Stuff I Like,  Words,  Work

Learning to Read

Phonics Phases

Children need to see that individual sounds (phonemes) make up the words we speak. The different shapes the letters form are called (graphemes). They are taught to understand that the letters they see correspond to the sounds they represent. It’s not easy though, because the grapheme/phoneme correspondence can be irregular. For example the ‘C’ and ‘K’ can have the same sound, yet they look different when written down.

Children begin to learn the sounds of the alphabet first rather than the names. Rather than saying the letter ‘Bee’ for the letter ‘B’, they are taught to pronounce the sound first. This approach makes learning to read easier. Once some individual sounds are learned, the child can start blending them together ”sss” ”a” and ”mmm”, making the word ”Sam”.

The graphemes are introduced in a logical sequence gradually, using the ones that represent the same sounds, and then they move towards ones with irregular spellings. This system of learning is usually split into phonics phases.

Phase 1/Skill Development

Phonological awareness is the ability to discriminate between different sounds, such as different endings to words like ”cat” and ”cup”. As children listen to songs, music and everyday language and interactions, they slowly begin to develop this skill and become aware of shapes and being able to see the difference between objects. This is usually taught early on, with parents and teachers making the contributions.

Phase 2/The first letters

Children will now be introduced to the first graphemes and the sounds they represent. These may be single letters like ”p” or ”a”, or ‘two-letters-one-sound’,Ā  like ”ck”. Children are taught to blend these sounds together as soon as they have learned them. For example, ”p” ”a” ”nnn”, making the word ”pan”. The Department of Education recommends that 19 graphemes are introduced in Reception (ages 4/5).

Phase 3.

Another 25 graphemes are introduced, which include single letters and digraphs (groups of letters) which represent a single sound. Consonant digraphs like ”sh” and ”th” come first, and then digraphs containing vowels only, like ”oo” and ”oa”. Children then learn sight words, or ‘tricky words’. These cannot be sounded out phonetically and include words such as ‘the’, ‘you’, ‘one’,Ā  and so on.

Phase 4.Ā 

Children continue to learn more sight words and practice their new skills, blending groups of consonants, such as ‘ng’, ‘tr’ and ‘str’.

Phase 5.Ā 

Once children can read words without sounding them out, they will learn more vowel digraphs and different ways to write the same sound, and different ways to pronounce them. Examples are the ”ea’ in head, bleak and meat. They will also learn split digraphs in this phase, such as ‘a-e’ with the consonant missing such as ‘k’. I’ll provide a link with more information on split digraphs.

Phase 6.

Children are now able to read words automatically and decode them without sounding out. They will now improve their reading skills and fluency by reading a wide variety of material. This develops their writing and spelling accuracy.

Take a look at this YouTube video that is used to teach children sight words or tricky words. Children love it, because the song is incredibly catchy. You’ll be humming it all day, I’m sure. I do!!

Take a look at Alphablocks..

And Jolly phonics. There are resources you can find for this system of learning.

Happy learning xx

PS..BBC Bitesize is excellent too.



I am a mother of two children, and have had many experiences in my life that I have been through and had to overcome. I feel it would be beneficial (at least to me, and perhaps you) to share my experiences. Iā€™d love to hear your comments and suggestions. x


  • Unwanted Life

    I don’t remember learning to read at all, I think my mum taught me rather than my school though, which might explain why I struggle with it ha ha ha. I think I needed to read this to realise what I’m missing from my own reading and writing ability. Dam dyslexia

  • Amna

    This is very different to the way I was taught how to read as a child! Good summary, I will need to bookmark this post for whenever I have children šŸ™‚ valuable information, thanks for sharing

  • Mark Crone

    Fascinating to read and see how children are taught to read. It certainly wasn’t as well thought out when I was a youngster. God bless teachers and the vitally important work that educators do!

  • Clarissa Cabbage

    I’ve taught at the college level and have written many a lesson plan and even curriculum for all kinds of classes, but I have never really given much thought how we learn to read. I don’t have kids, and I knew how to read before going to kindergarten. So this is interesting, thank you!

  • Charity

    This is so informative, thanks for sharing all this. That is so awesome that you work in education. I bet that is very rewarding teaching children how to read!

  • Smelly socks and garden peas

    The article should be shared with all parents of preschool and reception children. My mum taught reception children so I had a fair idea before my oldest started school, we always sounded the letters not their names when playing aged 2+. But so many toys and resources use capital letters and letter names, it must be really confusing.
    But all parents need to know these basics – I know a mum who, to encourage her daughter to read, left her notes in her lunch box saying things like “have a lovely day at school and be really good, if you read this you’ll get a prize later” when the little girl was in reception.
    My 5yo is at about stage 5 at the start of year 1 and I’m so impressed with his reading, the doors that are opening for him are so exciting – all the magical worlds of adventures and facts he’ll soon be able to discover. Their school does Read Write Inc and I love it – we’ve had the set 1-3 sounds on the kitchen wall for 5 years now!

  • Natasha Evans

    This was such an interesting post! It’s funny as you almost forget that there was a time before you could read and write and it’s amazing to think that we all started with these basic steps!


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