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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) PHONICS

How much time should I devote to each stage of phonics?


It depends on your child’s age, learning style and speed – but, at each step, provide enough practice for your child to master the letter or sound before giving her any more free choice in what to do next.


How much time you spend on each, when you begin, and how long each lasts depends on material and student factors such as: age and grade starting test scores focus and size of the phonics program proportion of bright to slow students amount of support time available to the teacher and more. With no guidelines, you will probably start where most teachers begin, groups 1 and 2: Phoneme awareness. Phonics instruction can have two starting approaches. One approach emphasises what is easy – the ability of students to recognize individual speech sounds (phonemes). This approach begins with phoneme awareness. The other approach, known as the whole word approach, focuses on the development of whole-word recognition skills and sight words, taught first. The purpose of this guideline is to describe a natural progression when learning to read that interrupts the whole word approach until it is complete, and then builds upon it. When starting with phoneme awareness, the diagram below is commonly used to sequence phonics instruction.


Step 1 – Letters and Sounds (Pre-Phonics/Early Phonics): if your child is very young or just starting out, this stage could be as little as two or three weeks, but it’s more likely to be a few months. These lessons (15-20 minutes a day, maybe more depending on your child’s attention span) should be brief and fun activities, giving children an introduction to letters and the sounds that go with them.


Blending and Segmenting (CVC Words): When the majority of letter sounds have been learned and mastered, blast off on blending sounds into simple words and segmenting words into individual sounds. This stage usually lasts 1-2 months as you practice daily for a total of 20-30 minutes per session.


DIGRAPHS AND TRIGRAPHS: You might want to cover these more complex consonant combinations over another 1-2 months. The lessons can be extended slightly as children’s attention spans increase, but the more active and interactive the lessons are, the better.


Understanding Long Vowel Sounds (eg, ar/air, or ee/ee) and Complex Vowel Graphemes (eg, ar/air, or ee/ee).T4: 2-3 months. Learning new and more difficult concepts requires longer periods of consolidation, so some reading practice built into the context of each lesson is a good idea. Resist the temptation to continue straight into writing at this stage. Lesson times need to be extended to spend at least 30-40 minutes on each aspect.


Advanced Phonics Skills (eg, Alternate Spellings, Prefixes, Suffixes): This final stage should continue throughout schooling with supplemental practice that is woven into broader language arts instruction. Emphasis should shift still more towards incorporation of phonics skills into activities such as reading and spelling, rather than isolated phonics lessons, even though some directed instruction might be warranted in the case of areas of lingering difficulty.


At all these stages, the speed at which you move on will have to be informed by what your students have learned along the journey; regular checks, both formal and informal, will help you decide when it’s time to revisit, consolidate or move on. Above all, remember the ultimate aim of phonics instruction: as so wonderfully summed up by Frank Smith in his overview of The Phonics Primer (1991), we are ‘creating agile, free and avid readers of English’. It’s much more important to be sure they are mastering each stage as they go along than ensuring that you stick to someone else’s timetable.


What strategies can I use to help my child retain what they learn?


If at first you don’t succeed, repeat, repeat, repeat! Practice techniques that build repetition, like word unscrambles, fill-ins, and matching games. He also suggests supplementing these activities with visual aids; for example, print out a series of flashcards with a different word on each page, or have your child memorize a series of letter of combination cards that he can lay flat on a table and mix up a bit.


To support your child’s retention of learning – reading and phonics especially – try the following:


Repetition and practice: revolving and sounding the word, repeating it numerous times Memorizing and storing words in our ‘hard drive’ or long-term memory requires regular repetition and review, returning to sounding previously sealed words often. While poor eyesight is obviously a challenge in reading English, it had an unexpected benefit, which I only realised in hindsight Now, the question is, how can you make that repetition engaging? One way is by frequent use of games, flashcards and reading activities that incorporate these gems.


Multi-Sensory Learning: Use multiple senses at the same time. For phonics, that might be saying sounds aloud, tracing letters in sand or with finger paints and using letter cards or blocks. These different experiences ‘file’ the learning in more than one place inside the brain so that will more likely stick.


Encourage moments of real-life application where your child can use their newfound phonics to read road signs, labels and simple books, learning to apply what they learned when it matters to them – in context.


Reading Aloud, Storytelling and Reading Stories Together: Read out loud to and with your child frequently, and read a mix of well-known books and new books while discussing the stories and the words – this will support comprehension and extend vocabulary, all adding to phonic understanding and a love of reading too.


Chunking and structuring: Dividing up learning into small chunks. In the case of phonics, this means a small set of sounds or rules at a time. Structuring learning in a systematic and logical way can help a child to build their knowledge over time.


Exemplification: Mnemonics are memory devices, like the tune of a song or rhyme, an image linked with a theme, or a sound associated with a word. They make remembering easier and more fun.


Interactive and Collaborative Learning: Get your child to learn from others whether through group games, paired reading, or family literacy activities. Social interactions can improve learning. They can make it stick.


Positive Feedback and Praise of Effort and Efforts: Give immediate feedback and praise of efforts and effortful achievement. Positive reinforcement of effort and achievement is one of the strongest tools to encourage persistence and commitment, important elements of learning that remains over time.


Set a routine: try to carve out the same learning routine every day for your child, allowing time for review and new learning. Routines feel predictable for children and help make them feel safe, enabling them to focus and learn.


Make it Personal to Your Child: Find ways to relate what your child is learning to her personal interests. For example, you can use animal books, stories and phonics games if your child loves animals. Kids are more motivated and remember better when they are learning about something they actually care about.


These techniques can help you foster a supportive learning experience that helps to cement what your child learns and put it to use, while making reading and phonics both fun and rewarding.


How to turn learning phonics into a family game?


Find a few family game nights where everyone can play Scrabble, Boggle, or other letter-based games. Come up with a word search or crossword to complete online or on paper. Songs and poems are great for getting the whole family to practice their phonics!


Try turning phonics learning into a family game to involve your child and reinforce learning. Here are some tips to make phonics a family affair:


Phonics treasure hunt: Hide a simple letter or word in a spot around your house or garden, with clues hinting at the spelling. Start with a phonics question and a yes/no answer and work up to real words.


Sound Bingo: Make bingo cards for either phonemes (sounds), graphemes (letter or letter combinations) or words. Call out the phonemes or show the sound-symbol correspondence cards and players cross off the sounds they recognise on their bingo cards. The first to complete a line wins. This game can be adapted to any phonics level from pure letter sounds to complex digraphs or trigraphs.


Phonics ‘I Spy’: Play I Spy with a phonics spin on it. ‘I spy with my little eye something that starts with the /s/ sound!’ Help reinforce initial sounds with this game, and switch it up to ending sounds, or medial sounds, depending upon your child’s stage.


Word Building Challenge: Word families are the perfect solution to rough letter tiles, truncated word cards, or set-up malfunctioning word magnets. Use letter tiles, cards, or magnetisable letters to challenge your family to build words out of your letter set. Play for speed (timed), or see who can build the most words. This is fantastic blending and segmenting practice.


Create a collaborative story where each participant adds a sentence that follows a phonics rule. For instance, if the phonics rule is words with an ‘ai’ sound, then have everyone write only sentences with an ‘ai’ sound, like rain.


Phonics Fishing: Create fishing game with fish made of card cutouts that have letters or words. Stick a paper clip to the back of each fish and tie a magnet on top of a bit of string as a fishing rod. As each fish is ‘caught’, your child must say the sound, blend together the sounds or read the word, whatever is on the fish.


Letter‑Sound Cooking: Make or bake something together, choosing a recipe that starts with a sound or letter of the week. For example, if you are working on /b/ and are making brownies, you might name other things that start with that sound, or team up to make bread or banana muffins and talk about the words and their letter‑sound while you cook.


Phonics Karaoke: Make a song or change a song they already know the words to, adding in the phonics feature you’re focusing on. Everyone sings together, and singing makes everything more fun… and memorable.


Word-Relay: The relay kicked off with an ‘R’ word! Make sure that presents a challenge by sending it to the next player, who will repeat the mission but with a different letter! From sifting through the vast array of household magazines, notebooks and manuscripts, ultimately paring it down to a mouse-clicked, glitch-free PDF of my completed assignment, which – I could say, with a sigh of relief – was my first attempt at such an endeavour!


A Guess the Word Game: an acting out of a word without saying it, with others guessing the word; concentrate on words with specific phonics rules that you have been practising.


Not only is adding phonics to family game night a great review of the material, but it also shows your child how much you value their education. It’s great family time!


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