#FocusOnReading No.6 – Phonics

You know that feeling of waiting for the bus? You wait for ages and then two arrive at the same time! Here at Primary English HQ we’ve had a similar experience with phonics training over the past few weeks. We hadn’t done any for what seemed like an age, and then in the past few weeks it’s been the most popular request coming into the Primary English office. We’re not complaining: we love phonics and recognise the significant role that good phonics teaching plays in teaching young children to read. As we’re holding our autumn term #FocusOnReading, it seems appropriate that our recent flurry of phonic activity should prompt a blog post on the subject.

At Primary English we like to deliver training that meets the needs of each of the schools with which we work. This means every training package, including our phonics training, is unique. Yet whilst different, each phonics course holds true to the principles of good phonics teaching; some of which we share here.


Perfect pronunciation.

Teachers, you’re busy people and I hate the thought of you wasting your time but poor pronunciation of phonemes does just that. If phonemes are accompanied by the ‘uh’ schwa vowel, all too quickly b-u-t becomes a dairy-based spread rather than a useful co-ordinating conjunction. This video from the Letter and Sounds Phonics Programme is an invaluable for checking the purity of your pronunciation.

Delightful diction

When teaching phonics your diction needs to be delightfully divine. The beginning, middle and end of every word needs to be enunciated with clarity and precision. Slurring sounds or relying on glottal stops can negatively impact on the ability of your children to hear each sound you pronounce.

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Fuss free phonics: resources and advice

Phonics,what’s all the fuss about?

Well to start with there’s the ongoing debate between those who love it and those who don’t – ‘The Reading Wars’. All that hot air about over-reliance on one strategy; all those high frequency words that aren’t phonically regular; oh and all those opinions about nonsense words. A quick Google search about phonics can open up a regular kan of wurms on this topic. The incredible thing is, when we wend our way round our schools this isn’t the part of phonics that gets educators steamy under the collar? Yes, we do talk to teachers who worry about the regulated vocabulary of phonics reading books. Consequently we end up talking about exposure to rich literature and the importance of a spine of quality texts in every school. However, we rarely meet a colleague who wants to debate the importance of phonics for reading . Teachers know it is an important part of teaching children to read. Not the only part – but the building blocks.

What we find is that teachers want to know how to make their phonics lessons better; how to get the children to apply what they’ve been taught in other parts of the curriculum; and how to make phonics fun with the minimum of fuss. To help those teachers  we’ve gathered together some resources and advice for you below.

So, how can we help you with your fuss free phonics?

1. Pronunciation – this is crucial. Phonic pronunciation must be correct from both the teacher and the children (the DVD from the National Strategies Letters and Sounds is really useful here). Don’t let it slide in other lessons either – ensure that all adults working with children across school know how to accurately pronounce each sound. One of the most important parts of phonics application is making sure that everything present in the phonics lesson is present in the environment for the rest of the day. Correct pronunciation is a FREE, cross-curricular, easy to apply aspect of phonics that if done well has audible impact.

2. Engage the children in interactive activity. Don’t over rely on the IWB here – make sure that all children are learning. One child coming up to the screen one at a time is not interactive. Use games and talking partners. Give the children ‘busy fingers’: by this we mean get something in their hands such as magnetic letters, mini-whiteboards and pens, phoneme frames and the sound buttons we referred to in our Thrifty Blog.

3. Ensure consistency across the school. From the terminology you use to the displays on your wall; they should be the same from YR-Y2 and beyond. Phonics friezes, in particular, work best when in a similar format across the year groups, including KS2. Think about all the teaching spaces used for phonics – the conventional and unconventional nooks and crannies of the school. Do the children in these groups have equal access to supportive mobile resources? Do you ensure that once back in their ‘home class’ they have access to the supportive resources that they need; whatever level? Our Phonics Phase 2 Mat is a handy resource included in our Phase 2 Starters Pack for ensuring that children can access the phonemes they need, wherever they are working.

4. Plan a range of activities across each session and across the week. Make sure you have a balance of blending and segmenting; a mix of different games; and a variety of multi-sensory activities to suit all learning styles. Children love to play games and a few games taught well, then adapted to fit new sounds, go a really long way. Our Phonics Donkey game supports Phase 5 Letters and Sounds. By changing the graphemes included in the game to match what has been taught during the week means this game can be used throughout the phase. You can also use games like Phonics Donkey to consolidate learning by using them as morning work when children arrive at school, or independent activities during guided reading or key skills sessions.

5. Make your sessions lively and fun, children learn more when they are engaged. Make sure that your phonics session catches their imagination. We’ve collated some useful Phonics websites and resources here on a Pinterest board which may help you to keep the fun in your fuss free phonics.

We hope these ideas help you get the most from phonics.

 Rachel Clarke and Charlotte Reed, Primary English Consultants




Thrifty teaching – saving money and time

Picture the scene. It’s an ordinary morning, in an ordinary office, in an ordinary city in the English Midlands, when two quite extraordinary Primary English consultants arrive at work.

Ooo, nice new frock!” exclaims one.

Sainsbury’s,” replies the other, “A right bargain. 25% off! Anyhow, what’ve you got for lunch?”

Soup – homemade. It cost me about a £1.00 for the whole batch.”

Welcome to our world. A world of bargains, thrifting and saving a penny or two so we can spend (no pun intended) our summer holidays sipping sangria and sunning ourselves. The thing is, we’re not on our own. We know that lots of our readers are just as thrifty as us and constantly have one eye on the reductions aisle in the hope of that must-have-classroom-resource- bargain. So, here’s a little round up of thrifty tips to save teachers time and money.

Displaying books face-out so that children can see them can be quite costly. Not though, if you wash, dry and turn upside-down all those Muller corner yoghurt pots. Now there’s a reason to indulge in a sweet treat at lunchtime!

Ikea’s Tolsby picture frames  are great for table top displays. Think: group lists, key vocabulary, monitor lists, key facts… and these little gems come up trumps every time. At just £1.00 for two is it any wonder that we see them in classroom all over the midlands?

Now this may be a literacy inspired blog but we do like to help with mathematics too from time to time. Egg boxes are a must for thrifty pedagogues looking to teach arrays. Egg box arrays used to be strictly multiples of 2, 3, 4, 6 and 12. Not these days! You can now regularly source egg boxes in 4’s, 10’s and 15’s – count on! Don’t forget they’re also rather useful for creating the pneumatic jaws of crocodiles, dragons, dinosaurs or mythical beasts – depending on your cross-curricular links between literacy and technology.

Do you need to display phonemes, high frequency words, maths vocabulary, number facts but don’t have much wall space? Clothes peg hangers (the sort you may use to hang out your socks) are perfect for this. Wilko do them for £2.00 each.

Whilst we’re talking about socks, if you don’t have a box of old socks in your classroom cupboard can I urge you to start collecting them now. Their uses are infinite. Just a few things I’ve used them for are: maths – just think pairs, two times tables, remainders and they’ve earned their place on your shelf already. Add in the obvious sock puppet dimension and they really should be upgraded to a labelled box. If you’ve managed to use different socks to create a character – just think ‘who would wear a pair of socks like these?’ – then you should get your socks one of those very lovely lidded plastic cartons and add a nicely laminated WordArt label. A colleague I’ve mine even used odd and holey socks as mini-whiteboard erasers! Definitely better than the school sweatshirt cuff preferred by most seven year olds and cheaper than the ones that get lost down the back of the bookcase.

Reception colleagues spend a lot of time encouraging children to add sound buttons to words in order to blend and segment. Who’d have thought the brightly coloured lids from plastic milk cartons could be recycled as sound buttons for group and whole class phonics lessons? Well I wouldn’t until I saw it taking place in a school here in Coventry. That’s an idea that’s ‘gotta a lotta bottle’!

I am intrinsically a lazy so-and-so. As a classroom teacher I always had a lovely classroom full of ever-changing displays. I managed this through cunning and idleness. After backing the display boards I used to add triple-mounted laminated paper ‘frames’ – they were slightly larger than A4 and perfect for blue-tacking on examples of children’s work. I had the frames for years and was able to change the content of my displays on a regular basis for the minimum of effort. When ‘working walls’ came into vogue I added to my laminated frame collection with some A3 examples, so that I could stick up examples of that day’s whole-class work whilst keeping the boards neat and tidy. At the end of the week I could take down my ‘working wall’ ready to start again.

Thrifting for me is not just about saving money. It’s also about saving time which is why I wrote this blog post about a brilliant little book that helps you make the most of your precious time.

Getting web savvy is one of the best ways to save time and money as a teacher. Visit blogs and teacher websites and ‘harvest’ as many ideas as you can (This blog by Isabella Wallace is an inspiration for teachers looking to make the most of their local pound shop.) Think about setting up a Dropbox, Evernote or Google Drive account with colleagues so you can share and amend documents as a team. We do this all the time and it really is very useful. Sign up to TES connect and gain access to thousands of teacher-made resources (you may even want to upload some of your own too). Use our Pinterest boards – we made them to save your weekends and we’re adding to them all the time.

And as a final word – share your ideas. Teachers love tricks, tips and advice and when it includes saving time or money they love it even more.

Keep saving those pennies and add your money-saving tips below.

Rachel Clarke – Primary English Consultant