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 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).
In 2007 the UK government published a phonic programme for schools called Letters and Sounds. This programme split the teaching of phonics into 6 phases so that children experienced a systematic approach to learning letter/sound correspondences, GPCs.
Letters and Sounds (2007) 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.
Letters and Sounds (2007) Phonic Phase 2
Children are taught to identify the 19 most frequently used letters of the alphabet and a 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 are 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) letter. (We pronounce the symbols 'cat' and 'CAT' in the same way, whether they are written in lower case or upper case symbols.)
Children are also taught the names of the letters. These are not the same as the sounds of the letters and they are pronounced 'A ay, B bee, C see, D dee, E ee, F eff, G gee, H aitch, I eye, K kay, L ell, M em, N en, O oh, P pea, R are, S ess, T tee, U 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'.
To get around these problems Letters and Sounds (2007) introduces the words 'the, I, a' as 'common exception words' or high-frequency 'tricky' words. These are to be taught as whole words with specific spellings.
Children learn to remember these words visually, phonologically and meaningfully, so that they recognise these words 'by sight'.
Other common exception words to be taught 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 (2007), children are taught that the letter 'o' corresponds to three different sounds, e.g. in the words 'hot, no, to'.
Other words to be taught in Phonic Phase 2 (2007) 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.
Letters and Sounds (2007) Phonic Phase 3
Phonic Phase 3 may be divided into three sections: letters, consonant digraphs and vowel graphemes.
In the first section, children are taught the letter/sound correspondences, GPCs, for 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 pronounced 'J jay, Q queue, V vee, W double you, X ex, Y why, Z zed'.
Then children are taught about consonant digraphs. (Digraphs are two letters written next to each other that represent one sound.) The consonant digraph phoneme/grapheme correspondences (GPCs) taught in Phonic Phase 3 (2007) are:
/ck/ as in duck
/th/ as in them
/th/ as in thin
/sh/ as in ship
/ch/ as in chat
/ng/ as in ring.
Also children are introduced to vowel graphemes. Some of the graphemes are digraphs and some of the graphemes are trigraphs, i.e. three letters representing one sound.
The digraph GPCs children are taught in this phase (2007) are:
/ai/ as in sail
/ee// as in sheep
/oa/ as in boat
/oo/ as in moon
/oo/ as in look
/ar/ as in yard
/er/ as in pepper
/or/ as in storm
/ur/ as in curl
/ow/ as in down
/oi/ as in boil
The trigraph GPCs taught in this phase (2007) are:
/igh/ as in night
/air/ as in hair
/ear/ as in year
/ure/ as in cure
However, the guidance in Letters and Sounds (2007) states the importance of flexibility by saying that:
'the boundaries between the phases should not be regarded as fixed.'
'The following are examples of where this applies:
- the pace at which the 26 letters of the alphabet are taught
- the introduction of digraphs
- spellings other than those given (above) would have been equally good first choices (e.g. 'ay' instead of 'ai' and 'ie' instead of 'igh').
(In Jelly and Bean books we introduce the grapheme 'ay' as in 'play, day, away, says' early in the reading scheme. This is because our books are written in the present tense, and in this tense, the verb 'says' is needed to link the dialogue between the characters.)
The common exception words to be taught in this phase (2007) are 'me, he, we, she, be, my, they, are, all, you, was, her.'
By teaching the above phonics and high-frequency words in Phonic Phase 3 of Letters and Sounds (2007), children following this progression are introduced to more than one grapheme for each of the phonemes. They are introduced to:
three pronunciations of the letter 'e' (red, the, me),
two pronunciations of the letter 'y' (yes, my), #(but not 'y' in happy, sorry, mummy)
two spellings for the sound /ai/ (rain, they) (but not 'ay' in says)
three spellings of the sound /ie/ (I, my, light)
three spellings of the sound /oo/ (to, moon, you),
two pronunciations of the letters 'oo' (cool, good)
five pronunciations for the letter 'a' ( a, that, are, all, was),
two pronunciations for the letter 's' (cats, dogs)
three pronunciations for the letter 'o' (not, go, to).
(#Jelly and Bean books introduce the GPC /ee/* or /i/* (*depending on accent) as the letter 'y' in 'Jelly, happy, puppy, Lotty' before we introduce it in the words 'my' and 'yes'.)
Letters and Sounds (2007) 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'.
However, the guidance on flexibility in Letters and Sounds (2007) states that;
- practitioners and teachers may find that some children can benefit from learning about adjacent consonants earlier than is suggested in the phase structure (P5)
We have found it impossible to write the stories in Jelly and Bean books without using clusters of adjacent consonants almost from the start. In our AB Starter Series, book 3A, Phase 2, we have used the word 'frog'. We have continued to use words containing adjacent consonants in all our stories, e.g. 'pond, grass, help, next, jump, drip' etc.
Letters and Sounds (2007) Phonic Phase 5
The phonic content of Phase 5 (2007) was originally intended to be taught to children in Year 1. They were to be taught two important facts about the written English language.
1. There are many ways to spell the 44 phonemes, e.g. the sound /oa/ has different spellings in 'boat, show, gold, toe', the sound /ie/ has different spellings in 'find, night, fly, time, cried' and the sound /k/ has different spellings in 'kitten, cat, chemist, cheque, luck'.
2. There are many ways to pronounce both the single letters of the alphabet and the written combinations of digraphs seen on a page, e.g. 'a' is pronounced differently in the words 'cat, lady, father, fall, was', and 'ea' is pronounced differently in 'bean, bread, steak, create'.
However, in 2014 the phonic content of Letters and Sounds (2007) was included in the National Curriculum for Year 1 and it was made statutory.
The revision of the phonics taught in the Reception Year has been included in the statutory requirements. However, there is no specific order of teaching the GPCs.
The statutory requirements for the revision of Reception work include:
- all the letters of the alphabet and the sounds which they most commonly represent
- consonant digraphs which have been taught and the sounds they represent
- vowel digraphs which have been taught and the sounds which they represent
- the process of segmenting spoken words into sounds before choosing graphemes to represent the sounds
- words with adjacent consonants
- guidance and rules which have been taught.
After this basic revision, the statutory requirements for Year 1 are:
- the graphemes 'ff, ll, ss, zz, ck, nk, tch', and 'v' as in 'live, have, give'
- the plurals 's' and 'es' of nouns and third person singular verbs
- the adding of word endings 'ing, ed, er, est' where there is no change in the root word
- and a list of vowel digraphs and trigraphs to be learnt as spellings.
These spellings are:
'ai' as in 'rain, 'oi' as in 'oil'
'ay' as in 'play', 'oy' as in 'boy'
'a-e' as in 'made, 'e-e' as in 'these, 'i-e' as in 'five', 'o-e' as in 'home', 'u-e' as in 'June' and 'use'.
'ar' as in 'star', 'ir' as in 'girl', 'ur' as in 'turn'
'ee' as in 'tree', 'ea' as in 'dream', 'ea' as in 'bread'
'er' as in 'term' (stressed sound), 'er' as in 'summer' (unstressed schwa sound)
'or' as in 'short', 'ore' as in 'more'
'oa' as in 'road, 'oe' as in 'goes', 'ow' as in 'snow'
'oo' as in 'good', 'oo' as in 'zoo'
'ou' as in 'about', 'ow' as in 'town'
'ue' as in 'blue, rescue', 'ew' as in 'flew, new'
'ie' as in 'cried', 'ie' as in 'field'
'igh' as in 'night', ('y' as in 'fly' is not mentioned, but it is not a digraph)
'aw' as in 'saw', 'au' as in 'author'
'air' as in 'fair', 'are' as in 'care'
'ear' as in 'near', 'ear' as in 'pear'
'y' as a word ending in 'very, happy'
'ph' as in 'dolphin', 'wh' as in 'when'
The vocabulary and progression in the Jelly and Bean reading scheme ensures that all these statutory requirements are met.
Our teaching guides show which spellings occur in which series and individual books.
The latest initiative from the government regarding the validation of synthetic phonic programmes is not statutory.
It is only in the circumstances of a school wishing to use support from an English Hub that a validated programme must be used.