Lessons in Teaching Phonics

About the book

This book focuses on teaching and learning systematic synthetic phonics in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2, with additional attention given to the needs of Key Stage 2 children who have yet to master phonics at the required level.

There is a popular misconception that all teaching of early reading revolves solely around the development of children’s phonic knowledge. The English National Curriculum Objectives for Year 1 certainly emphasise phonic knowledge strongly. Look at the statutory requirements for word reading for Year 1.

Word reading:

  • apply phonic knowledge and skills as the route to decode words;
  • respond speedily with the sound to graphemes for all 40+ phonemes, including, where applicable, alternative sounds for graphemes;
  • read accurately by blending sounds in unfamiliar words containing grapheme–phoneme correspondences (GPCs) that have been taught;
  • read common exception words, noting unusual correspondences between spelling and sound and where these occur in the word;
  • read words containing taught GPCs and -s, -es, -ing, -ed, -er and -est endings;
  • read other words of more than one syllable that contain taught GPCs;
  • read words with contractions [for example, I’m, I’ll, we’ll], and understand that the apostrophe represents the omitted letter(s);
  • read aloud books that are consistent with their developing phonic knowledge and that do not require them to use other strategies;
  • re-read these books to build up their fluency and confidence in word reading.

(DfE, 2013, p20)

However, on the next page, the National Curriculum also emphasises comprehension.

Develop pleasure in reading, motivation to read, vocabulary and understanding by:

  • listening to and discussing a wide range of poems, stories and non-fiction at a level beyond that at which they can read independently;
  • being encouraged to link what they read or hear read to their own experiences;
  • becoming very familiar with key stories, traditional tales, retelling them and considering their particular characteristics;
  • recognising and joining in with predictable phrases;
  • learning to appreciate rhymes and poems, and to recite some by heart;
  • discussing word meanings, linking new meanings to those already known.

Understand both the books they can already read accurately and fluently and those they listen to by:

  • drawing on what they already know or on background information and vocabulary provided by the teacher;
  • checking that the text makes sense to them as they read and correcting inaccurate reading;
  • discussing the significance of the title and events;
  • making inferences on the basis of what is being said and done;
  • predicting what might happen on the basis of what has been read so far;
  • participating in discussion about what is read to them, taking turns and listening to what others say;
  • explaining clearly their understanding of what is read to them.

(DfE, 2013, p21)

Teaching phonics is not an alternative to teaching comprehension and developing children’s love of reading; it is an integral part of that process. It is important to remember this and constantly to keep in mind that learning phonics is a means to an end (good reading) rather than an end in itself. In this book, we examine what is needed to develop phonic knowledge and understanding, but we emphasise that this knowledge and understanding needs to develop alongside reading comprehension so that children are not only able to read by decoding words, but are also interested in and engaged by reading.

Chapters include activities, where appropriate, to enable you to check on your growing subject knowledge. We have also suggested further reading to help you to develop your understanding, and resources and websites that will support your work in the classroom.

In Chapter 1, we look closely at the teaching of reading and the place of phonics, providing some historical perspectives and demonstrating why it is so important that we teach reading well.

Chapter 2 places phonics firmly in the classroom context and provides a range of strategies for developing an environment in which children can learn successfully.

Chapters 3 to 10 provide lesson ideas and plans with clear explanations and guidance on subject knowledge needed for successful teaching and learning. Each lesson is placed in context and suggestions are provided for developing further lessons to take children’s learning forward. Because we are aware that schools and teacher training institutions have different ways of planning, we have tried to vary the format for lesson plans to show a variety of approaches.

Chapter 11 examines the anomalies in the English alphabetic system that can sometimes make teaching and learning phonics challenging. The chapter examines ‘tricky’ or ‘common exception’ words and ways in which we can help children to learn these.

Our final chapter, ‘Moving on’, looks at ways in which what has been studied in the previous chapters can be developed in a language-rich environment.

At the end of the book you will find a glossary of key terminology.

We hope that this book will help you to develop your subject knowledge for teaching reading and that it will provide you with ideas and strategies which will enhance your teaching and, most importantly, children’s learning.

David Waugh, Jane Carter and Carly Desmond

April 2015 


Department for Education (DfE) (2013) The National Curriculum in England: Framework Document. London: DfE.

About the authors

David Waugh is subject leader for Primary English at Durham University. He has published extensively in Primary English. David is a former deputy head teacher, was Head of the Centre for Educational Studies at the University of Hull, and was Regional Adviser for ITT for the National Strategies from 2008 to 2010. As well as his educational writing, David also writes children’s stories, including Lottie’s Run published in 2015.

David Waugh

David’s blog

Jane Carter’s teaching experience includes 20 years in local primary schools as a teacher, deputy head and then local authority consultant, before joining the University of the West of England to focus on Initial Teacher Education. She now combines her time at UWE with managing a Teaching School Alliance. Her passion is the teaching of English and in particular engaging children through children’s literature and motivating children as writers. Jane’s research concentrates on the teaching of reading and includes a European wide children’s literature project.

Jane Carter

Jane’s blog

Carly Desmond is an assistant head teacher at Flamstead End School. Her particular interest lies within phonics and early reading. In her role as literacy leader she has successfully supported staff in the training, planning and modelling of phonics lessons. This has led to successful phonic screening scores. Flamstead End School was also recently graded outstanding by OFSTED.

Carly’s Blog



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