What is Phonics?

Phonics is a way of teaching children to read by breaking up words into small chunks of sound. For example we can break a simple word like ‘cat’ into the three sounds c-a-t.

To become successful readers, children will learn the individual sounds for each letter or group of letters. Some sounds in English are made up of more than one letter such as the sound ‘ea’ in tea or team.

Once children know the sounds they will be able ‘decode’ unfamiliar words by breaking the word into sounds then read the word by blending back together. For example: sh — o — p = shop


Why do we teach phonics?

Research shows that when phonics is taught in a structured way (starting with the easiest sounds, progressing through to the most complex), it’s the most effective way of teaching young children to read. It’s particularly helpful for children aged 5–7.

Almost all children who have good teaching of phonics will learn the skills they need to tackle new words. They can then go on to read any kind of text fluently, confidently and for enjoyment.


How do we teach phonics at Adelaide?

Phonics is most successful when taught using a consistent resource and approach across the school. At Adelaide, we base our phonics teaching on a program of learning called Letters and Sounds.

Letters and Sounds is a ‘synthetic phonics scheme’. This simply means that we teach the sounds first and then begin to blend them together to make whole words.

Below is a glossary of words that teachers use when planning and describing phonics. Children also enjoy learning the technical words for the different sounds and letter groups.


Phoneme Smallest unit of sound.
Grapheme Letter sound correspondence.
Digraph Two letters, but one sound.
Consonant diagraph th, sh, ch, ss, ll, ff, ck, ng
Vowel diagraph ai, ee, ie, oa, ue
Split diagraph a_e, o_e, i_e, u_e, e_e
Trigraph Three or more letters, but one sound.

There are six overlapping phases. The table below is a summary based on the Letters and Sounds guidance for Practitioners and Teachers. For more detailed information, visit the Letters and Soundswebsite.

Phase Phonic Knowledge and Skills
Phase One


Activities are divided into seven aspects, including environmental sounds, instrumental sounds, body sounds, rhythm and rhyme, alliteration, voice sounds and finally oral blending and segmenting.
Phase Two


Learning 19 letters of the alphabet and one sound for each. Blending sounds together to make words. Segmenting words into their separate sounds. Beginning to read simple captions.
Phase Three & Four


The remaining 7 letters of the alphabet, one sound for each. Graphemes such as ch, oo, th representing the remaining phonemes not covered by single letters. Reading captions, sentences and questions. On completion of this phase, children will have learnt the “simple code”, i.e. one grapheme for each phoneme in the English language. Children also learn to blend and segment longer words with adjacent consonants, e.g. swim, clap, jump.
Phase Five

(Year 1)

Now we move on to the “complex code”. Children learn more graphemes for the phonemes which they already know, plus different ways of pronouncing the graphemes they already know.
Phase Six

(Throughout Year 2 and beyond)

Working on spelling, including prefixes and suffixes, doubling and dropping letters etc.

What is the Government’s phonics screening check?

The Government has a phonics screening check for all Year 1 children. Each child will sit with a teacher they know and be asked to read 40 words aloud. Some of the words they may have read before and some words will be completely new to them. The test normally takes a few minutes to complete and there is no time limit. The 40 words in the test will be made up of real words and non-words. The test is carefully designed not to be stressful for your child.

For a sample test click here

What are non-words?

Non-words or pseudo words are nonsense words made up of letter sounds. For example: ‘vam’ or ‘jound’.

These words are included in the screening test so they are unfamiliar to the child and therefore test their ability to decode words using phonics.

How can you help at home?

The table below shows some of the trickier sounds that are made up of two or more letters. The pictures help with the pronunciation of the sound. For example: ‘ee’ as in ‘tree’

Please practise these sounds with your child and refer to them when they become stuck on a word in their reading book. Most importantly, enjoy reading with your children everyday!