What is Phonics?

Phonics is a tool that is used to teach children to read by remembering the sounds that letters are likely to indicate. Although there are only 26 letters in the English alphabet, there are over 40 different sounds (phonemes) in spoken English. This means that the process of learning to read the English language can be confusing unless you are taught the different sounds that represent the different letter combinations.  A single letter can indicate different sounds (for example, ‘c’ in ‘cat’ as opposed to ‘c’ in ‘cellar’) and combinations of letters are used to represent some sounds (for example, the ‘sh’ in ‘shop’ is pronounced as a single sound and not as ‘s’ followed by ‘h’). 

At The Phonics Fox, sounds are taught in the order that the government stipulates they should be taught in schools. The sounds are not taught in alphabetical order because in the early stages of learning to read, it is more important that children know their sounds than the letters in the alphabet. Learning at The Phonics Fox will give your child an excellent head start and foundation for learning with both reading and writing.

Here is some terminology that might be useful for adults as their children begin their reading journey:

Phonemes and Graphemes

A phoneme is a sound in a word.

A grapheme is a letter or sequence of letters that represent a phoneme.

In the word 'cat', we have three phonemes, /c/-/a/-/t /that are matched by three graphemes of one letter.

In the word 'fish', we have also have three phonemes, /f /-/i/-/sh/  but the last phoneme 'sh' is a sound in itself and has a grapheme of two letters.

Grapheme- phoneme correspondences (GPCs) and phoneme-grapheme correspondences 

We convert graphemes to phonemes when we are reading aloud (decoding written words). We convert phonemes to graphemes when we are spelling (encoding words for writing). To do this, children need to learn which graphemes correspond to which phonemes and vice versa. In order to read (decode) an unfamiliar word, a child needs to recognise ('sound out') each grapheme, not each letter (eg. sounding out 'ship' as /sh/-/i/-/p/ not /s/-/h/-/i/-/p/

Segmenting and Blending 

The synthetic part of synthetic phonics means to synthesise or to put together and refers to the skill of blending sounds together to form a word. This is something that children can find difficult at first and practice at home can help enormously. When looking at pictures in a book, for instance, ask your child if he or she can see the c-a-t or the sh-ee-p (keep to simple short words). Segmenting and blending are reversible key phonic skills. Segmenting consists of breaking words down into their constituent phonemes to spell. Blending consists of building words from their constituent phonemes to read. Both skills are important. 

What are digraphs and trigraphs?

A digraph is a two-letter grapheme where two letters represent one sound, such as 'ea' in 'seat' and 'sh' in ship. A trigraph is a three letter grapheme where three letters represent one phoneme (e.g. 'eau' in bureau and 'igh' in night. By definition, a four letter grapheme uses four letters to represent one phoneme (e.g. 'eigh' representing the /ai/ phoneme in eight and weight).

A split digraph has a letter that splits, i.e comes between, the two letters in the digraph as in 'make' and 'take' where 'k' separates the digraph 'ae' which in both words represents the phoneme /ai/. There are six split digraphs in English spelling: 'a-e', 'e-e', 'i-e', 'o-e','u-e' and 'y-e' as in make, scene, like, bone, cube and type.

High frequency words

As well as their phonic knowledge, beginner readers need to build up a stock of words that they can recognise by sight. Many frequently occurring words (‘the’, ‘said’, ‘was’) do not obey the “rules” of phonics. Most children can learn to recognise these words easily if they are given enough opportunities to do so. It is important to remember that phonics is not an exact science, it is a means to an end, a tool that when used flexibly should give your child a head start on the long road to becoming a fluent reader.

The Phonics Fox®