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Synthetic phonics is a method of teaching reading and spelling in which words are broken up into their smallest units of sound or ‘phonemes’.

The English language is made up of 44 phonemes (sounds), including the phoneme that each individual letter of the alphabet makes. There are over 200 different ways to spell the phonemes (sounds).

When teaching synthetic phonics, it is important to model accurate pronunciation of the phonemes (sounds). We call these pure sounds.

Having a secure understanding of letters and the sounds that they make, plays a key role in our young children learning to read and write successfully. At Calcot Schools, phonics is taught through discrete, daily sessions beginning in our Nursery and continuing in Reception and Key Stage 1. In Year 2, children access phonics alongside other approaches to spelling and reading. Children will continue to receive high quality phonics teaching until they are confident in reading and spelling. 

The Teaching of Skills

Phonic skills - blending, segmenting, glossary of terminology

Children are taught to recognise the written form of each sound that they learn (grapheme) and in later stages begin to understand that one sound can be written in several ways using different graphemes.                            For example: rain, stay and made                                                                                                                                                         Each of these words contain the same phoneme (sound) but it is written in different ways as highlighted (the graphemes).

During the Reception year, children will begin by learning phonemes (sounds) which have graphemes represented with one letter - the letters of the alphabet. They will progress to phonemes (sounds) where the grapheme is represented using two letters. We call this a digraph - two letters that make one phoneme (sound).                                                                                                                                                                                                          For example: rain                                                                                                                                                                                        The 'ai' grapheme in the word rain is a digraph because the two letters make one phoneme (sound).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             All graphemes taught are practised within words, sentences, and applied in the reading of fully decodable books. Children review and revise graphemes regularly in order to develop their recall and move this knowledge into their long-term memory.

Children learn to segment and blend early on, in preparation for spelling and reading. Segmenting is the process of breaking a word down into the individual phonemes (sounds), a skill which is used for spelling. Children will begin in Nursery and Reception by practising orally segmenting words.                                                    For example:                                                                                                                                                                                                Rain can be orally broken down into three phonemes (sounds).                                                                                               r - ai - n

Blending supports children's early reading and is the process of combining the individual phonemes (sounds) into a whole word. This skill relies on children being able to confidently identify the written form of each phoneme (sound) with good recall. Phonemes need to be joined into one continuous stream of sound to make a spoken word.

When supporting children with their phonic learning, our teaching staff will model using the full range of technical vocabulary with the children including blending and segmenting. Children will become confident users of the vocabulary themselves. 

Please click here to view a useful glossary of phonic terminology.


As a school we follow the Essential Letters and Sounds (ELS) phonic programme which has been validated by the DfE. The aim of ELS is ‘Getting all children to read well, quickly’. It has been designed to ensure that learning is well sequenced and progressive. The key knowledge and skills are built upon at each phase of a child's learning.

Learning is grouped into phases:

Phase 1 -taught in Nursery

Phase 2 - taught in Reception                                                                                                                                                          Click here to watch the video showing the correct pronunciation of phonemes and graphemes taught in this phase.

Click here to view the sound mat used to support children's learning in phase 2.

Phase 3 &4 - taught in Reception                                                                                                                                                          Click here to watch the video showing the correct pronunciation of phonemes and graphemes taught in this phase.

Click here to view the sound mat used to support children's learning in phase 3.

Phase 5 - taught in Year 1                                                                                                                                                                        Click here to watch the video showing the correct pronunciation of phonemes and graphemes taught in this phase.

Click here to view the sound mat used to support children's learning in phase 5.

*Children in Reception will be given at introduction to the phase 5 curriculum for Year 1 in the summer term of their Reception year.

When children reach Year 2, they will have the opportunity to revise and apply the complex spelling rules learned in Phase 5. They will then transition to our school spelling scheme as they develop their understanding of morphology.

The table below outlines what learning takes place at each phase of learning.

More information about Essential Letters and Sounds can be found by clicking here.

Nursery Lessons

As soon as a child begins in Nursery, they will start to learn the vital foundations for phonics including developing early speaking and listening skills. Children will become attuned to the sounds in the environment around them and will begin to develop oral segmenting and blending skills in preparation for Reception. Early phonics provides children with opportunities to develop an appreciation for rhythm and rhyme including joining in with nursery rhymes and listening to stories with a rhyming pattern. Children begin to develop confidence in sound discrimination and will learn about alliteration - words which begin with the same initial sound. Our Nursery is rich in singing, music and storytelling which enables the children to develop the fundamental oracy skills, essential for becoming successful readers and writers further on in the school.

During the spring term of the Nursery year, prior to a child joining in Reception, the children will begin to be introduced to the individual sounds each letter of our alphabet makes. They will develop the ability to see a letter of the alphabet and recall the phoneme (sound) that it makes. This is in preparation for their learning during the Reception year. 

Please click here for guidance on how to support your Nursery child with phonics.

Reception & KS1 Lessons

Lessons are carefully structured into four main parts:

1. Revisit and review

2. Teach

3. Practise

4. Apply

Within sessions, regular opportunities are given to revisit and review previous learning, allowing our children to know more and remember more. Teachers explicitly model reading and spelling skills within the phonic sessions, and children are given the time to practise to develop fluency and apply what has been learned. This systematic approach to phonics ensures that children master reading and spelling skills proficiently as they move through our school. 

Lessons last for 30 minutes in Key Stage 1. In Reception, our sessions build up from 20 minutes to the full length lesson as quickly as possible. Whilst phonics is an important vehicle for teaching reading and spelling, additional shared reading and writing opportunities to support and enrich children's learning, along with developing their vocabulary, take place throughout the day and are embedded within both our Key Stage 1 and Foundation Stage curriculums. 

Children are taught within class groups to ensure that they cover the phase of learning appropriate for their age. When children struggle at any point, additional support and intervention is given to ensure children are able to catch up quickly and move forward in their learning. Teachers regularly assess to identify gaps within children's learning and put in targetted interventions to support the levelling up process. 

Please click here for guidance on how to support your Reception child with phonics.

Please click here for guidance on how to support your Year 1 or 2 child with phonics.

Harder to Read Words

Harder to read words, sometimes referred to as common exception words or tricky words, are words which children will come across frequently in both their reading and writing. They are tricky because they can not be decoded by children applying their current phonic knowledge, as they may contain graphemes that they have not learned yet. We encourage children to learn these words by sight and support them to do this by regularly revisiting these words in small sets. Reviewing these words regularly at home will support the fluency of both your child's reading and writing.

Please click here to view the Reception harder to read word list.

Please click here to view the Year 1 common exception word list.

Please click here to view the Year 2 common exception word list.

Reading Books

Alongside your child learning to read at school, you can have a huge impact by continuing to practise at home.

There are three types of books that your child may come home with:

1. A phonic practice book - This will be carefully matched to the correct phonic stage for your child. You can identify these books by the small, white sticker in the top right-hand corner of the front cover. Please do not worry that this book is too easy for your child. They should be able to read this with developing fluency and increasing independence. Our aim is for children to be reading these books at 90% accuracy - reading 9 out of 10 words independently.

2. A coloured banked book - This book will be developing their wider reading skills including identifying harder to read words by sight and using picture clues. These books have a coloured sticker on the spine and no white sticker on the front cover. Encourage your child to use the context of the story to support the reading of more challenging words. This will support them to understand that phonics is just one of the many skills we use when reading. 

3. A library book - This will be a book your child has chosen from our school library and one for you to enjoy together. It is likely that you will need to do all or most of the reading to your child. Use this as an opportunity to support your child in becoming a lifelong reader, and value the importance of reading for pleasure.

  • We want children to practise reading their book 4 times across the week working on these skills:

               Decode – sounding out and blending to read the word.

               Fluency – reading words with less obvious decoding.

               Expression – using intonation and expression to bring the text to life!

Year 1 Phonic Screening Check 

The Phonics Screening Check is taken individually by all children in Year 1 in England. For our current Year 1 children, it will be the week beginning Monday 12th June 2023. It is designed to give teachers and parents information on how your child is progressing in phonics. 

The check requires children to read 40 words to a familiar adult, assessing the phonic skills and knowledge learnt through Reception and Year 1. It will consist of both real and pseudo (not real) words. When working with the children, we refer to the pseudo words as alien words. Children will be familiar with the term 'alien words' as this is something we begin to expose them to during their time in Reception and into Year 1.

Parents and carers were given the opportunity to find out more about the phonics screening check and how they can support the process of preparing their child at home at our recent phonic sessions. 


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