In order to read successfully, children need two skills: phonics and language comprehension. They need to be able to decode by blending the sounds in the word and they need to be able to understand what the words mean and the context in which it appears.

Phonics is a means to an end. The sooner that children can recognise the sounds (phonemes), the letters (graphemes) that represent them, and can blend them together in order to read words, the sooner they can read for understanding, purpose and pleasure.  

What is phonics?

  • A method of teaching children to connect the letters of the alphabet to the sounds that they make and blend them for reading.
  • A method of teaching children to identify the individual sounds (phonemes) within words and segment them for spelling.

The sounds

In English, speech sounds are represented by the 26 letters of the alphabet. These letters and combinations of these letters make 44 sounds.

There are about 144 different ways to spell these sounds!

Speech sounds are called phonemes. These are the smallest unit of sounds within words.

The letters, or groups of letters, which represent phonemes, are called graphemes.

Phonemes can be represented by graphemes of one, two or three letters. For example, t, sh (digraph) and igh (trigraph).

Consonant digraphs are made up of two consonants that make one sound:

sh   ch   th   ck   ng   ll   ss   ff   wr   wh   kn   gn

Vowel digraphs are made up of two vowels or a vowel and a consonant that makes one sound:

oo   ee oa   ow   ou   or   ar   er   ue   oi   ai

Vowel trigraphs are made up of vowels and consonants that make one sound:

igh   air   ear

The 44 Phonemes

Vowel phonemes

a   e   i   o   u   ai   ee   igh   oa   oo   oo   ar   ur   or   er   ow   oi   air   ear

Consonant phonemes

b   d   f   g   h   j   k   l   m   n   p   r   ng   s   t   v   w   wh   y   z   th   th   ch   sh   zh

It is very important that these phonemes are articulated precisely and accurately.

Phonemes should be said as a pure, clean sound. The video below shows you how to pronounce the sounds correctly.

Segmenting and blending

Segmenting and blending are reversible key phonic skills.

Segmenting (‘chopping’, ‘robot arms’) consists of breaking words down into their separate phonemes e.g. spell =
s p e ll.

Blending consists of building words from their separate phonemes e.g. s p e ll = spell.


Decoding  is the process of blending each phoneme in a word, in order to read the whole word.

c   a   t

‘    ‘    ‘

ch   ea   p

.      –    .

Which phonics programmes do we use?

We use Letters and Sounds to teach phonics. There is a phonics lesson in every Nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 class four times each week. Opportunities for children to extend their knowledge is incorporated into planning for all other areas of learning.  In Year 1 and 2, the children are taught according to their prior knowledge in sets across their year groups. This ensures that everyone makes good progress.

In Key Stage 2 (Years 3–6), there are sometimes children who still need to work on their recognition and use of pure sounds. In this case, time is spent with both individuals and groups of children to work on these.


Dedicated time is allocated for teaching and investigating spelling weekly within literacy lessons, as well as word level work linking to a related text in the main literacy session.

More information about phonics

You can find out more by viewing the files below.