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Five ways to create better readers (and go beyond phonics)

Updated: Jan 29, 2020

Nicky Clements, head of EYFS at Victoria Academies Trust writes for the TES (18th January 2020) about the importance of using a holistic approach when teaching reading.

Parent and child using a mirror to look at how the sounds are formed
Parent and child using a mirror to look at how the sounds are formed

She says:

“… a holistic approach which combines phonics with a deeper and wider reading provision encompassing far more than the written word, needs to be accessible to both early readers and pre-readers."

She argues that the following 5 points are integral to consider when supporting children with the foundations to read well: interactions with others; playing with words and sounds; prosody matters; checking in with the listener and checking in on your environment.

At The Phonics Fox, we would wholeheartedly agree with this. Phonics is a building block, a skill that can help children to decode words, but it’s the foundations that we lay for children so that can happen that are the most important part.

This is how we consider the elements suggested in the article as we try to develop our early readers:

1) Interactions with others

We pride ourselves on the high quality teaching interaction that happens in our The Phonics Fox classes. We aim to create a language rich environment with carefully selected stories, rhymes and songs. We encourage all children to participate and to become really confident in the environment. In each class, each child gets an opportunity to show something from home. They get a chance to speak and participate in front of others. The way that our classes are structured enables the children to also have high quality one-to-one interactions with their adult as they play and participate in our activities. We also encourage home learning by giving them sounds to practise and encouraging children to think of things to bring in for the following week.

2) Play with words and sounds

This certainly happens in our classes every week. We practise making new sounds - thinking about how the sounds are formed and how our mouths move to make this happen. The children are encouraged to use mirrors in every class to explore this. We also use “phonics phones” so that children can really hear the sounds they make - both as a whisper and an amplified sound. The simple use of mirrors is extremely valuable given that many children start school with poor oral-motor ability.

3) Prosody matters

Although it is just the teacher’s voice that the child hears reading a book in The Phonics Fox classes, we try to ensure that the texts are as varied as possible so the children get to experience a breadth of styles and authors. We involve the children in reading parts and finishing rhyming strings. We read with expression and intonation, using puppets when appropriate - in order to make the experience of reading as enjoyable as possible. We hope to give the adults ideas about ways in which they can read books to their children, as well as introducing them to new texts.

4) Check in with the listener

Reenacting Incy Wincey Spider through play

When we are reading stories - which is a key part of every class, we always ascertain children’s prior knowledge and try to elicit their ideas of what the story will be about. Simple questions like, “Has anyone read this book before?... What do you think the story will be about? Who do you think the characters are?” to make it relevant to them and to engage them straight away. As we are reading, we will ‘retell’ it in parts if the text is a bit complex and we will keep checking in with the listener, asking them questions, “Why do you think?... What can you imagine?” etc so they are always questioning. We also give children the opportunity to interrupt and ask questions- just as they would at home.

5) Check in on your environment

We create ample opportunities for children to retell stories- through a variety of mediums. It may be through painting, playdough or role play using puppets or sensory items. The variety is present in every single class. Bringing a story to life is the heart of what our classes are all about! The best part is that the children get to choose which activities to do first, in whatever order they like and they enjoy that special enriching time with their adult.


To conclude, we would agree with all of Nicky Clements 5 points to “create better readers” and we are proud that we are doing those things all of the time in all of our classes. Phonics teaching is important- but it needs to be contextualised within a story because learning to read is so much more than just decoding the written word.


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