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Mill Hill Primary School

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Teaching Phonics

Teaching Phonics and Reading at Mill Hill Primary School


What is phonics?

Phonics is the system of ‘blending’ sounds together to read, and ‘segmenting’ sounds to spell. They are linked skills that are taught together. You may hear your children use some vocabulary that you are not familiar with that they have learnt in their phonics lessons.

A phoneme
Is the smallest unit of sound that we use in the English language. A phoneme can be made up of one letter as in the alphabet sounds – s, a, t, p, i, n etc, or two letters (a digraph) as in sh, ch, th, ay, ar, or three letters (trigraphs) as in air, ear, ure. Phonemes can not be broken down into separate sounds.

A grapheme
Is the way we spell a phoneme. A phoneme may have only one grapheme for example ‘b’. Or may have several different spellings –for example or can be spelt ‘or’ in torn, ‘aw’ in claw, ‘au’ in naughty or ‘ore’ in more.  

Consonant blends
Are made up of two or three phonemes blended together quite quickly as we learn to read. Examples are sc, sm, bl, pr, str

Short Vowel Sounds
Are the vowels saying their sound as ‘a’ in c a t.

Long Vowel Sounds
Are the vowels saying their name as ‘ay’ in day, ‘oa’ in boat or ‘igh’ in night.
Phonics is one element of reading

In Foundation Stage we use a system called “cued articulation” to help children learn the sounds of speech; it links sounds to actions and we have found it helps children learn the sounds more quickly.  You can find out more about cued articulation by following the link below.

When teaching phonics we use a government produced scheme of work called” Letters and Sounds”. It aims to build children's speaking and listening skills and to prepare children for learning to read by developing their phonic knowledge and skills. 

It is a detailed and systematic programme for teaching phonic skills for children starting by the age of four, with the aim of them becoming fluent readers by age seven.

Letters and Sounds is broken down into 6 phases which are worked through from 4 year olds in foundation stage to 7 year olds in year 2.   See the table below for detail.


Phonic Knowledge and Skills

Phase One(Foundation Stage) 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(Foundation Stage) 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.
Letter sets
Set 1 - s, a, t, p,
Set 2 - l, n, m, d,
Set 3 - g, o, c, k,
Set 4 - ck, e, u, r,
Set 5 - h, b, f, ff, l, ll, ss
Phase Three(Foundation Stage) 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.
Letter sets:
Set 6 - j, v, w, x
Set 7 - y, z, zz, qu
ear, air, ure, er, ar, or, ur, ow, oi,
ai, ee, igh, oa, oo
Consonant digraphs:
ch, sh, th, ng.
Phase Four(Foundation Stage) 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.
ay, ou, ie, ea, oy, ir, ue, aw, wh, ph, ew, oe, au, a-e, e-e, i-e, o-e, u-e.
Alternative pronunciations  for:
i, o, c, g, u, ow, ie, ea, er, a, y, ch, ou
Phase Six(Throughout Year 2 and beyond) Working on spelling, including prefixes and suffixes, doubling and dropping letters etc.
How do we teach phonics at Mill Hill Primary School?

Phonics lessons are taught daily in Foundation Stage, year 1 and year 2.  The children are grouped into small groups who work with an adult.  The children are grouped according to their phonic knowledge.  The sessions are fast paced and lively to hold the children’s interest.  The sessions begin at 8.55am when the children are fresh and ready to learn as we believe these sessions are fundamental in developing children as readers.

How can you help your child? 

Please help your child practice any letter sounds that are sent home.  It is always helpful to keep practicing sounds they learned previously as well as any new sounds. The children should try and blend the sounds into words as soon as possible.

Please make sure your child arrives promptly to school each day.  Phonics is the first session of the day and a child who misses this session will find it much more difficult to reach a good level of reading.  Also, if a child arrives late, the adults will be busy teaching and will have less time to welcome the child as this could disrupt the learning for others.


Reading is one of the basic skills we teach at Mill Hill Primary School and it underpins so many other aspects of learning.  We work hard to develop a love of reading in all our children.  Children read from a range of structured reading materials including  Read, Write, Inc. materials, Phonics Bugs and Comics for Phonics.    Children read from a selection of fiction and non-fiction books.

Children bring books home from their earliest days in school. We know children make the best progress when there is a partnership between home and school.  It really helps to share a book with your child every day.  Do not worry if the book has not been changed; children regularly need to work on a book for a number of days and will undertake a  range of tasks around a book.

All children ar members of the school library and can borrow two books at a time.  The library is open before school Monday to Thursday from 8.30am so that parents can come in and share books and change books with their child.

Some weblinks you might find useful