Guest Blogpost: Teaching Phonics (Miss Mustard Teaching)

Hi everyone! My name is Kirstin from missmustardteaching and this is my third year teaching. This post is all about phonics and how to teach it.

Introducing sounds

When teaching phonics, each sound is introduced individually. I use “sounds” here to refer to phonemes, the smallest unit of sound in the English language. For example, the word cat has three sounds; c, a and t. The word “ship” also has three sounds; sh, i and p. Different schools may teach sounds in different orders. One example of this is using the Jolly Phonics progression, which teaches sounds in families which allow children to start blending (reading) as soon as possible.

There are four main skills to teach when learning a sound. 

  1. Learning to recognise and say the letter sound.
  2. Learning to form the letter.
  3. Hearing where the sound is in a word – is it at the beginning, middle or end of a word?
  4. Blending letters to read words (e.g. d-o-g makes dog).

Sounds can be introduced in a fun way with stories and characters. For example, for the sound l, the teacher could find lots of lolly sticks and pretend that the puppet has licked them all!

As children get more confident with their phonics knowledge, they will begin to blend words themselves. Before this you can blend the word for them and see if they can identify the word. 

Digraphs

Sounds can be made up of one or more letters. The example I used above (sh for ship) is a digraph. A digraph is when two letters join together to make one sound. I use this terminology with the children, and they can explain what a digraph is. The digraphs you teach may depend on where you live. In England the digraphs er, ar, ur, and ir are taught, as in fern, farm, urn and bird. In Scotland those digraphs do not need to be taught, as most accents sound those out, heavily emphasising the r! But in north-east Scotland, where I live, the wh sound could be taught, as people here tend to pronounce it differently. Trigraphs are where three letters make one sound (e.g. igh).

Teaching ideas

There are so many amazing ideas out there for teaching phonics, and you can look on Instagram, Pinterest and teaching websites to find them. However, I will list some here that I really like for a start!

  • 4 in a row/roll and read is where children roll a dice and read a word off a numbered grid. In my class I get them to colour the box in, and then the next child has a go. The first child to colour in four boxes in a row wins! (Or if you’re not ready for them to finish then I get them to change colour of pencil).
  • Rainbow writing – the children practice writing the sound or words containing that sound in lots of different colours.

  • Use magnifying glasses to find the sound in their reading books or a piece of text. This is a little more advanced if your class can’t read yet, but they love using the magnifying glasses!
  • Writing the sound in rice/sand/shaving foam or other sensory materials. The possibilities are endless!
  • Writing the sound in a novelty way linked to the sound, such as writing ch in chalk, creating b with bricks, or writing p with paint.
  • Read for understanding is nice and simple – the children read a word/sentence with the sound and then draw a picture to show their understanding.

Tricky words

Tricky words (also known as sight words or fast words) are words that cannot be sounded out using phonics knowledge. These are words such as the, she, some, and was. Children need to recognise these words by sight, and know that these words “trick” you, and the sound is not what to expect. For example, the e in she sounds like an ee. A lot of the ideas above can be adapted to learning tricky words as well.

Moving forward

Once children have been taught their basic sounds, they can progress onto spit digraphs (magic E), alternate digraphs (like ay instead of ai) and specific spelling rules.

I hope this blog post has helped some people learn more about an introduction to phonics!