Learn to Read with Phonics: A Parent Guide 

If you have a child in their first year of primary school, there is a good chance you will have come across the word 'Phonics'.

Phonics is a method of learning to read words that is taught from the start of Reception. 

Read on to find out how your child uses phonics at school, how to correctly say the 44 phonics sounds, and how you can help at home. 
What is synthetic phonics? 

Synthetic phonics is a way of teaching reading. Your child will be taught two crucial things when they are learning to read using synthetic phonics: 

  1. How sounds are represented by written letters. For example, they will be taught that the letter ‘m’ represents an mmm sound. 
  2. How sounds can be blended together to make words. For example, they will be taught that the sounds of the letters ‘c-a-t’ blend together to make the word ‘cat’. 

Your child will be taught to read letters or groups of letters by saying the sound (or sounds) they represent. For example, they will be taught that the letter ‘l’ sounds like lllll when we say it. Your child will then start reading by blending the sounds together to make words. Another word for this kind of blending is synthesising.

How is phonics taught at school? 

Essential Letters and Sounds (ELS) is our chosen Phonics programme. The aim of ELS is ‘Getting all children to read well, quickly’. It teaches children to read by identifying the phonemes (the smallest unit of sound) and graphemes (the written version of the sound) within words and using these to read words.

Children begin learning Phonics at the very beginning of Reception and it is explicitly taught every day during a dedicated slot on the timetable. Children are given the knowledge and the skills to then apply this independently. 

Throughout the day, children will use their growing Phonics knowledge to support them in other areas of the curriculum and will have many opportunities to practise their reading. This includes reading 1:1 with a member of staff, with a partner during paired reading and as a class.  

Children continue daily Phonics lessons in Year 1 and further through the school to ensure all children become confident, fluent readers. 

We follow the ELS progression and sequence. This allows our children to practise their existing phonic knowledge whilst building their understanding of the ‘code’ of our language GPCs (Grapheme Phoneme Correspondence). As a result, our children can tackle any unfamiliar words that they might discover. 

Children experience the joy of books and language whilst rapidly acquiring the skills they need to become fluent independent readers and writers. ELS teaches relevant, useful and ambitious vocabulary to support each child’s journey to becoming fluent and independent readers. 

We begin by teaching the single letter sounds before moving to diagraphs ‘sh’ (two letters spelling one sound), trigraphs ‘igh’ (three letters spelling one sound) and quadgraphs ‘eigh’ (four letters spelling one sound). 

We teach children to: 

  • Decode (read) by identifying each sound within a word and blending them together to read fluently 
  • Encode (write) by segmenting each sound to write words accurately. 

The structure of ELS lessons allows children to know what is coming next, what they need to do, and how to achieve success. This makes it easier for children to learn the GPCs we are teaching (the alphabetic code) and how to apply this when reading.

ELS is designed on the principle that children should ‘keep up’ rather than ‘catch up’. Since interventions are delivered within the lesson by the teacher, any child who is struggling with the new knowledge can be immediately targeted with appropriate support. Where further support is required, 1:1 interventions are used where needed. These interventions are short, specific and effective. 

Reception Parents - Phonics Open Morning

We were delighted to welcome reception parents and our chair of governors into school this week for our phonics information morning. 

Our English and phonics leaders delivered a presentation to parents outlining our approach to teaching phonics using the 'Essential Letters and Sounds' programme and how they could support their children with reading at home.

Parents then enjoyed time with their children playing phonics games and reading a range of books.

Thank you to all parents who visited and for your really positive feedback.

"That was really beneficial and very detailed. It's good to know exactly what is been taught to my child and how." (Reception parent).

Reception Parents - Phonics Open Morning

Phonics - Useful Parent Information

Supporting Reading at Home

  • Children will only read books that are entirely decodable, this means that they should be able to read these books as they already know the code contained within the book.

  • We only use pure sounds when decoding words (no ‘uh’ after the sound) 

  • We want children to practise reading their book 4 times across the week working on these skills:
    • Decode – sounding out and blending to read the word.
    • Fluency – reading words with less obvious decoding.
    • Expression – using intonation and expression to bring the text to life!

We must use pure sounds when we are pronouncing the sounds and supporting children in reading words. If we mispronounce these sounds, we will make reading harder for our children. Please watch the videos below for how to accurately pronounce these sounds. 

At the beginning of each academic year, we will hold an information session for parents and carers to find out more about what we do for Phonics, Reading and English at our schools. Please do join us. 

More support for parents and carers can be found here:

Essential Letters and Sounds Website Link

ELS - Phase 2 Pronunciation Video

ELS - Phase 3 Pronunciation Video

ELS - Phase 5 Pronunciation Video

Phonics in Action at St Bart's