A guide to phonics: what is it, what are the benefits and why is it so important?

A guide to phonics: what is it, what are the benefits and why is it so important?

Reading, writing, speaking & listening. These four words play such a pivotal role throughout our lives and are critical during childhood development.

One way of developing these skills is phonics. An essential way of helping children how to read, write and spell, phonics has grown in importance over recent years. It is a great teaching method as it helps simplify the English language and is perfect for young children.

But what exactly is phonics, why has it become so important to the teaching of English, what are the benefits to teaching phonics, how is it taught in schools and what resources are available to help teach it? This article will give you everything you need to know about phonics.

Why is teaching phonics so important?

The English language is complex. There’s plenty of words with the same spelling that mean different things (homographs) including bat (sports equipment or an animal) and wave (a hand greeting or action of the sea. There’s also lots of examples of words that sound the same but are spelt different (homophones). One such example is buy, by and bye. Whilst all pronounced the same, they have very different meanings.

What’s more, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary there are around 470,000 entries within the English language. This is a similar number reported by the Oxford English Dictionary. Compare this with the Spanish language’s reported number of words, around 93,000 and you can see the challenges this might pose to children.

So the English language is complex. It’s essential, therefore, that there’s an easy to understand way to teach English. This is where breaking down words into more manageable chunks and phonics comes in.

What is phonics?

In order to develop a complete understanding of the English language, children must be able to grasp and master key skills. They must be able to recognise letters; they must be able to turn these letters into words; and they must be able to turn words into sounds and make sense of these sounds.

It is essential for children to learn the relationship between letters and sounds due to the fact that the English language relies heavily on letters to represent sounds.

Phonics is the process of teaching children how to achieve this. Throughout phonics learning, children are taught to identify letters and the subsequent sound that accompanies that letter. What’s more, they learn how a change in letter order affects a word’s meaning. Put simply, phonics is a method that helps children decode words using sounds or, phonemes to give them their correct name.

How is phonics taught in schools?

Whilst there may be over 470,000 words in the English language, there are only 44 phonemes in total. Teaching children the core basics when you’re focussing on a core 44 therefore becomes a lot simpler. There are three basic stages in which phonics is taught: Grapheme Phoneme Correspondences (GRCs), Blending, and Segmenting.

Stage 1: Grapheme Phoneme Correspondences (GPCs)

In this stage, children are taught the 44 phonemes that make up the English language. The first sounds that are taught are s, a, t, p and all are taught during this stage. The below graphics give a full overview for your reference.

Stage 2: Blending

Once children understand the 44 phonemes and how they interact with graphemes, they progress through to the blending stage. As a key reading skill, children must learn how to blend individual sounds together to create words.

This normally starts with simple three letter words with a CVC (consonant, vowel, consonant) structure – think dog, tin, buy. As they develop their understanding, additional consonants are added to create CVCC words such as barn, last and palm.

Stage 3: Segmenting

The segmenting stage is the opposite of the blending stage. Essentially during the segmenting stage, children say entire words and then break them down into the individual phonemes that make them up.

This is the basic process that we will all go through when learning to spell a new or complicated word, regardless of our age or stage of language development. We will break the down into its individual parts or sounds.

What are the benefits to teaching phonics?

As previously highlighted, the teaching of phonics involves breaking down more complex words into the individual parts. By doing this, children develop the ability to decode letters and sounds, an essential skill when learning new vocabulary when reading.

Whilst phonics is a perfect way to teach younger children, typically aged between 4-7 years old, it can also be used at any age. In the UK, teaching phonics has been proven to raise the standard of literacy and reading. Since 2012, the percentage of children achieving the expected standard in phonics has grown from around 60% to over 80% in 2019.

The teaching of phonics has also been backed up by scientific studies, such as this one from the University of Royal Holloway London. It found that the phonics teaching method had a profound impact on the accuracy of reading aloud and comprehension when compared to children who focussed on the meanings of new words. Put simply, children who were taught by focussing on the meaning of the words were much less accurate in reading aloud and MRI scans also found that their brains had to work harder to decipher what they were reading.

What resources are available to help teach phonics?

There are a wide variety of educational resources that have been developed to help teach phonics, both inside and outside the classroom. Here are just a few of our favourites to help you take your phonics lessons to the next level…

Electronic Phonics

This innovative tool introduces gamification to your phonics lessons and can be used individually or in small groups. It’s perfect for teaching phonics at all levels and provides a new spin on phonics learning and intervention.

Phonics Manipulatives

Versatile, reusable and multiuse manipulatives such as Click It and Multiphonics® are perfect for helping children learn the different phonics sounds, understand word formation and broaden their vocabulary.

Flash cards

Perfect for tailoring your lessons to suit the individual demands of your classroom, flash cards are a great tool for us in phonics-based games. One way is by challenging pupils to read as many as they can whilst competing against the clock. Can they beat their score from last time?

Outdoor phonics

Phonics doesn’t just have to be taught in the classroom. In fact, taking phonics lessons outside and engaging with phonics physically can help bring learning to life. Resources like the Phonics Spots, Click It Jumbo Word Building and the Tricky Word Pebbles have all being designed to help reinforce phonics learning in a lively, fun and memorable way.