Through phonics, children will learn that every word can be broken down into its sounds and that these sounds can be represented in writing using symbols. They’ll gradually learn all of the phonic sounds of letters to achieve reading and writing fluency.
But while phonics is a great system, the different phases can be tricky to understand at first. Fortunately, all of the phonics phases will be explained throughout this guide.
Phonics Phases explained:
Having the six phonics phases explained makes it much easier to get an overview of the program. You’ll be able to see when children learn the phonemes and phonic sounds of letters and skills like segment and blend. So, without further ado, let’s look at phonics Phase 1!
Phase 1 Phonics
The first phase of phonics teaching focuses primarily on teaching children how to recognize certain sounds and some simple words. This helps to improve children’s awareness of the sounds around them. It also lays essential foundations for the phonics work that will follow in later phases, which includes learning the phonic sounds of letters, graphemes, and blending.
Phase 1 phonics involves teaching children about:
- Environmental Sounds
- Instrumental Sounds
- Body Percussion
- Rhythm and Rhyme
- Voice Sounds
- Oral Blending and Segmenting
Phase 2 Phonics
While Phase 1 lays the critical foundation for children’s phonics education, later phases focus more on the sounds that letters symbolize – otherwise known as phonemes. In total, there are 44 different phonemes used in the English language!
Phonemes can be made up of one or two letters, and in Phase 2 of teaching phonics, the focus is placed on the most common single-letter sounds. Learning these phonics sounds is done by breaking them down into smaller groups, so children don’t get overwhelmed with too much information.
In Phase 2, children will learn 23 phonic sounds of letters, arranged into five sets. Each week of teaching focuses on one specific group of sounds. These sounds are:
As they learn phonics sounds, pupils will also learn and spell some simple VC (vowel-consonant) and CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words. Alongside this, there is also a group of words that need to be learned by recognition – these are known as tricky words, and they include terms such as ‘no,’ ‘the,’ and ‘go.’
Phase 3 Phonics
Now that we’ve explained the first two phonics phases let’s advance to Phase 3. This phase involves learning about the rest of the phonemes and phonic sounds of letters that weren’t covered in Phase 2 – including two-letter sounds and more complex phonemes such as digraphs and trigraphs. As well as learning phonics sounds, children will come across a new set of twelve tricky words that need to be understood, including ‘my,’ ‘they,’ and ‘me.’
By the end of Phase 3, children should be able to recognize all 26 letters and recall them by name. They should also be able to blend and read CVC words made up of the graphemes they’ve learned and correctly draw the letters when copying from an image.
Phase 4 Phonics
By Phase 4, children should be confident in phoneme recognition. As such, they will no longer be learning phonics sounds. Instead, the main focus at this stage is for children to become more confident using the phonemes they’ve already learned.
In Phase 4, children will learn to recognize sets of adjacent consonants (called consonant clusters). They should also be able to write and say words without sounding out each phoneme individually. But, again, there’s another set of tricky words to learn, too, including terms such as ‘some,’ ‘come,’ and ‘were.’
Phase 5 Phonics
In Phase 5, a new selection of graphemes and phonemes is introduced to your children. This new set of phonemes includes alternate spellings and vowel combinations that create different sounds to what children may expect from their earlier knowledge.
Phase 6 Phonics
Now that we’ve explained the other phonics phases, the last one to look at is Phase 6.
By the beginning of Phase 6, children will have learned the majority of grapheme-phoneme correspondences, allowing them to pronounce and read familiar words. They’ll also be able to sight-read many words and recognize the tricky words they’ve learned. When children come across an unfamiliar word, they’ll be able to try and pronounce it using skills such as sounding out and blending.
In this phase, the focus is placed on becoming more confident in reading and spelling, and activities encouraging these skills are hugely important. From here on, children should feel confident in their early-reading abilities and be able to progress onto more advanced reading schemes when they are ready.
Phonics letters and sounds order by year
Since we’ve seen a breakdown of all six phonics phases, you may wonder how they correspond to the school years and what phonic sounds of letters children will learn each year. This simple year-by-year teaching schedule shows when each phase happens, so you can get an idea of when kids will be learning phonics sounds:
- In Reception, the main focus of early reading and phonics teaching is teaching children the phonic sounds of letters, known as phonemes, and at least one grapheme to represent each of them.
- Throughout year 1, when children have learned the phonic sounds of letters, the focus of teaching shifts towards exploring digraphs and trigraphs (groups of 2 and 3 letters that represent a single phoneme) and that multiple different graphemes can represent a single phoneme.
- In year 2, more importance is placed on learning spelling rules and reading. This includes studying prefixes and suffixes and some more complicated topics such as silent letters and complex word endings.
How do you teach phonics sounds?
Since we know a fair bit about the phonics phases, it’s time to think about how to help pupils who are learning phonics sounds.
Learning phonics sounds, graphemes, spelling rules, and skills such as blending can be tricky for young learners, and phonics might not always seem like the most engaging subject. However, you can do plenty of simple, fun, and practical activities with your learners to teach them the phonics sounds of letters and build up their phonics skills, no matter their stage. Once you’ve read our guide and have seen each of the phonics phases explained, you could give some of these a try:
- The alphabet song: Many children learn letters and the order of the alphabet using an alphabet song. However, these songs can also be essential to teach phonemes (letter sounds) to pronounce and sound out each letter of the alphabet.
- Play I spy: Everyone knows the classic car and travel game ‘I spy with my little eye.’ Now it’s time for you to bring ‘I spy’ out of the car and into the classroom with our phonics skills building ‘I spy’ resources and games. You can choose objects around the room featuring the phonemes and graphemes you are trying to teach. This can help your students to form connections between things and their meanings.
- Use games and keep your lessons fun: Like with most topics, making your lessons fun will keep children engaged and, in turn, make them more likely to remember what they’ve learned!
- Picture matching activities: Some students will learn best with visual prompts, so why not try matching activities where children are given short words and pictures to match up to test their word recognition, spelling, and reading comprehension skills? It’s a great way to improve children’s recognition of common words and build their vocabularies.