Phonics Glossary

Having trouble telling your phonemes from your graphemes? This handy list of definitions will help you “decode” any phonics programme.

Blending

Combining individual sounds together to form a complete word. For example, blending the sounds “s”, “i” and “t” makes the word “sit”.

Decodable word

A decodable word is one that can be blended once all the individual sounds within have been learnt.

Digraph, Trigraph

A digraph is when two letters combine to form one sound, for example “sh” and “th”. These are consonant digraphs. Vowel digraphs are also two letters but form vowel sounds, like “oo”, “oa” and “ie”.

Trigraphs are three letters combining to form one sound.

Grapheme

A grapheme is a letter or a group of letters representing a sound.

Grapheme-Phoneme Correspondence (GPC)

A grapheme-phoneme correspondence (GPC), sometimes also called letter-sound correspondence, is the relationship between a sound and the letters which represent that sound, for example the letter “c” representing the sound at the beginning of the word “cat”. A different GPC for the letter “c” would be when it represents the sound at the beginning of the word “cent” or “ceiling”.

During a phonics teaching programme, children will usually learn 4-6 new GPCs per week, starting with the easiest “s”, “a”, “t” and “p” through to harder ones like “ure” as in “treasure”.

High-frequency words / Sight words

High-frequency words like “the”, “to”, and “I” appear the most in written text, and so they’re very important for children to learn.

Many common words have irregular spelling patterns and don’t follow the phonics rules, like “was” and “into”, so memorising these and being able to automatically recognise them without having to stop and decode will help children become fluent readers faster.

Mnemonic

A mnemonic is a memory aid often used when first learning sounds. For example a snake could be a mnemonic for the sound “s”.

Non-words

Also called nonsense words or pseudo-words, non-words are combinations of letters which follow phonics rules so they can be decoded and read, but aren’t actually real words, for example “quab” or “shem”.

Phoneme

A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound used in language. For example, the sounds “s” and “sh” are both phonemes but “st” is two distinct sounds “s” and “t” blended together.

Segmentation

Segmenting is the opposite of blending. This is when a word is broken down into its individual phonemes, for example “ship” becomes “sh”, “i” and “p”.

Sound buttons

Sound buttons are a visual aid to help children segment words. A dot is written under each phoneme represented by one letter and a line under each phoneme represented by more than one letter.

Tricky word

A tricky word is not decodable, because it contains unusual or irregular spelling patterns. An example is “was”, which when read sounds more like “woz”. “He”, “we” and “me” are also common tricky words. According to the learnt phonics rules, a child might read these as “heh”, “weh” and “meh” rather than “hee”, “wee” and “mee”.

VC, CVC, CVCC …

V stands for vowel and C for consonant. These are abbreviations for groups of words. For example, some CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words are “bag”, “cat” and “sit”. The V and C stand for phonemes rather than individual letters, so “sheep” is still a CVC word because it is broken down like this: “sh”(C)-“ee”(V)-“p”(C).

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