat."

Writing and Spelling: Children begin using their phonics knowledge to write and spell words with the new sounds they've learned.

For example:

  • The cat sat on the mat

Phonics Phase Three

Children learn new letter sounds while encountering more advanced phonetic elements. They learn about digraphs and trigraphs, which are combinations of letters representing specific sounds.

Single Letter Sounds:

  • j - as in "jam"

  • v - as in "van"

  • w - as in "wig"

  • x - as in "box"

  • y - as in "yes"

  • z - as in "zip"

Digraphs and Trigraphs: Digraphs are two letters that work together to create a single sound. Trigraphs are three letters that also form a distinct sound. These combinations often represent sounds that aren't defined by single letters.


  • ch - as in "chip"

  • sh - as in "ship."

  • th - as in "thin" or "this"

  • ng - as in "ring"

  • ai - as in "rain."

  • ee - as in "see"

  • igh - as in "night"

  • oa - as in "boat"

  • oo (long) - as in "moon"

  • oo (short) - as in "book"

  • ar - as in "car"

  • or - as in "fork."

  • ur - as in "fur"

  • ow (long) - as in "cow"

  • ow (short) - as in "row"


  • igh - as in "night"

  • ure - as in "sure

Word Building and Blending: Children continue to practice blending sounds to read words. With the introduction of digraphs and trigraphs, they expand their blending skills to include these more complex sound combinations.

For example:

  • Blending 

    sh + i +p to read "ship."

  • Blending thi + nk to read "think."

Common Exception or Sight Words: Children continue learning common exception words or sight words, building their vocabulary.

  • he

  • she

  • we

  • me

  • be

  • was

  • you

  • all

  • are

  • they

  • my

  • by

Writing and Spelling: Children apply their phonics knowledge to write and spell words with the new sounds they've learned, including digraphs.

For example:

  • Writing sentences like "The cat was on the ship"

  • Spelling "chat" using the digraph ch

Phonics Phase Four

In this phase of learning, children don't learn any new sounds. Instead, they practice breaking down and blending words, even those with more complex structures like "milk", which has two consonants next to each other (known as a 'CVCC' word). Additionally, children are introduced to a wider variety of sight words during this stage.

Blending: In this phase, children focus on sharpening their blending skills. Blending is the magical process of smoothly combining individual sounds to form words. Blending effortlessly is a significant step toward becoming a confident reader.

Complex Word Structures: Children progress from simple CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words to more complex structures like CVCC (consonant-vowel-consonant-consonant) and CCVC (consonant-consonant-vowel-consonant) words, such as "milk", "nest", and "pond". 

Common Exception or Sight Words: In this phase, children are introduced to an expanded list of sight words. These words may only sometimes follow phonetic rules and are essential for building reading fluency, such as 

  • said

  • have

  • like

  • come

  • some

  • were

  • there

  • little

  • one

  • do


Recognising these words means children don't have to sound them out, which increases their reading speed and accuracy. 

Expanding your little one's sight word knowledge helps them to become more fluent readers.


Phonics Phase Five

Phonics Phase Five is an exciting journey in the world of reading and writing for young learners. In this phase, children will dive deeper into letter sounds, expanding their knowledge by encountering new graphemes and discovering more sight words. 

Introducing New Graphemes: During Phonics Phase Five, children will experience a broader range of graphemes, which represent the same sound differently. This stage aims to help them recognise and understand the spelling differences for specific sounds. For example:

  • 'oy' in 'toy':

     Children will learn that combining the letters 'oy' creates the sound you hear in words like 'toy' and 'enjoy'. The 'oy' grapheme helps them understand how different letters can work together to make specific sounds.

  • 'oi' in 'coin':

     Another exciting grapheme, 'oi', represents the sound you hear in words like 'coin' and 'join'. This helps children see that English has multiple ways to spell the same sound.

Long Vowel Sounds:

  • a-e - as in "cake"

  • e-e - as in "these"

  • i-e - as in "like"

  • o-e - as in "bone"

  • u-e - as in "huge"

Alternative Spellings:

  • ay - as in "play."

  • ea - as in "sea"

  • oy - as in "toy"

  • i.e as in "pie"

  • ou - as in "cloud"

  • i.e as in "lie"

  • ow - as in "show"

  • ew - as in "new"

  • ir - as in "bird"

  • ou - as in "out"

  • ph - as in "phone"

Exploring Sight Words: Children will also be introduced to more sight words. Remember, sight, common exception, or high-frequency words appear repeatedly in texts and are often challenging to sound out. 

Recognising these words at a glance helps children become more fluent readers. Here are some examples of sight words they might encounter:

  • water

  • where

  • again

  • thought

  • through

  • work

  • mouse

  • many

  • laugh

  • because

  • different

  • eyes

  • once

  • please

  • should

  • friends

  • pretty

  • great

  • beautiful

  • mother

Blending Sounds and Sight Words: As children become more comfortable with new graphemes and sight words, they'll begin to use these skills to read and write sentences more fluently. For example:

  • "I could see the coin.

  • "Where should we go to play with our toy?"

Phonics Phase Six

Phonics Phase Six does not involve the introduction of new sounds, blending, or decoding unfamiliar words. Instead, it focuses on enhancing children's spelling skills, especially their ability to spell words correctly and consistently, even when those words may not follow common phonetic rules.

Children move beyond basic phonics principles and develop more advanced spelling strategies. 


Word Families and Patterns: Children learn about word families and patterns, which helps them spell and recognise groups of words with similar phonetic features.

For example:

  • Children might learn that words ending in "-right" often rhyme and share similar spelling patterns: "light," "night," "bright," and "fight."

Prefixes and Suffixes: Children explore how adding prefixes (beginnings) and suffixes (endings) to words can change their meanings and spellings.

For example:

  • Children learn that adding "un-" to "happy" creates "unhappy," and adding "-ed" to "jump" forms "jumped."

Homophones and Confusing Words: Children learn about homophones—words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings.

For example: 

  • Children might explore the difference between "their" and "there" or "to" and "too."

Silent Letters and Unusual Patterns: Children experience words with silent letters or unusual spelling patterns.

For example:

  • Words like "knock" and "gnome" have letters that are not pronounced.

Word Analysis: Children begin to explore more complex words, breaking them into syllables, prefixes, suffixes, and root words to understand their spellings.

For example:

  • Breaking down "unhappiness" into "un-" + "happy" + "-ness."



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