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Reading & Phonics

Learning to Read

Reading is probably the most important skill that a child will learn in primary school.  It opens up a whole new world of learning and imagination.

At St Mary's, children are taught to read using a range of different approaches. This includes Phonics Skills for decoding, using Picture and Context clues and learning High Frequency Word recognition.


We use a range of reading schemes which are matched to the needs of the reader. These include phonetic story books and books with a more story-based approach.


Phonetic books are used to give children early success using their phonic skills. The majority of words in these books can be decoded by sounding out the letters in each word and blending the sounds together. We use a range of schemes, mostly from "Oxford Reading Tree". When children can read phonetic books well they will move them onto a story approach (sometimes alternating between reading a phonetic book with a story approach book).


Story approach books have been designed for children to read using a range of different skills. Children will be reading using a whole story approach and will be using pictures and context clues to make sense of the text. Children will need to be able to read for meaning to fully access these books. Story approach books have far less words that can be decoded phonetically and children will be asked to recognise much harder words from early books (words such as ‘Kipper’, ‘children’, ‘barbecue’) in the context of the story. These books require a whole different range of skills. Children need to know that some words can be sounded out, some words are ‘remembering words’ and some words can be guessed in the context of the sentence or by using picture clues.


Please note that children should not be purely kept on phonetic books once they start to read independently. They will think they can read everything but they will only have experienced one set of skills. They need a range of skills to read effectively at a higher level.


Helping your child at home:

Please read with your child regularly at home.


What to do if a child gets stuck on a word

  • Encourage the child to find clues in the pictures as to the meanings of words.
  • Suggest that he reads to the end of the sentence if a word is unclear - this might help with the meaning of the word.
  • Ask the child “What would make sense there?” and encourage guessing.
  • If the child gets really stuck on a word, you could give him the first sounds to help him. Break the word down into smaller parts (syllables) if that helps.
  • Read the word for him if that helps the flow.
  • If the child guesses a word, and it’s nearly right, and fits the sense, let him go on with the story.


  • Read along with the child if he is nervous
  • Re-read familiar books to increase the child’s confidence
  • Praise the child for getting a word right
  • Aim to make the reading experience fun, cosy and time together you enjoy.


Guidelines for sharing a book with a younger child

  1. Ask child the title of the book.
  2. Can child tell you something about the story – before they begin to read?
  3. Ask child to point to each word as they follow the text.
  4. Encourage child to work out words for themselves – or even just the beginning sound.
  5. Encourage child to use picture clues with their reading.
  6. If they finish the book they are reading – play the game “Find the Word” ask them to find random words in book, eg she, went etc. or go through word cards by making it into a game (ask class teacher for ideas).
  7. If a child reads a book easily, ask them to tell the story in their own words or to think of a different ending.
  8. For children with longer texts – read part of the book and ask child to tell the rest of the story in their own words.
  9. Write a constructive comment in reading diary – eg X was able to recognise words at random today, X was able to recognise initial sounds.
  10. Some children may only be looking at picture books – so encourage them to talk about what is happening in the pictures.
  11. If sharing a familiar story e.g. Goldilocks and the Three Bears, encourage children to join in repeated phrases.


Guidelines for sharing a book with older children

  1. Discuss about the book and ask the title.
  2. Can the child tell you the author or find the name of the author?
  3. If the child is well into the story can they tell you about the main character(s)?
  4. Can they tell you what has happened so far in the story?
  5. Can they predict what might happen next?
  6. After reading can they answer questions on what has been read?
  7. Do they understand the message in the story?
  8. Encourage child to work out new words – breaking down into phonemes (sounds).
  9. Have a dictionary at hand and encourage child to write down and look up maybe two new words as this will help extend vocabulary.
  10. If they finish book they are reading, ask if they enjoyed it/which bit they most enjoyed.  Ask them what was their favourite section?  Why?  If they did not enjoy it – encourage them to say why?

At St Mary's we use the Letters & Sounds programme to teach phonics.


What is Letters and Sounds?

Letters and SoundsLetters and Sounds is a phonics resource first published by the Department for Education and Skills in 2007. It aims to build children's speaking and listening skills in their own right as well as to prepare children for learning to read by developing their phonic knowledge and skills. It sets out a detailed and systematic programme for teaching phonic skills for children starting by the age of five, with the aim of them becoming fluent readers by age seven.


There are six overlapping phases. The table below is a summary based on the Letters and Sounds guidance for Practitioners and Teachers. For more detailed information, visit the Letters and Sounds website.




Phonic Knowledge and Skills

Phase One (Nursery/Reception)

Activities are divided into seven aspects, including environmental sounds, instrumental sounds, body sounds, rhythm and rhyme, alliteration, voice sounds and finally oral blending and segmenting.

Phase Two (Reception) up to 6 weeks

Learning 19 letters of the alphabet and one sound for each. Blending sounds together to make words. Segmenting words into their separate sounds. Beginning to read simple captions.
Phase Three (Reception) up to 12 weeks The remaining 7 letters of the alphabet, one sound for each. Graphemes such as ch, oo, th representing the remaining phonemes not covered by single letters. Reading captions, sentences and questions. On completion of this phase, children will have learnt the "simple code", i.e. one grapheme for each phoneme in the English language.

Phase Four (Reception) 4 to 6 weeks

No new grapheme-phoneme correspondences are taught in this phase. Children learn to blend and segment longer words with adjacent consonants, e.g. swim, clap, jump.
Phase Five (Throughout Year 1) Now we move on to the "complex code". Children learn more graphemes for the phonemes which they already know, plus different ways of pronouncing the graphemes they already know.
Phase Six (Throughout Year 2 and beyond) Working on spelling, including prefixes and suffixes, doubling and dropping letters etc.