If you have a child at school, you’ll probably have heard of phonics! Phonics (sometimes called synthetic phonics) is the system almost all schools use to teach children to read.
Phonics teaches children the link between letters and the sounds they represent. It has its own vocabulary which can make it sound more complicated than it really is.
- First, your child will be taught the most straightforward letters and the sounds they make. For example, they will be taught that the letter ‘m’ represents an mmm sound and the letters ‘oa’ represent an oh sound.
In phonics we use the word grapheme to talk about the letters on the page and phoneme to talk about the sounds those letters represent.
- Next, they will learn how sounds can be put together (blended) to make words. For example, they will learn that the sounds of the letters ‘m-a-t’ blend together to make the word ‘mat’. Your child will then learn more sounds and will start blending them too.
It can take until Year 2/Primary 3 before your child might have learned all 44 sounds in English and the many different spellings used for each sound.
- Then the children will really start to read! They will learn to recognise the different letters or pairs of letters (graphemes) in a word, say the separate sounds (phonemes) slowly, then put (blend) them together. For example, they will be taught that the word ‘boat’ can be separated out (segmented) into ‘b-oa-t’ which represents the sounds bbb-oh–ttt. They can blend these sounds into the word ‘boat’.
In phonics we use the word decode to talk about reading a single word. We use the word segment to talk about breaking a word down into separate sounds and blend to talk about putting the sounds together to make a word.
Your child’s school might use a phonics scheme such as Letters and Sounds, Read Write Inc. or Floppy’s Phonics, part of the Oxford Reading Tree series. A phonics scheme teaches the sounds and their spellings in a structured order. Most schemes also include flashcards and books that match the sounds they have learned so far.
Each scheme teaches the sounds in a slightly different order and will use slightly different vocabulary for talking about phonics. Your child’s school will be able to tell you about the phonics scheme they use.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is synthetic phonics?
Synthetic phonics is just the technical term for the style of phonics teaching taught in our schools. Synthetic phonics requires the early reader to locate and sound out the individual sounds in a word and blend (or synthesise) them together to say the word.
How can I help at home?
There are lots of simple things you can do at home to help your child learn phonics.
- Learn how to say the sounds using our Oxford Owl: Phonics or How to pronounce pure sounds.
- Use flashcards to help your child practise saying sounds. Use the flashcards to make words for your child to read through blending. These words could be silly or even made up.
- Listen to your child read every day, even just for five minutes. It really will make a difference. If your child gets stuck on a word, model how to say the sounds and blend them together. If you are worried that the book is at the wrong level for your child, check with your child’s teacher.
- Read aloud to your child every day to show them that reading is fun.
Find more tips on our phonics support blog.
What is the Year 1 phonics screening check?
If you live in England, your child will be given a phonics screening check in Year 1. The phonics screening check will find out how your child is progressing in phonics.
The test will be carried out informally by your child’s teacher in a one-to-one session. The teacher will ask your child to:
- Sound out and blend graphemes (letters representing sounds) in order to read simple words.
- Read phonically decodable (can be read using phonics) one-syllable and two-syllable words, for example cat, sand, windmill.
- Read a selection of nonsense words (known as pseudo words) to check that your child is not guessing words and is able to read new words.
You can find more information and links to past papers on our phonics screening check page.
What is Letters and Sounds?
Letters and Sounds is a phonics programme published by the Department of Education and Skills. Many published phonics schemes follow the structure of Letters and Sounds. Find out more on our Letters and Sounds page.