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What is Phonics?

Phonics is the relationship between the letters and sounds in a spoken language. The Culm Valley Federation Schools  follow a structured phonics programme called ‘Letters & Sounds’.

Children begin their focused phonics sessions as soon as they start in Reception class.  Letters & Sounds is a fast paced programme that introduces the relationship between the spoken language and the written form across 6 phases.

Phase 1 - Has a focus on speaking and listening skills.

Phase 2 - Introduction of most of the letters in the alphabet through multi-sensory activities & CVC (consonant, vowel, consonant) words such as cat, hat or can. Children are taught standard names and abbreviations where V is for the 5 vowels a, e, i ,u, o, and C represents consonants – all the rest of the letters of the alphabet.

Phase 3 - Completes the teaching of the alphabet and introduces sounds represented by more than one letter, vowel and consonant phonemes.

The purpose of this phase is to:

  • teach more graphemes, most of which are made of two letters, for example, ‘oa’ as in boat
  • practise blending and segmenting a wider set of CVC words, for example, fizz, chip, sheep, light
  • learn all letter names and begin to form them correctly
  • read more tricky words and begin to spell some of them
  • read and write words in phrases and sentences.

Phase 4 - Consolidation of phase 1-3 and introduce CVCC words. 

Children continue to practise previously learned graphemes and phonemes and learn how to read and write:

CVCC words: tent, damp, toast, chimp

For example, in the word ‘toast’, t = consonant,  oa = vowel,  s = consonant,  t = consonant.

 CCVC words: swim, plum, sport, cream, spoon

For example, in the word ‘cream’, c = consonant, r = consonant, ea = vowel, m = consonant.

They will be learning more tricky words and continuing to read and write sentences together.

Tricky words

said, so, do, have, like, some, come, were, there, little, one, when, out, what

Phase 5 - Has a focus of alternative graphemes for the same phoneme!

Phase 6 - Word-specific alternatives.

Letters and Sounds is divided into six phases, with each phase building on the skills and knowledge of previous learning. There are no big leaps in learning. Children have time to practise and rapidly expand their ability to read and spell words. They are also taught to read and spell ‘tricky words’, which are words with spellings that are unusual or that children have not yet been taught.


Using the correct language is also an important part of the phonics programme.  Your children will learn to use and understand complex words that will help them to understand structure of individual words and support the decoding and blending process. 

What is a phoneme?

It is the smallest unit of sound and a piece of terminology that children like to use

and should be taught. At first, it will equate with a letter sound but later on will include

the digraphs. Often we touch a finger as well count sounds in a word- counting sound buttons.

What is a digraph?

This is when two or more letters come together to make a phoneme for example /oa/ makes the sound in boat.

What is a split digraph?

This is when two or more letters come together to make a phoneme for example /i-e/ makes the sound I ( a long vowel sound) in the word     l i k e as opposed to a short vowel sound lick, where the i says a short i sound.

What is segmenting and blending?

Segmenting is where the word is split into units of sound, phonemes. Blending is the process that is involved in bringing the sounds together to make a word or a syllable and is how    c   a   t     becomes cat.

When children begin to learn phonemes & digraphs, decoding a word and then being able to blend it becomes easier and more natural.

At a glance:

It is not important to know all the correct language at first .  However, it is important to be consistent. It is important to know how to pronounce each of the phonemes correctly.

How you can help at home?


  1. In order to make a good start in reading and writing, children need to have an adult listen to them and talk to them. Speaking and listening are the foundations for reading and writing. Even everyday activities such as preparing meals, tidying up, putting shopping away and getting ready to go out offer you the chance to talk to your child, explaining what you are doing. Through these activities, children hear the way language is put together into sentences for a purpose.  During conversations, ensure you offer a nod or smile as well as a verbal response. 
  2. Books are a rich source of new words for your child; words you would not use in everyday conversations appear in books. Children need to have a wide vocabulary to understand the meaning of books, so read aloud and share books as often as you can. They will enjoy it and it will be useful to them when they come across these words in their own reading later on.  Reading for a purpose is important and opportunities for this are all around us.  These include signs, labels on produce in supermarkets, newspapers, comics and of course books.
  3. Make sure your child sees you reading.
  4. Encourage your child to point to the words on the page as they read them. 
  5. If your child comes across a word they do not know, then encourage them to decode it by saying a phoneme at a time.   After decoding the word (stretching it out with sound buttons) and blending it back together encourage them to go back and read the sentence from the beginning. 
  6. Talk about the pictures on each page and encourage your child to predict what might happen next.
  7. Encourage them to retell the story in their own words or discuss a character together.
  8. Sharing a story together is meant to be a pleasurable experience and if you child becomes distressed then it might be a good time for you to read it to them.  They can try reading it at a later time. Please read every day at some point and record so your child can get book track stickers for a tea party!
  9. Make sure your child sees you writing.
  10. Write a letter together asking a friend over for tea or send an e-mail!
  11. Leave a message for your child on the fridge door and encourage them to write a reply.


Most importantly RELAX and ENJOY your opportunity to share in your child’s learning.


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