Letters and Sounds is a phonics resource published by the UK 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.
Braeburn International School Arusha uses the Letters and Sounds programme within Early Years and Key Stage 1, introducing it in FS1 and continuing through to Year 3, working through 6 phases.
In Phase 1 phonics, children are taught about:
- Environmental sounds
- Instrumental sounds
- Body percussion (e.g. clapping and stamping)
- Rhythm and rhyme
- Voice sounds
- Oral blending and segmenting (e.g. hearing that d-o-g makes ‘dog’)
Typical activities for teaching Phase 1 phonics include ‘listening’ walks, playing and identifying instruments, action songs, learning rhymes and playing games like I Spy. This phase is intended to develop children’s listening, vocabulary and speaking skills.
In Phase 2, children begin to learn the sounds that letters make phonemes. There are 44 sounds in all. Some are made with two letters, but in Phase 2, children focus on learning the 19 most common single letter sounds.
By the end of Phase 2 children should be able to read some vowel-consonant (VC) and consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words, and to spell them out. They also learn some high frequency ‘tricky words’ like ‘the’ and ‘go.’ This phase usually lasts about six weeks.
Phase 3 introduces children to the remaining less commonly used phonemes, mainly made up of two letters. Alongside this, children are taught to recognise more tricky words, including ‘me,’ ‘was,’ ‘my,’ ‘you’ and ‘they’. They learn the names of the letters, as well as the sounds they make. Activities might include learning mnemonics for tricky words, practising writing letters on mini whiteboards, using word cards and singing songs.
By the end of Phase 3, children should be able to say the sound made by most, or all, Phase 2 and 3 graphemes, blend and read CVC words made from these graphemes, read 12 new tricky words and write letters correctly when given an example to copy.
In Phase 4 phonics, children will, among other things:
- Practise reading and spelling CVCC words (‘such,’ ‘belt,’ ‘milk’ etc)
- Practise reading and spelling high frequency words
- Practise reading and writing sentences
- Learn more tricky words, including ‘have,’ ‘like,’ ‘some,’ ‘little’
Children should now be blending confidently to work out new words. They should be starting to be able to read words straight off, rather than having to sound them out.
In Phase 5, we start introducing alternative spellings for sounds, like ‘igh’.Children master these in reading first, and as their fluency develops, we begin to see them using them correctly in spelling.
Children learn new graphemes (different ways of spelling each sound) and alternative pronunciations for these: for example, learning that the grapheme ‘ow’ makes a different sound in ‘snow’ and ‘cow’.
By the end of this phase, children should be able to:
- Say the sound for any grapheme they are shown
- Write the common graphemes for any given sound (e.g. ‘e,’ ‘ee,’ ‘ie,’ ‘ea’)
- Use their phonics knowledge to read and spell unfamiliar words of up to three syllables
- Read all of the 100 high frequency words, and be able to spell most of them
- Form letters correctly
Finally, Phase 6 phonics aims to help children become fluent readers and accurate spellers. By this point, children should be able to read hundreds of words using one of three strategies:
- Reading them automatically
- Decoding them quickly and silently
- Decoding them aloud
They will also learn, among other things:
- Prefixes and suffixes, e.g. ‘in-’ and ‘-ed’
- The past tense
- Memory strategies for high frequency or topic words
- How to use a dictionary
- Where to put the apostrophe in words like ‘I’m’
- Spelling rules
Although formal phonics teaching is usually complete by the end of Key Stage 1, children continue to use their knowledge as they move up the school. The whole aim of phonics teaching is not just to learn the sounds, but to use them as a tool for reading and spelling.
Everything leads on to independent reading and writing.