Answers to the most frequently asked questions about synthetic phonics.
What is synthetic phonics?
What is analytic phonics?
In analytic phonics, words are analysed to identify what they have in common eg dog, duck, danger all start with /d/.
Onsets and rimes are another feature eg
When this set of words is analysed, they are found to have ‘ip’ in common. This part of the word is known as the ‘rime’. This letter string has to be remembered by the children. The other letters are known as onsets. Where there are 2/3 letters forming the onset (eg sl, cl, tr above), these blends also have to be remembered by the children.
The disadvantage of this approach is that children have to remember a lot of unnecessary units (eg ‘ip’). In synthetic phonics these are separated into separate phonemes (eg /i/, /p/), which the children already know.
I am finding it difficult to segment words into phonemes. Have you got any advice?
See the about synthetic phonics part of this site for guidance.
There is also a useful interactive part of the old Progression in Phonics and Playing with Sounds CD-ROMs, entitled ‘Principles of the phonic code’. (NB: This is one of the only sections of these materials which is still valid). It contains a variety of word sorting activities, which correct you if you make a mistake!
What does it mean when I see // around a letter(s)?
This refers to the phoneme/sound represented by those letters, but not that particular representation. Eg the following words would be categorized as containing /ai/, even though only one of them contains those specific letters (/ai/ has been underlined in each word):
day make straight rain eight
I am not sure how to pronounce the phonemes/sounds correctly. How can I find out?
The link below will take you to a page where you can select a a grapheme/set of graphemes and listen to the sound(s) associated with each. NB: There may be some regional variation in pronunciation, but the important thing is not to pronounce 'uh' on the end of each sound.
I come from a different country/part of this country to the children I teach and pronounce many words differently. Will this cause a problem?
It shouldn’t cause a problem. Sometimes differences are due to the pronunciation of a letter which is written, but not always voiced eg some parts of the country pronounce the ‘g’ at the end of ‘sing’, whilst others don’t. Where this occurs, it often helps children with the spelling, as they can clearly hear a letter which needs to be written.
Differences in pronunciation mostly affect vowel sounds. Just be aware of the sounds you pronounce differently. Children are very adaptable to accents and you can say ‘I say it……. You say it………..’.
How often should I be teaching phonics?
A daily 15-20 minute whole class session in YR and Y1. In Y2 it depends on the current level and needs of the children.
Some children will also need additional sessions (usually with a TA or SENCO). This input should be at a lower level, matched to the needs of the children.
Can I use big books to teach phonics?
Big books should not lead the content of your phonics teaching (as they may have done in the past). That will now be done by the synthetic phonics programme your school has chosen. However, you should be finding opportunities within your shared texts/big books for the children to apply the phonic knowledge/skills you have taught them in the discrete session. Identify appropriate words in advance and mark these up in some way (eg putting a thin strip of a post-it note underneath the identified words and adding sound buttons on top with a pen). When you reach one of these words when reading with the children, everyone stops and blends it.
Should I start by teaching initial sounds in YR?
What a lot of teachers mean by this is getting children to identify words which start with a given letter. It is often incorrectly assumed that GPCs are taught in this way. In fact, recognition and recall of GPCs is knowledge that can be taught separately to the skill of hearing the initial sound.
When children enter YR, teachers need to identify which children can hear the first sound of a word eg that cat starts with /c/. No letters should be involved with this. NB There are a considerable number of children that can do this on entry (especially if FS1 settings have done a lot of work on this). If the majority of children can’t hear the initial phoneme, then time needs to be spent working on Aspect 5 of Phase 1 of Letters and Sounds. However, if the majority of children can do this, the practitioner needs to start teaching GPCs at the same time as blending and segmenting whole words.
How can I introduce so many GPCs each week? I have a lot of children who won’t cope with this.
Most children cope very well with learning GPCs at this rate. (Using home school sound books also helps considerably with this). There will be a few children who do not remember many of the GPCs introduced and they will need ADDITIONAL practise to that provided in the discrete session. These are children who would probably have had difficulty however slowly you had introduced the GPCs. The advantage of this method is that they are identified very early on in school, so intervention can start much sooner. Some of these children catch up with their peers over a few months, others make slower, but steady progress and the rest may turn out to have longer term reading difficulties.
Can I still get children to bring in objects from home for a sound table?
As we are now introducing GPCs at a very fast rate (one a day), this is not going to be practical. Also, the aim of synthetic phonics is to teach children to recognise and recall GPCs and blend and segment words. A static collection of objects doesn’t do this. However, whilst working at Phase 1, a mixed collection of objects could be placed on an interactive sound table and sorted according to initial phoneme. Early in Phase 2, a similar collection could be used in conjunction with 2/3 graphemes. Children then have to sort the objects according to whether they can hear those sounds anywhere in the names of the objects. Children enjoy replaying phonics activities done in whole class sessions, so consider having an interactive sound table where they can do this.
Is is still OK to get children to think of words beginning with a particular sound (and possibly draw and label pictures)?
No! The whole point of teaching synthetic phonics is to improve the children’s reading and spelling. Thinking of words (and possibly drawing pictures of them) does not do this. Also, children are unlikely to generate words of the type you are currently teaching them to blend/segment. Eg if you are teaching simple CVCs containing ‘ch’ (eg ‘chip’), a child might suggest ‘cheese’, ‘chocolate’, ‘change’ and these are totally inappropriate for their blending and segmenting skills at this point.
How often should I be assessing the children’s phonic knowledge and skills?
There should be assessment opportunities every day. During the discrete phonics teaching session there are opportunities for teachers/TAs to observe the children’s phonic knowledge and skills, particularly when engaged in ‘show me’ activities, such as writing words on whiteboards, finding a GPC on a fan etc. When the children read to you, you will notice which types of words they successfully/unsuccessfully blend and which GPCs are known/unknown. When writing with a group of children (in any area of the curriculum), you will notice which types of words they can/can’t successfully segment and which GPCs they can recall. Assessments can also be made when observing the children writing in the role play and writing areas; when playing with practical phonics equipment eg magnetic letters etc.
When should I introduce letter names?
Check the synthetic phonics programme your school uses to find out when the letter names should be introduced. Most programmes introduce the sounds of the single letters before focusing on the names. In LaS children start learning the names at the beginning of Phase 3, but really only use them when they are describing the letters in a digraph/trigraph.
Eg. 's' (name) and 'h' (name) make the /sh/ (sound).
Eg. The best bet for /ai/ (sound) at the end of a word is 'a' (name) 'y' (name).
Words should always be blended/segmented using sounds, not names.