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Phonics & Reading

Phonics and Early Reading

At Holy Cross Catholic Primary School, we are passionate about reading. Reading can feed a child’s imagination and open up a treasure-trove of wonder and joy for curious young minds. We aim to develop a lifelong love of books and reading in all children, and to begin this journey we start with phonics.

What is phonics?

Phonics is a way of teaching children to read quickly and skilfully using sounds. There are 44 sounds in the English language, which we put together to form words. These sounds can be represented by one letter, like ‘a’ or by two or more letters, like ‘ch’ and ‘air’. With phonics, children are taught how to:

  • recognise the sounds that each individual letter makes
  • identify the sounds that different combinations of letters make – such as ‘sh’ or ‘oo'
  • blend sounds together from left to right to make a word

Children can then use this knowledge to ‘de-code’ new words that they hear or see. This is the first important step in learning to read. Phonics is accepted as the most effective way of teaching young children to read.

Systematic Synthetic Phonics

At Holy Cross Catholic Primary School, we teach our children in Reception and Key Stage 1 how to read using a systematic synthetic phonics programme (SSP). SSP is a method of teaching English reading, which first teaches the letter sounds and then builds up to blending these sounds together to achieve full pronunciation of whole words. The ‘synthetic’ part comes from the word ‘synthesize’, meaning to assemble or blend together.

You can click here to watch a video of the correct pronunciation of the sounds used when teaching synthetic phonics.

Progression is organised so that children are taught from the simple to the more complex sounds, these are arranged into phases. The phases are covered in the follow years:

  • Reception - Phase 2, Phase 3 and into Phase 4
  • Year 1 - Consolidation of Phase 4 and then Phase 5
  • Year 2 - Phase 6 (primarily spelling patterns)

All the graphemes taught are practised in words, sentences, and in fully decodable books. Children review and revise sounds and words, daily, weekly and across terms and years, in order to move this knowledge into their long-term memory. Children need to learn to read as quickly as reasonably possible, so they can move from learning to read, to reading to learn, giving them access to the treasure house of reading.

Children who are not keeping-up with their peers are given extra practice through additional sessions.

As part of our SSP, children are also taught to read ‘tricky words’. These are usually words which don’t follow normal spelling patterns or are exceptions to the rules. The children are taught to read these by sight, throughout each relevant phase.

You can download an overview sheet for each of the phases below:
Phase Overviews
Reading books

Whilst your child is progressing through the phonic stages, they will be reading fully decodable reading books. Fully decodable means that every word in the book can be read by your child, using just their developing phonics knowledge. The reading books are matched to your child’s current reading and phonics level and they should be able to read them fluently and independently. Your child will be expected to read their books several times and if your child is reading it with little help, please don’t worry that it’s too easy – your child needs to develop fluency and confidence in reading.

Supporting your child with reading

Although your child will be taught to read at school, you can have a huge impact on their reading progress by continuing their practice at home. You can help your child by:

  • Listening to them read their book daily
  • Giving them lots of praise and celebrating their success
  • Encouraging them to sound out a word if they can’t read it, and then read it to them.
  • Talking about the book together (there are usually ideas to support you with this on the inside covers of the books)

Your child will also usually bring home a library book weekly too. In order to encourage your child to become a lifelong reader, it is important that they learn to read for pleasure. The library book is a book they have chosen for you to enjoy together. You shouldn’t expect your child to read this alone. Read it to or with them. Discuss the pictures, enjoy the story, predict what might happen next, use different voices for the characters, explore the facts in a non-fiction book. The important thing is for you and your child to enjoy sharing the book.

Year 1 Phonics Screening Check

In Year 1, children are required to undertake a phonics screening check. This is a quick and easy check of your child’s phonics knowledge. During the check, your child be asked to read 40 words aloud. Your child may have read some of the words before, while others will be completely new. The check contains a mix of real words and pseudo words (or ‘nonsense words’). The children will be familiar with these because we will have already used pseudo words during phonics activities.

The inclusion of pseudo words is important because words such as ‘vap’ or ‘jound’ are new to all children. Children cannot read the pseudo by using their memory or vocabulary; they have to use their decoding skills. This is a fair way to assess their ability to decode.

The check normally takes just a few minutes to complete and there is no time limit. The check is carefully designed not to be stressful for your child. The check helps your school confirm whether your child has made the expected progress and it usually takes place in June.

You can download a sample from the Year 1 Phonics Check below:
Reading after phonics

Upon entering Year 2, most children should have already secured all the sounds and skills necessary to read with a good level of fluency and therefore are able to access the large selection of non-decodable books we have. To provide children with variety and depth in their reading, these come from a range of schemes, such as: Rapid Readers, Oxford Reading Tree, Treetops and Project X.

All of the non-decodable reading scheme books at Holy Cross are organised into colour-coded book band levels. This ensures that each child has the right level reading book in order to further develop their fluency and comprehension skills. It also allows us to monitor progression carefully.

Progression through the book bands can be seen below, this information is intended as a guide:
Book Bands