Phonics is a way of teaching children to read quickly and skilfully. They 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/; and
- blend these 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. In order to enjoy reading independently, children need to be able both to decode the written symbols on the page (word reading), and understand the meaning of the words. Systematic phonics teaching is the most effective way for children to learn word reading.
At Marlow Church of England Infant School we use the validated systematic synthetic phonics programme called Essential Letters and Sounds to teach our pupils.
Essential Letters and Sounds
Essential Letters and Sounds (ELS) is our chosen Phonics programme. The aim of ELS is to get all children to read well, quickly. It teaches children to read by identifying the phonemes (the smallest unit of sound) and graphemes (the written version of the sound) within words and using these to read words. Essential Letters and Sounds is a systematic synthetic phonics programme and was validated by the Department for Education in June 2021.
All members of staff are trained to teach ELS to ensure that we have an expert team of reading teachers led by our Reading/Phonics Lead. As a staff team, we regularly meet to review our practice and to practise teaching together. This ensures that all children receive high-quality first teaching every day. Our classrooms are well resourced to ensure that every child has the resources required to learn to read well.
Reading is at the heart of everything that we do. Reading is a central part of every pupil’s life at our school. We instil a love of reading from the very beginning of their education, every child at our school is a reader and so are their teachers. We believe all children can become confident readers during their time in primary education. Children’s love for reading is evident through their continuous engagement, desire to read for pleasure and their understanding of a range of texts, authors and illustrators and this is further developed throughout or reading curriculum.
To ensure all children learn to read well, quickly, children learn Phonics from the very start of Reception. It is explicitly taught every day during a dedicated slot on the timetable. Throughout the day, children use their growing Phonic knowledge to support them in other areas of the curriculum and have many opportunities to practise reading decodable texts precisely matched to the phonic knowledge. This includes reading 1:1 with a member of staff, with a partner during paired reading and during whole class reading sessions. We know that reading is a fundamental life skill and ensure that all children leave our school able to read well.
ELS is a whole class teaching model. This means that every single pupil has the same opportunities when learning to read. Learning to read well, early, is a priority for every child. Children who may find it harder to learn how to read are given extra support from their teacher every day. We ensure that all children to learn to read well and keep up rather than have to catch-up.
Daily Phonics lessons continue in Year 1 and further through the school to ensure all children become confident, fluent readers.
We follow the ELS progression and sequence. This allows our children to practise their existing phonic knowledge whilst building their understanding of the ‘code’ of our language. As a result, children can tackle any unfamiliar words that they might discover.
We teach children more rarely used GPCs through the ELS progression. This means that they can decode and read more words with increased fluency.
ELS is supported by a wide range of completely decodable texts. These cover both fiction and nonfiction and are exciting and engaging for all our pupils. We match the home reading texts to each child’s current phonic knowledge to ensure that they consolidate their most recent teaching and learning at home.
Children experience the joy of books and language whilst rapidly acquiring the skills they need to become fluent independent readers and writers. ELS teaches relevant, useful and ambitious vocabulary to support children’s journey to becoming fluent and independent readers.
At our school we begin by teaching the single-letter sounds before moving to diagraphs (two letters spelling one sound), trigraphs (three letters spelling one sound) and quadgraphs (four letters spelling one sound).
We teach children to:
- Decode by identifying each sound within a word and blending them together to read fluently
- Encode by segmenting each sound to write words accurately.
The structure of ELS lessons allows children to know what is coming next, what they need to do, and how to achieve success. This makes it easier for children to learn the GPCs we are teaching (the alphabetic code) and how to apply this when reading.
ELS is designed on the principle that children should ‘keep up’ rather than ‘catch up’. Interventions are delivered within the lesson by the teacher and any child who is struggling with the new knowledge can be immediately targeted with appropriate support. Where further support is required, 1:1 intervention is used where needed. These interventions are short, specific and effective.
ELS is designed to make use of all the teaching time during the phonics lesson – through targeted support where required, reducing the need for external interventions - meaning that there is minimal disruption to curriculum teaching time.
Children are assessed in week 5 of each half-term to ensure that any specific gaps can be targeted immediately.
We reinforce the link between reading and writing in every ELS lesson through the independent application of the children’s understanding. We also ensure that all our teachers reference the learning from ELS lessons when writing as part of the wider curriculum.
Supporting Reading at Home:
- Children will read books that are entirely decodable, this means that they should be able to read these books as they already know the code contained within the book.
- We only use pure sounds when decoding words (no ‘uh’ after the sound)
- 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!
We must use pure sounds when we are pronouncing the sounds and supporting children in reading words. If we mispronounce these sounds, we will make reading harder for our children. Please watch the videos below for how to accurately pronounce these sounds.
At the beginning of each academic year, we hold an information session for parents and carers to find out more about how we teach Phonics, Reading and English at our school. They are also given hints and ideas about how to support their children with learning at home.
More support for parents and carers can be found here: