Phonics,what’s all the fuss about?
Well to start with there’s the ongoing debate between those who love it and those who don’t – ‘The Reading Wars’. All that hot air about over-reliance on one strategy; all those high frequency words that aren’t phonically regular; oh and all those opinions about nonsense words. A quick Google search about phonics can open up a regular kan of wurms on this topic. The incredible thing is, when we wend our way round our schools this isn’t the part of phonics that gets educators steamy under the collar? Yes, we do talk to teachers who worry about the regulated vocabulary of phonics reading books. Consequently we end up talking about exposure to rich literature and the importance of a spine of quality texts in every school. However, we rarely meet a colleague who wants to debate the importance of phonics for reading . Teachers know it is an important part of teaching children to read. Not the only part – but the building blocks.
What we find is that teachers want to know how to make their phonics lessons better; how to get the children to apply what they’ve been taught in other parts of the curriculum; and how to make phonics fun with the minimum of fuss. To help those teachers we’ve gathered together some resources and advice for you below.
So, how can we help you with your fuss free phonics?
1. Pronunciation – this is crucial. Phonic pronunciation must be correct from both the teacher and the children (the DVD from the National Strategies Letters and Sounds is really useful here). Don’t let it slide in other lessons either – ensure that all adults working with children across school know how to accurately pronounce each sound. One of the most important parts of phonics application is making sure that everything present in the phonics lesson is present in the environment for the rest of the day. Correct pronunciation is a FREE, cross-curricular, easy to apply aspect of phonics that if done well has audible impact.
2. Engage the children in interactive activity. Don’t over rely on the IWB here – make sure that all children are learning. One child coming up to the screen one at a time is not interactive. Use games and talking partners. Give the children ‘busy fingers’: by this we mean get something in their hands such as magnetic letters, mini-whiteboards and pens, phoneme frames and the sound buttons we referred to in our Thrifty Blog.
3. Ensure consistency across the school. From the terminology you use to the displays on your wall; they should be the same from YR-Y2 and beyond. Phonics friezes, in particular, work best when in a similar format across the year groups, including KS2. Think about all the teaching spaces used for phonics – the conventional and unconventional nooks and crannies of the school. Do the children in these groups have equal access to supportive mobile resources? Do you ensure that once back in their ‘home class’ they have access to the supportive resources that they need; whatever level? Our Phonics Phase 2 Mat is a handy resource for ensuring that children can access the phonemes they need, wherever they are working.
4. Plan a range of activities across each session and across the week. Make sure you have a balance of blending and segmenting; a mix of different games; and a variety of multi-sensory activities to suit all learning styles. Children love to play games and a few games taught well, then adapted to fit new sounds, go a really long way. Our Phonics Donkey game supports Phase 5 Letters and Sounds. By changing the graphemes included in the game to match what has been taught during the week means this game can be used throughout the phase. You can also use games like Phonics Donkey to consolidate learning by using them as morning work when children arrive at school, or independent activities during guided reading or key skills sessions.
5. Make your sessions lively and fun, children learn more when they are engaged. Make sure that your phonics session catches their imagination. We’ve collated some useful Phonics websites and resources here on a Pinterest board which may help you to keep the fun in your fuss free phonics.
We hope these ideas help you get the most from phonics.
Rachel Clarke and Charlotte Reed, Primary English Consultants