Lessons in Teaching Phonics in Primary Schools


David Waugh, Jane Carter & Carly Desmond

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  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Copyright

    The Authors

    David Waugh is subject leader for Primary English at Durham University. He has published extensively in Primary English. David is a former deputy head teacher, was Head of the Centre for Educational Studies at the University of Hull, and was Regional Adviser for ITT for the National Strategies from 2008 to 2010. As well as his educational writing, David also writes children's stories, including Lottie's Run published in 2015.

    Jane Carter's teaching experience includes 20 years in local primary schools as a teacher, deputy head and then local authority consultant, before joining the University of the West of England to focus on Initial Teacher Education. She now combines her time at UWE with managing a Teaching School Alliance. Her passion is the teaching of English and in particular engaging children through children's literature and motivating children as writers. Jane's research concentrates on the teaching of reading and includes a European-wide children's literature project.

    Carly Desmond is an assistant head teacher at Flamstead End School. Her particular interest lies within phonics and early reading. In her role as literacy leader she has successfully supported staff in the training, planning and modelling of phonics lessons. This has led to successful phonic screening scores. Flamstead End School was also recently graded outstanding by OFSTED.


    Every effort has been made to trace the copyright holders and to obtain their permission for the use of copyright material. The publisher and author will gladly receive any information enabling them to rectify any error or omission in subsequent editions.

    The authors are grateful to all the teachers and trainee teachers who shared ideas and case studies.


    This book focuses on teaching and learning systematic synthetic phonics in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2, with additional attention given to the needs of Key Stage 2 children who have yet to master phonics at the required level. There is a popular misconception that all teaching of early reading revolves solely around the development of children's phonic knowledge. The English National Curriculum Objectives for Year 1 certainly emphasise phonic knowledge strongly. Look at the statutory requirements for word reading for Year 1.

    Word reading:

    • apply phonic knowledge and skills as the route to decode words;
    • respond speedily with the sound to graphemes for all 40+ phonemes, including, where applicable, alternative sounds for graphemes;
    • read accurately by blending sounds in unfamiliar words containing grapheme–phoneme correspondences (GPCs) that have been taught;
    • read common exception words, noting unusual correspondences between spelling and sound and where these occur in the word;
    • read words containing taught GPCs and -s, -es, -ing, -ed, -er and -est endings;
    • read other words of more than one syllable that contain taught GPCs;
    • read words with contractions [for example, I'm, I'll, we'll], and understand that the apostrophe represents the omitted letter(s);
    • read aloud books that are consistent with their developing phonic knowledge and that do not require them to use other strategies;
    • re-read these books to build up their fluency and confidence in word reading.

    (DfE, 2013, p20)

    However, on the next page, the National Curriculum also emphasises comprehension.

    Develop pleasure in reading, motivation to read, vocabulary and understanding by:

    • listening to and discussing a wide range of poems, stories and non-fiction at a level beyond that at which they can read independently;
    • being encouraged to link what they read or hear read to their own experiences;
    • becoming very familiar with key stories, traditional tales, retelling them and considering their particular characteristics;
    • recognising and joining in with predictable phrases;
    • learning to appreciate rhymes and poems, and to recite some by heart;
    • discussing word meanings, linking new meanings to those already known.

    Understand both the books they can already read accurately and fluently and those they listen to by:

    • drawing on what they already know or on background information and vocabulary provided by the teacher;
    • checking that the text makes sense to them as they read and correcting inaccurate reading;
    • discussing the significance of the title and events;
    • making inferences on the basis of what is being said and done;
    • predicting what might happen on the basis of what has been read so far;
    • participating in discussion about what is read to them, taking turns and listening to what others say;
    • explaining clearly their understanding of what is read to them.

    (DfE, 2013, p21)

    Teaching phonics is not an alternative to teaching comprehension and developing children's love of reading; it is an integral part of that process. It is important to remember this and constantly to keep in mind that learning phonics is a means to an end (good reading) rather than an end in itself. In this book, we examine what is needed to develop phonic knowledge and understanding, but we emphasise that this knowledge and understanding needs to develop alongside reading comprehension so that children are not only able to read by decoding words, but are also interested in and engaged by reading.

    Chapters include activities, where appropriate, to enable you to check on your growing subject knowledge. We have also suggested further reading to help you to develop your understanding, and resources and websites that will support your work in the classroom.

    In Chapter 1, we look closely at the teaching of reading and the place of phonics, providing some historical perspectives and demonstrating why it is so important that we teach reading well.

    Chapter 2 places phonics firmly in the classroom context and provides a range of strategies for developing an environment in which children can learn successfully.

    Chapters 3 to 10 provide lesson ideas and plans with clear explanations and guidance on subject knowledge needed for successful teaching and learning. Each lesson is placed in context and suggestions are provided for developing further lessons to take children's learning forward. Because we are aware that schools and teacher training institutions have different ways of planning, we have tried to vary the format for lesson plans to show a variety of approaches.

    Chapter 11 examines the anomalies in the English alphabetic system that can sometimes make teaching and learning phonics challenging. The chapter examines ‘tricky’ or ‘common exception’ words and ways in which we can help children to learn these.

    Our final chapter, ‘Moving on’, looks at ways in which what has been studied in the previous chapters can be developed in a language-rich environment.

    At the end of the book you will find a glossary of key terminology.

    We hope that this book will help you to develop your subject knowledge for teaching reading and that it will provide you with ideas and strategies which will enhance your teaching and, most importantly, children's learning.

    David WaughJane CarterCarly Desmond2015
    Department for Education (DfE) ( 2013 ) The National Curriculum in England: Framework Document. London: DfE.
  • Glossary

    Adjacent consonants

    Consonants which appear next to each other in a word and can be blended together, e.g. bl in blip, cr in crack (note that the ck in crack is a digraph as the consonants come together to form a single sound or phoneme). Adjacent consonants are also referred to as ‘consonant blends’ in some phonics schemes.


    A sequence of words beginning with the same sound.

    Analytic phonics

    Children learn to identify (analyse) the common phoneme in sets of words in which each word contains the phoneme that is the focus of the lesson. For instance, they might be asked to listen to the words big, bag and bat and decide in what ways the words sound alike. The focus is on identifying patterns in words and drawing analogies.


    A combination of letters where individual letters retain their sounds. The consonants retain their original sounds but are blended together, as in slip, cram, blink and flop.


    To draw individual sounds together to pronounce a word, e.g. /c/l/a/p/ blended together reads clap.

    Cloze work

    Text which has missing words that students need to insert. Typically, every 10th, 11th, 12th word might be replaced by a line. Often students may choose different words to complete the text and they should be encouraged to work together to discuss logical possibilities.

    Common exception words

    This is the term used in the 2013 English National Curriculum for common words with unusual grapheme–phoneme correspondences. These are the words which Letters and Sounds and other phonics programmes refer to as ‘tricky words’. They are common words with phonic irregularities, e.g. one, who, should. See also Tricky words.

    Consonant–vowel–consonant (CVC)

    words Children's early reading experiences will include words like cat, dog, sit and pin, which have single letters for each sound. Later, CVC words will include those with digraphs such as ship, cheap and wish.


    Words which can be easily decoded using phonic strategies, e.g. cat, dog, lamp.


    The act of translating graphemes into phonemes, i.e. reading.


    Two letters which combine to make a new sound.


    The act of transcribing units of sound or phonemes into graphemes, i.e. spelling.


    The origins of the formation of a word and its meaning.


    A letter, or combination of letters, which represent a phoneme.


    Words which are spelled the same but pronounced differently according to context, e.g. ‘That's a new world record?’, ‘I'll record The Archers and listen to it later’.


    Words which are spelled and pronounced in the same way, but have different meanings, e.g. bear: ‘I can't bear it any longer’, ‘The large bear growled’.


    Words which sound the same but have different spellings and meanings, e.g. sea and see, their and there.

    Initial consonant

    Consonant letter at the beginning of a word.


    Some people learn better using some form of physical (kinaesthetic) activity; hence the use of actions to accompany phonemes and graphemes in Jolly Phonics.

    Long vowel phonemes

    The long vowel sounds as in feel or cold.


    A device for remembering something, such as ‘ee/ee/ feel the tree’.

    Monosyllabic word

    Word with one syllable, e.g. big, black, club, drop.


    The smallest unit of meaning, e.g. help is a single morpheme, but we could add the suffix -ful to make helpful, and go on to add the prefix un- to make unhelpful, which has three morphemes.


    Using a broad range of senses (hearing, seeing, feeling, moving).


    The onset is the part of the word before the vowel; not all words have onsets. In brush, br is the onset (but note that br is two sounds). Add and up do not have onsets (there is no consonant phoneme before the vowel).

    Orthographic system

    The spelling system of a language, i.e. the ways in which graphemes and phonemes relate to each other. The English orthographic system is more complex than many languages, since most phonemes can be represented by more than one grapheme.


    Standardised spelling – the sounds of a language represented by written or printed symbols.


    The smallest single identifiable sound, e.g. the letters ch representing one sound.


    awareness An understanding that letters can be sounded as phonemes and can be put together to create words.


    The articulation and acoustic features of speech sounds. It explains the distinction between consonants and vowels and can help listeners identify the phonemic pattern of words.

    Phonological awareness

    The ability to perceive, recall and manipulate sounds.


    Morpheme or affix placed before a word to modify its meaning, e.g. dis- in dislike, de- in defrost.


    Words that sound the same but do not necessarily share the same spelling.


    The rime of a word is the vowel and the rest of the syllable, e.g. the rime in black is -ack; the rime in flop is -op.


    Splitting up a word into its individual phonemes in order to spell it, i.e. the word pat has three phonemes: /p/a/t/.

    Split digraph

    Two letters, making one sound, e.g. a-e as in cake.


    Morpheme or affix added to a word to modify its meaning, e.g. -ful in hopeful, -ed in jumped.


    A unit of pronunciation having one vowel sound. This can be taught by identifying ‘beats’ in a word. Putting a hand flat underneath your chin and then saying a word can help, as every time the hand moves, it represents another syllable.

    Synthetic phonics

    Synthetic phonics involves separating words into phonemes and then blending the phonemes together to read the word. This compares with analytic phonics in which segments or parts of words are analysed and patterns are compared with other words.

    Tricky words

    When teaching systematic synthetic phonics, we refer to common words with phonic irregularities as ‘tricky words’, e.g. once, was, could. See also Common exception words.


    Three letters which combine to make a new sound.

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