Phonics at Oakhurst

The Phonics Approach

What exactly is the phonics approach?

Words are made up from small units of sound called phonemes. Phonics teaches children to be able to listen carefully and identify the phonemes that make up each word. This helps children not only to learn to read words but to eventually spell them, too.

In Oakhurst Primary School phonics sessions, children are taught three main things:


They are taught GPCs. This stands for grapheme phoneme correspondences. This simply means that they are taught all the phonemes in the English language and ways of writing them down. These sounds are taught in a particular order.


Children are taught to be able to blend. This is when children say the sounds that make up a word and are able to merge the sounds together until they can hear what the word is. This skill is vital in learning to read.


Children are also taught to segment. This is the opposite of blending. Children are able to say a word and then break it up into the phonemes that make it up. This skill is vital in being able to spell words.

What makes phonics tricky?

In some languages, learning phonics is easy because each phoneme has just one grapheme to represent it. The English language is a bit more complicated than this. This is largely because England has been invaded so many times throughout its history. Each set of invaders brought new words and new sounds with them. As a result, English only has around 44 phonemes but there are around 120 graphemes or ways of writing down those 44 phonemes! Obviously, we only have 26 letters in the alphabet, so some graphemes are made up from more than one letter.

Another slightly sticky problem is that some graphemes can represent more than one phoneme. For example ‘ch’ makes very different sounds in these three words: chip, school, chef.

So why bother learning phonics?

In the past, people argued that because the English language is so tricky, there was no point teaching children phonics. Now, most people agree that these tricky bits mean that it is even more important that we teach phonics and children learn it clearly and systematically. A written language is basically a kind of code. Teaching phonics is just teaching children to crack that code. Children learn the simple bits first and then progress to get the hang of the trickier bits.

Letters and Sounds

What is ‘Letters and Sounds’?

Oakhurst Primary School uses ‘Letters and Sounds’ as part of its approach to the teaching of phonics.

‘Letters and Sounds’ is a phonics resource published by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) in 2007. It aims to build children’s speaking and listening skills in their own right as well as to prepare children for learning to read by developing their phonic knowledge and skills. It sets out a detailed and systematic programme for teaching phonic skills for children starting by the age of five, with the aim of them becoming fluent readers by age seven.

What are the ‘Letters and Sounds’ phases?

There are six overlapping phases, as detailed below:

Phase One (typically, Nursery)

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.

Access the official ‘Letters and Sounds’ DfES Phase One materials by clicking HERE.

Phase Two (typically, Reception)

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.

Access the official ‘Letters and Sounds’ DfES Phase Two materials by clicking HERE.

Phase Three (typically, Reception, up to 12 weeks)

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.

Access the official DfES ‘Letters and Sounds’ Phase Three materials by clicking HERE.

Phase Four (typically, Reception, 4 to 6 weeks)

No new grapheme-phoneme correspondences are taught in this phase. Children learn to blend and segment longer words with adjacent consonants, e.g. swim, clap, jump.

Access the official DfES ‘Letters and Sounds’ Phase Four materials by clicking HERE.

Phase Five (typically, 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.

Access the official DfES ‘Letters and Sounds’ Phase Five materials by clicking HERE.

Phase Six (typically, Lower School)

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

Access the official DfES ‘Letters and Sounds’ Phase Six materials by clicking HERE.

What do all these different words mean?

There are many technical terms which are used in phonics. It can sometimes seem that teachers, teaching assistants and even pupils are talking in a different language, leaving parents and carers bewildered and confused.

Below is an explanation of the most commonly used phonics terminology:

Adjacent consonants

Two (or three) letters making two (or three) sounds.

Example: the first three letters of strap are adjacent consonants.

Previously known as a consonant cluster.


The process of using phonics for reading. Children identify and synthesise/blend the phonemes in order to make a word.

Examples: s-n-a-p, blended together, reads snap.

Consonant digraph

Two consonants which make one sound.

Examples: sh, ch, th, ph


The abbreviations used for consonant-vowel-consonant and consonant-consonant-vowel-consonant-consonant words, used to describe the order of sounds.

Examples: cat, ship and sheep are all CVC words. Black and prize could be described as CCVC words.


Two letters which together make one sound. There are different types of digraph – vowel, consonant and split.


A letter or group of letters representing one sound (phoneme)

Examples: ck, igh, t, sh


The smallest unit of sound in a word.


The process of using phonics for writing. Children listen to the whole word and break it down into the constituent phonemes, choosing an appropriate grapheme to represent each phoneme.

Example: ship can be segmented as sh-i-p.

Split digraph

Two letters, which work as a pair to make one sound, but are separated within the word.

Examples: a-e as in make or late; i-e as in size or write.


The process of using phonics for reading. Children identify and synthesise/blend the phonemes in order to make a word.

Example: s-n-a-p, blended together, reads snap.


Three letters which together make one sound.

Examples: dge, igh

Vowel digraph

A digraph in which at least one of the letters is a vowel

Examples: ea, ay, ai, ar

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