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Phonics teaching is the teaching of the relationship of letters and sounds in English. There are about 44 sounds that make up the words we speak in English, but there are only 26 letters in the English alphabet. This means that there is not a 1-to-1 relationship of 1 letter to 1 sound making our spelling system quite complicated to learn! For example, the letter a is often referred to as an /a/ (as in cat), but it also makes a wide range of other sounds, depending on what letters it is next to e.g.
/ai/ as in rain /oa/ as in boat /air/ as in hair /ar/ as in car /ea/ as in beach /e/ as in bread /o/ as in swan
Phonics teaching focusses on two areas – phonics knowledge and phonic skills. Phonics knowledge is about children knowing which letters and combination of letters (graphemes) make which sounds (phonemes). Phonics skills is about teaching the children how to use their knowledge for reading and for writing.
In Y1, the work of YR is revised, with more work on the phonemes taught in YR and how to use these for reading and writing. Work is matched to the level of the children. As soon as teachers are confident that that the YR work is understood and being applied, children start to work on new spelling patterns (graphemes) for the sounds (phonemes) taught in YR. For example, children are taught ai in YR to make the /ai/ sound, and in Y1 they are taught two other ways to make the same sound;
ay and a-e
The emphasis continues to be on ensuring children use their phonics knowledge in reading and in writing. The Y1 phonics curriculum is organised into 17 ‘blocks’. Groups of pupils will only move onto the next block once they are confidently applying what they have been taught in the current block. In Y2, any child who is not secure on the Y1 learning will continue to work on this. The Y2 curriculum continues to introduce new spelling patterns to the children, now focussing on some of the less common alternatives e.g. the /j/ sound made ge or dge on the end of words (cage / badge). Adding endings is also a major part of the Y2 spelling curriculum. In Y1 and Y2 the children use a system called ‘THRASS’ (www.thrass.co.uk), which shows them the most common spelling patterns in English. You will see large yellow boards on classroom walls and smaller table-top versions which the children use as reminders for the patterns taught.