Phonics - your questions answered!

What is Phonics?

Phonics is a method used in many schools for teaching young children how to read, write and spell English. It’s all about sounds: we have 44 individual sounds in English, called phonemes. Some sounds are represented by a single letter, like “s”, “t” and “a”, but others need two or more letters, for example “sh”, “ow” and “er”, the three sounds which form the word “shower”.

Before starting to read or spell, children must become familiar with these phonemes and learn how to distinguish them in the language they hear and speak. Then, they can move on to matching the sounds to individual or combinations of letters (also known as graphemes), before finally combining them into words. Combining the sounds together is called synthesising or blending. The idea is that once children know the sounds and which patterns of letters make them, they will be able to “sound out” unknown words and read them without relying on memory, existing vocabulary or the context in which they’re written.

This teaching method is also known as Blended Phonics, Synthetic Phonics or sometimes Inductive Phonics depending on the country or school, but these all mean the same thing.

There’s a lot of good evidence to back up the effectiveness of the phonics approach. While it is not the only good method available and does have some critics, many primary schools or elementary schools use phonics as the main method for teaching children to read.

In the UK, a government white paper stated “The evidence is clear that the teaching of systematic synthetic phonics is the most effective way of teaching young children to read, particularly for those at risk of having problems with reading”.

In the US, a pilot using the Core Knowledge Early Literacy program that used this type of phonics approach showed significantly higher results in reading compared with comparison schools.

How is it taught?

There are several complete teaching programmes available for phonics, including Floppy’s Phonics Sounds and Letters, Jolly Phonics, Read Write Inc and Letterland. Schools often use resources from one or more of these publishers in class and they’re also very popular with home-schoolers.

Starwords is an excellent complement to all these programmes. As new words and sounds are introduced, try adding them to a list to practice and track progress as you go.

Are there any tests?

In the UK, all children in Year 1 will take the Phonics Screening Check. It’s a short check where your child will read 40 words with a teacher one-on-one. This year the check will be done in the week beginning 12 June 2017.

Some of the 40 words are real and some are “non-words” (also called nonsense words or pseudo-words) which are collections of letters that don’t really mean anything, like “flob” or “quoab”, but can be “decoded” and read using the phonics rules that have been learnt. Click to for more information about how Starwords can help your child prepare for the Phonics Screening Check.

How can I help?

Phonics works best when children learn to enjoy reading and books, so make sure to give your child plenty of encouragement and try to make time to read with them every day. We’ve put together a collection of hints and tips on how you can help your child learn to read.

Download Starwords on the App Store today