When children learn to talk, they pay attention to the meaning of the words they hear and say. They do not pay attention to the sounds within words. This is because human speech is a continuous stream of ever changing sound and the rate of change in a normal conversation is too fast to take notice of the specific sounds within the words.
When the inventors of alphabetic writing decided to use symbols to correspond to sounds, (as opposed to symbols corresponding to the meaning of words) they had to do two things: invent the symbols and identify the sounds.
To identify the sounds they had to listen to the speech of many, many people in their community. All these people had different voices, and the sounds they made as they said their words were not the same from person to person. However, the inventors of written language could identify the sounds which changed the meaning of the spoken words, e.g. 'o' is a different sound to 'i' in the words 'dog' and 'dig.'
These sound classifications, which also depend on people's accents and dialects, and relate to the change of meaning of words, could be put into categories. These categories of sounds are called 'phonemes' and the symbols that match them are called 'graphemes'.
When they learn to read and write children have to learn about these sounds (phonemes) and their corresponding symbols (graphemes). The UK government's phonic programme Letters and Sounds has this process of learning letters and sounds broken down into phases so that children experience a systematic approach to learning about them.
Phonic Phase 1:
This relates to children listening and speaking in such a way that they learn to identify the sounds in the words they hear and say. There are no books for this phase.
Phonic Phase 2:
Children are taught to identify the 19 most frequently used letters of the alphabet and one sound for each. This means that they learn the letter symbols and one corresponding sound for the small (lower case) letters a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, k, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, t, u.
They also taught to write the capital (upper case) letters A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, K, L, M, N, O, P, R, S, T, U and that the sound of each capital (upper case) letter is the same as the sound of each small (lower case) letters. (We pronounce the symbols 'cat' and 'CAT' in the same way, whether they are written in lower case or upper case symbols.)
Children also taught the name of each letter. These are not the same as the sounds of the letters and they are pronounced 'ay, bee, see, dee, ee, eff, gee, aitch, eye, kay, ell, em, en, oh, pea, are, ess, tea, you.'
These letter names refer to both small letters and capital letters, so that the name of both A and a is pronounced 'ay'.
It is not surprising that this can be a confusing time for children.
If we add into the mix the fact that it is impossible to write any reading material without using the words 'the', 'I' and 'a', we see straight away that we have included more than one single sound/letter correspondence for each of the letters 't, h, e, i, a', because
't' in 'the' is not pronounced the same as 't' in 'cat',
'h' in 'the' is not pronounced the same as 'h' in 'hat',
'e' in 'the' is not pronounced the same as 'e' in 'red',
'i' in 'I' is not pronounced the same as 'i' in 'tin',
and the word 'a' is not pronounced the same way as 'a' in 'cat'.
Yet alternative pronunciations for the letters of the alphabet are not into introduced formally in Letters and Sounds until children reach Phonic Phase 5.
To get around these problems Letters and Sounds introduces the words 'the, I, a' as common exception words or high frequency words. These are to be taught as whole words with specific spellings. Children must memorise these words visually, linking the sight of each to the whole word. Other common exception words specified for teaching in Phonic Phase 2 are 'no, go, to, into'. In these words there are two other sounds associated with the letter 'o', so that during Phonic Phase 2, children are taught that the letter 'o' corresponds to three different sounds, e.g. in the words 'hot, no, do'.
Other words to be taught in Phonic Phase 2 include 'as, is, his' . In these words the letter 's' is pronounced as /z/, so this is a second pronunciation of this letter. Even in the words 'cats' and 'dogs' we can hear the letter 's' is pronounced differently in each.
We may ask the question how do children know which sound to say when they see the letters in written words they meet for the first time. The only possible answer is that they use the context of the sentence or a picture to make a decision. Children need these other clues to help them identify the word as one they already know from their knowledge of spoken language. This means that they are using syntax (the order of words in a sentence), or semantics (the meaning conveyed by the sentence) or pictures to help them make decisions about pronunciation. It is impossible to pronounce (decode) new written words without using these extra clues.
Phonic Phase 3:
In this phase children are taught one single letter/sound correspondence for each of the other letters of the alphabet: j, q, v, w, x, y, z and J, Q, V, W, X, Y, Z as well as the names of these letters 'jay, queue, vee, double you, ex, why, zed'.
Then children are taught about digraphs. Digraphs are two letters which are written next to each other and they represent one sound. There are consonant digraphs and vowel digraphs.
The consonant digraphs taught in Phonic Phase 3 are 'th, sh, ch, ck, ng' as seen in the words 'this, ship, chop, duck, ring'.
The vowel digraphs taught in this phase are 'ai, ee, igh, oa, oo, ow, ar, er, or, ur, oi, oo' as seen in the words 'snail, tree, light, boat, moon, town, car, under, fork, burn, soil, wood.'
There are also three vowel trigraphs taught in this phase. These are 'air, ear, ure' as seen in the words 'hair, dear, pure.'
The common exception words taught in this phase are 'me, he, we, she, be, my, they, are, all, you, was, her.'
The above phonic knowledge means that by the end of Phonic Phase 3 children have been taught :
three pronunciations of the letter 'e' (red, the, me),
two pronunciations of the letter 'y' ( yes, my),
two spellings for the sound /ai/ (rain, they),
three spellings of the sound /oo/ ( to, moon, you),
two pronunciations of the letters 'oo' (cool, good)
and five pronunciations for the letter 'a' ( a, that, are, all, was).
Phonic Phase 4:
This phase relates to the clusters of consonants at the beginning of English words: e.g. 'bl, fl, cr, pr, sp, st' in words like 'blog, flag, crab, pram, spot, stop', and the clusters of consonants at the end of English words: e.g. 'mp, nd, st, nt, sk' in the words like 'jump, hand, fast, tent, ask'.
Here at Jelly and Bean Ltd we have found it impossible to write stories without using clusters of adjacent consonants almost from the start. In our AB starter book 3A for Phase 2 we have used the word 'frog'. We have continued to use words containing adjacent consonants in all our phase 3 and 4 stories, e.g. 'pond, grass, help, next, jump, drip' and many, many more.
Phonic Phase 5:
Children are taught that there are other ways to pronounce the letters they see in words: e.g. 'a' is pronounced differently in the words 'cat, lady, father, fall, was'.
In fact, the only letters having one pronunciation each are 'j, m, v, z'. Most of the other letters can be seen in digraphs or 'silent letter' combinations.
a cat, a, baby, father, was, warm, farm, chair, heard, leaf, scare, any
b bat, lamb, debt
c cat, city, chip, school
d dog, jumped, ledge
e the, he, bed, her, sheep, dinner, flew, steak, sew
f off, of
g got, orange, high, cough, through, gnat, thought
h hot, chip, this, she, think, rough, through, phonic, whole, chemist
i in, sign, piece, rain, soil, receive, fruit, friend
k kitten, knee
l lip, half, could, salmon
n not, bang, autumn
o hot, soon, took, storm, toad, town, thought, boy, one, to, come
p pan, phonic, pneumonia
q queen, cheque
r run, farm, butter, curl, born, first, iron
s is, sun, ship, island
t top, them, think, catch, duvet
u nut, you, out, august, through, build, curl, guard, busy
w was, saw, down, flew, two, when, whole, sword, written
x box, exam, xylophone
y my, mummy, gym, yes
Children are also taught that some words have different letter spellings for the same sounds: e.g.
The sound /oa/ in 'boat, show, gold, toe'
the sound /ie/ in 'find, night, fly, time, cried'
and the sound /k/ in ' kitten, cat, chemist, cheque, luck'
This is the approach characterised by synthetic phonics, where the sound is foremost, and is taught first, and the spellings follow as variations.
For details please see page 89 of our teacher's guide for an example of a synthetic phonic alphabet chart.
The categories for our books on the left hand side of the Product page begin with the easiest books for Phonic Phase 2 and progress down through books for Phonic Phases 3, 4 and 5.