SUPPORTING READING AT HOME
So, what exactly is phonics?
Words are made up from small units of sound called phonemes. Phonics teaches children to be able to listen carefully and identify the phonemes that make up each word. This helps children to learn to read words and to spell words
In phonics lessons children are taught three main things:
They are taught GPCs. This stands for grapheme phoneme correspondences. This simply means that they are taught all the phonemes in the English language and ways of writing them down. These sounds are taught in a particular order. The first sounds to be taught are s, a, t, p.
Children are taught to be able to blend. This is when children say the sounds that make up a word and are able to merge the sounds together until they can hear what the word is. This skill is vital in learning to read.
Children are also taught to segment. This is the opposite of blending. Children are able to say a word and then break it up into the phonemes that make it up. This skill is vital in being able to spell words.
What makes phonics tricky?
In some languages learning phonics is easy because each phoneme has just one grapheme to represent it. The English language is a bit more complicated than this. This is largely because England has been invaded so many times throughout its history. Each set of invaders brought new words and new sounds with them. As a result, English only has around 44 phonemes but there are around 120 graphemes or ways of writing down those 44 phonemes. Obviously we only have 26 letters in the alphabet so some graphemes are made up from more than one letter.
ch th oo ay (these are all digraphs - graphemes with two letters)
There are other graphemes that are trigraphs (made up of 3 letters) and even a few made from 4 letters.
Another slightly sticky problem is that some graphemes can represent more than one phoneme. For example ch makes very different sounds in these three words: chip, school, chef.
In a nutshell, schools should:
Teach phonics as the main first method for children to learn to read words.
For most children this should begin at age 5.
Before the age of 5 children should be involved in pre-reading activities to prepare them for phonics work (See Phase 1).
Phonics should be taught in a systematic way across the school.
Phonics should be set within a rich language curriculum that develops speaking and listening, reading and writing skills.
Phonics teaching should be multisensory. This means children will learn using all their senses e.g. by singing, dancing, acting, using magnetic letters, making shapes in the air, looking at pictures, playing games, using computers, making sounds, making choices and as many other ways as possible. This is vital because all children learn differently.
Is this the only way that children are taught to read?
Absolutely not! Phonics is the first step in helping children to crack the code of reading and writing. However children also need to learn strategies to tackle words that can't be decoded easily and also to be able to understand and engage with what they read.
Reading skills are also developed through regularly Reading Aloud to children.
Reading sessions involve the teacher teaching and revising specific reading skills. Within this, teachers will teach relevant vocabulary to the children, to support the children's application of these reading skills.
Literacy Lessons are another key opportunity for teaching reading. Each literacy unit usually lasts for several weeks and will tackle a particular type of text e.g. fantasy stories, instructions etc. Over the course of those few weeks children should read various texts of this type and ideally learn one off by heart including actions and sound effects. They should also develop speaking and listening skills by exploring these texts through drama and role play and discussing how they feel about them. Specific skills related to the text, such as sentence structure or getting things in the right order should be explored and finally children should have a go at writing their own text. Clearly many parts of this process will help to develop children's reading skills. Within this process there will be many opportunities for further teaching of Reading. Teachers are also looking to provide these opportunities across the curriculum.