First of all, what is synthetic phonics?


It is a technical name and nothing to do with being artificial. The synthetic part refers to synthesizing or blending sounds to make a word.  Phonics is a method of teaching children how spoken words are composed of sounds called phonemes and how the letters in words correspond to those phonemes. The process of reading involves decoding or ‘breaking’ words into separate phonemes, so that meaning can be gained.

On the other hand, the process of spelling requires the writer to identify all the phonemes in a word and then use their knowledge of the phonemic code to write or ‘make’ the word.

English is essentially a code that can be encoded (written) and decoded (read). We need to teach children this code with as much emphasis as possible on the rules and regularities of the written language.

Children are taught that we can make a word from the sounds and then break it apart again when we want to spell it.  Spelling and reading are taught together but children’s may be better at reading before spelling or vice versa.

Written English is recognised as being a complex language. We have 26 letters but 44 phonemes in the spoken language. There are a huge number of letter combinations needed to make these 44 phonemes (a phoneme is the technical name for the smallest unit of sound).

Letters and sounds


‘Letters and Sounds’ is a government produced synthetic phonic teaching programme.  Throughout the six phases children will be taught the 44 phonemes.  It is important to remember that there are alternative spellings to these graphemes.


There are six phases in which the children are introduced to all 44 phonemes and corresponding graphemes starting with the most familiar grapheme for each phoneme first.


Synthetic phonics starts with ‘phonemic awareness” which is hearing the different sounds in a word and the matching of these phonemes to single letters. At the same time it shows how these phonemes (sounds) can be 'blended' to produce words and the words can be ‘segmented’ to write.


Your child will learn simple letter to sound correspondence.  This is when a phoneme is represented by a single letter as in the word /c/ /a/ /t/.  When that’s mastered your child will learn that sometimes one phoneme is represented by two letters (digraph); as in the word /ch/ /o/ /p/ ; where /ch/ is only one phoneme (sound).


Then after that, even though at first it may sound confusing, your child will learn that sometimes a single phoneme can be represented many different ways.  Like the sound /ay/ in play.

Your child will eventually learn that this phoneme can be written;

/ay/ as in the word play

/a-e/ as in the word spade

/ea/ as in the word break

/ey/ as in the word hey

/eigh/ as in the word eight

/a/ as in the word later

/ei/ as in the word vein

Finally your child will learn that sometimes a single (or more) letter may represent more than one phoneme; for example, the ‘o’ in /most/ and the ‘o’ in /hot/ or the ‘ow’

in /wow/ and the ‘ow’ in /tow/.

This can be confusing but with the structure and regularity of letters and sounds almost all children will pick this up.

What do all these technical words mean?

What are vowels and consonants?

The letters a, e, i, o, and u are all called vowel letters. They are in most words. The can make a short vowel or a long vowel sound. All other letters are called consonant letters.


What is a phoneme? 

It is the smallest unit of sound and a piece of terminology that children like to use and should be taught.  At first it will equate with a letter sound but later on will include digraphs, trigraphs and quadgraphs.  For example, the word ‘dog’ consists of three phonemes /d/ /o/ /g/. The word charm also consists of three phonemes /ch/ /ar/ /m/.


What is a digraph? 

This is when two letters come together to make a phoneme (two letters, one sound) ‘oa’ makes the sound in boat.


What is a trigraph? 

This is when three letters come together to make a phoneme (three letters, one sound) ‘igh’ makes the sound light.


What is a quadgraph? 

This is when four letters come together to make a phoneme (four letters, one sound) ‘eigh’ makes the sound in eight.


What is a grapheme?

A grapheme is a letter or group of letters that represent a sound (phoneme) in a word.


What is segmenting?

Segmenting is breaking up words into sounds. For example, the word ‘run’ can be split into three sounds       /r/ /u/ /n/.


What is blending? 

Blending is the process that is involved in bringing the sounds together to make a word or a syllable and is how /c/  /a/  /t /  becomes cat.


What is a syllable?

A syllable is a single, unbroken sound within a spoken word. They typically contain a vowel and perhaps one or more accompanying consonants. Syllables are sometimes referred to as the ‘beats’ of a word, and breaking up a word into syllables can help with phonetic spelling.


What is a prefix?

A prefix is a group of letters than can be added to the beginning of a root word. For example, dis+appear = disappear, im+possible = impossible.


What is a suffix?

A suffix is a group of letters that can be added to the end of a root word. For example, fast+er = faster, sad+ness = sadness.


It is not important to know all the jargon. It is important to try to use the same words your child is being taught at school.

It is also important to know how to pronounce each of the phonemes correctly.

Phase One of Letters and Sounds concentrates on developing children's speaking and listening skills and lays the foundations for the phonic work which starts in Phase 2. The emphasis during Phase 1 is to get children attuned to the sounds around them and ready to begin developing oral blending and segmenting skills.

Phase 1 is divided into seven aspects. Each aspect contains three strands: Tuning in to sounds (auditory discrimination), Listening and remembering sounds (auditory memory and sequencing) and Talking about sounds (developing vocabulary and language comprehension).

In Phase 2, letters and their sounds are introduced one at a time. A set of letters is taught each week, in the following sequence:

Set 1: s, a, t, p
Set 2: i, n, m, d
Set 3: g, o, c, k
Set 4: ck, e, u, r
Set 5: h, b, f, ff, l, ll, ss

The children will begin to learn to blend and segment to begin reading and spelling.  This will begin with simple words.


Words using set 1

at sat pat tap sap



Words using set 1 and 2

(+i) (+n) (+m) (+d)
it an am dad
is in man sad
sit nip mat dim
sat pan map din
pit pin Pam did
pip tan Tim Sid
sip nap Sam and
tip tin dip

Words using sets 1-3




(+o) (+c) (+k)
tag got can kid
gag on cot kit
gig not cop Kim
gap pot cap Ken
nag top cat
sag dog cod
gas pop
pig God
dig Mog




Words using set 1-4

(+ck) (+e) (+u) (+r)
kick get up rim
sock pet mum rip
sack ten run ram
dock net mug rat
pick pen cup rag
sick peg sun rug
pack met tuck rot
ticket men mud rocket
pocket neck sunset carrot



Words using set 1-5

(+h) (+b) (+f and ff) (+l and ll) (+ss)
had but of lap ass
him big if let less
his back off leg hiss
hot bet fit lot mass
hut bad fin lit mess
hop bag fun bell boss
hum bed fig fill fuss
hit bud fog doll hiss
hat beg puff tell pass
has bug huff sell kiss
hack bun cuff Bill Tess
hug bus fan Nell fusspot
Ben fat dull
bat laptop


Alongside this, children are introduced to tricky words.  These are the words that are irregular words.  That means that phonics cannot be applied to the reading and spelling of these words.

The tricky words introduced in phase 2 are:

to the no go I



By the time they reach Phase 3, children will already be able to blend and segment words containing the 19 letters taught in Phase 2.

Over the twelve weeks which Phase 3 is expected to last, twenty-five new graphemes are introduced (one at a time).

Set 6: j, v, w, x

Set 7: y, z, zz, qu

Consonant digraphs: ch, sh, th, ng

Vowel digraphs: ai, ee, igh, oa, oo, ar, or, ur, ow, oi, ear, air, ure, er

Tricky words:

we me be was no go  
my you they her all are

By Phase 4 children will be able to represent each of 42 phonemes with a grapheme.  They will blend phonemes to read CVC words and segment CVC words for spelling.  They will also be able to read two syllable words that are simple.  They will be able to read all the tricky words learnt so far and will be able to spell some of them.

This phase consolidates all the children have learnt in the previous phases.

Tricky words:

said so she he have like  
some come were there little one
they all are do when out
what my her      

By this point children would be expected to be reading CVC words at speed along with the tricky words from the previous phases.  It is important that children are taught that blending is only used when a word is unfamiliar.

Children will be taught new graphemes and alternative pronunciations for these graphemes and graphemes they already know.  They will begin to learn to choose the appropriate grapheme when spelling.  The children will be automatically decoding a large number of words for reading by this point.


Tricky words:

oh their people Mr Mrs looked
called asked        
water where who again thought through
work mouse many laughed because different
any eyes friends once please  

New graphemes for reading:

ay day oy boy wh when a-e make
ou out ir  girl ph photo e-e these
ie tie ue  blue ew new i-e like
ea eat aw saw oe  toe o-e home
    au  Paul u-e rule

By this phase children should be reading words fluently and no longer be blending and segmenting familiar words.

The real focus throughout the phase is to not only learn the new graphemes for reading but also to learn to read words with alternative pronunciations.  Children also will need to learn alternative spellings for each phoneme.

In phase 6 children will be reading longer and less familiar texts independently and fluently.  It is crucial that at this point children are now reading to learn and reading for pleasure.

Children should be able to read the 300 high frequency words.  At this point it is important that comprehension strategies are developed so that children clarify meaning, ask and answer questions about the texts they are reading, construct mental images during reading and summarise what they have read.

In spelling children are introduced to the adding of suffixes and how to spell longer words.  Throughout the phase children are encouraged to develop strategies for learning spellings.


Strategy Explanation
Syllables To learn a word by listening to how many syllables there are so it can be broken into smaller bits. (e.g. Sep-tem-ber)
Root Words To learn a word by finding its root word. (e.g. jumping - root word jump +ing
Analogy To learn a word, I can use a word I already know to help me (e.g. could: would, should)
Mnemonics To learn a word by making up a sentence to help remember them. (e.g. people - people eat orange peel like elephants)