Synthetic phonics breaks words up into the smallest units of sound (phonemes), rather than chunking words into onsets and rimes, as in analytic phonics.

E.g.

‘slip’ is broken up as s-l-i-p,  rather than sl (onset) – ip (rime)
‘light’ is broken up as l-igh-t, rather than l (onset) – ight (rime)


Children are taught the graphemes (letter(s)) that represent these phonemes (grapheme-phoneme correspondences (GPCs)). They also learn to blend phonemes into words for reading and segment words into phonemes for spelling.

The Rose Review of the Teaching of Early Reading found that whilst analytic phonics works, synthetic phonics works much better.

Segmenting words into phonemes:

A change in phoneme is often (but not always) indicated by a lip/tongue/throat movement. Practitioners who have taught analytic phonics in the past are often unsure where to break words into phonemes and can revert back to chunking sounds eg ‘st’, ‘ip’.  When you say ‘st’, your tongue comes up to the roof of your mouth to form the /t/, so /s/ and /t/ are separate phonemes. When you say ‘ip’, your lips move together to pronounce /p/, so /i/ and /p/ are separate phonemes.

The hippo on the home page demonstrates how some words are segmented into phonemes. Some other examples are listed below:

b-oy
c-ow
m-i-ss
wh-i-zz
s-t-u-m-p
i-ll
s-t-r-i-ng
s-p-l-i-t
f-l-i-ck
l-igh-t
t-r-y
s-w-ee-t
sh-ou-t
f-ir-s-t
p-l-ay-g-r-ou-n-d
p-a-ss-p-or-t
d-eer
m-i-s-t-y
r-e-s-c-ue
c-oul-d
p-l-ea-se
c-a-tch
kn-ee
l-a-mb
f-l-y-i-ng
w-i-n-d
r-o-bb-er
p-u-n-i-sh-m-e-n-t
f-ea-th-er
th-ir-t-ee-n
f-l-i-ck
kn-u-ck-le
a-f-t-er-n-oo-n
n-e-ph-ew
w-i-n-d-m-i-ll
p-ai-n-t

Graphemes:

A grapheme is a representation of a phoneme. There are 3 key facts to remember about graphemes:

  1. A grapheme can be represented by 1/2/3/4 letters. The following are all graphemes
    p, t, ai, ll, ck, sh, igh, eigh, ough
  2. A phoneme can be represented by different graphemes. The following words all contain the /ai/ phoneme, but it is represented by a different grapheme in each word:
    angel, late, train, lay, eight, straight
  3. A grapheme can represent more than one phoneme.
    ‘ea’ makes a different sound in ‘bread’ and ‘mean’
    ‘i’ makes a different sound in ‘milk’ and ‘mind’

Click here to go to a page listing many of the common graphemes. You can click on them to hear which phoneme(s) each represents.

Categorising words for the purposes of teaching synthetic phonics:

Words are categorised according to the phonemes (sounds), not the letters. ‘C’ represents a consonant phoneme and ‘V’ a vowel phoneme. The following categories are used:

CV eg day (d-ay)

VC eg it (i-t), arm (ar-m)

CVC eg cat (c-a-t), duck (d-u-ck), shark (sh-ar-k)

CCVC eg green (g-r-ee-n), stop (s-t-i-ck)

CVCC eg lost (l-o-s-t), milk (m-i-l-k)

CCVCC eg ground (g-r-ou-n-d), stamp (s-t-a-m-p)

Synthetic phonics terminology:

The following terms are used when teaching synthetic phonics. Those marked with a star can be used with the children from YR onwards. Other words are just used when practitioners are discussing synthetic phonics/reading teachers’ notes etc

phoneme*
The smallest unit of sound in a word.

grapheme*

Letter(s) which represent a phoneme/sound.

grapheme-phoneme correspondence (GPC):
The relationship between a phoneme and a grapheme. Children need to be able to write/find a grapheme in response to the phoneme and say the phoneme(s) when looking at a grapheme.

digraph*  
     
Two letters which make one sound eg ‘sh’, ‘ai’, ‘ph’

trigraph*   
Three letters which make one sound eg ‘igh’

split digraph*   

(used to be known as magic ‘e’). 
A vowel digraph (eg ‘ie’) which is split up by another letter eg 'time’,make’.

blend/cluster

Two (or three) letters making two (or three) sounds eg lost, sprite.

blending*
Reading the letters in a written word eg b-a-t, and merging them to
pronounce the word (‘bat’).  This skill is needed for reading.

segmenting*  
 
Identifying the individual sounds in a spoken word (eg b-a-t) and writing
down or moving letters for each sound to form the word (‘bat’). This skill
is needed for spelling.