Displays and Resources for Phonics Teaching
A quick glance around a classroom gives the observer a good idea of how reading in particular, but writing as well, is valued by the teacher and school. Below are some ideas for resources and displays that create a rich language environment.
Displays of children’s writing
Valuing children’s writing from the earliest stage and making this value evident in the classroom is one essential ingredient of the language-rich classroom. These sorts of displays are often linked to topic-based displays that contain key vocabulary. Whatever the topic or classroom focus for a week or term, the language and key vocabulary of the topic needs to be made visible for children. It is really helpful to have this vocabulary on hook-and-loop fastener backed cards, so that words can be taken from the display to the child’s writing area or taken by the teacher and studied together as a class, looking closely at how the word is spelled and how it is read. It is the interactive nature of the display that makes it useful and avoids a display becoming the backdrop to learning rather than an integral part of the learning.
The phonics grapheme chart or wall display
Most phonics schemes have matched resources including wall displays that consolidate the particular ‘hooks’ of the programme. The ‘hook’ refers to the way that the scheme supports children’s memory of the grapheme–phoneme correspondences (GPC). For example, the Jolly Phonics scheme has wall charts with the rhyme, picture and song associated with each grapheme; so ‘a’ has a picture of an ant and a picture of a girl making the action of ants running up her arm. In the Read Write Inc. programme (Miskin, 2011) the grapheme is accompanied by a short phrase and picture, so the ‘ay’ grapheme has a picture of children playing and the phrase, ‘May I play’. For a child, the introduction of graphemes is much like introducing mysterious black squiggles on a page and so the ‘hook’ gives children another anchor for remembering each GPC – often children will forget the sound the grapheme makes, but on recognising the ‘hook’, the picture or rhyme they are reminded of the associated sound.
It is important to be aware that it is not just about having the charts available, but about the deliberate teaching of how to use these charts when stuck in reading or writing. When modelling reading, it is sometimes a good idea to model what to do when you get stuck on a word and in this modelling process to wonder out loud how you will ‘work it out’. Refer to the wall chart to show what you do when you can’t remember a particular grapheme. Using puppets or special toys – for this often captures the imagination of younger children – the puppet struggles to read a word (or spell a word) and the teacher can help the puppet by taking him/her to the wall display and showing the puppet how to use the phoneme chart to help. The aim is for children to use the environmental displays independently as they are reading and writing.
Best guess displays
In Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 children are learning the alternative graphemes for each sound (Phase 5 of Letters and Sounds) (DfES, 2007). For example, if I want to spell a word with the ‘ay’ sound in it, I need to know the possible options for spelling it: ay; ai; a-e; eigh; a; and the list goes on. Having the choices made visible is a first step in selecting the correct choice, and so a readily accessible complex grapheme chart that displays the common representations of each sound is very useful to have in the classroom, both on the wall and on tables.
However, some choices are more common than others and some choices can be determined by the position of the sound in the word. For example, the ‘best guesses’ for spelling the ‘ay’ sound at the end of a word is ‘a-e’ or ‘ay’ rather than ‘ai’, which is more likely to be found if heard in the middle of the word. The Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) suggest including wall displays that make these ‘best guesses’ visible, for example a display of fish of different sizes, the biggest fish with the most common spelling of the grapheme and a slightly smaller fish with the second most common spelling and so on. Each fish also has some additional helpful information about where in the word it is most commonly found. Details of the ‘best guesses’ can be found in the ‘rules and guidance’ section of the Spelling appendices in the National Curriculum (DfE, 2013, pp50–72).
Again, as with the phonics chart displays, children need to be directed to use these independently. During shared writing, part of the modelling of writing needs to include the teacher showing how to use the ‘best guess’ display; wondering out loud the thought processes of spelling a word and choice making where there is more than one possible grapheme for the sound needed.
Role play areas
These provide rich language contexts for reading and writing. The role play area should be ‘drenched’ in language, including key vocabulary, captions and labels. They offer children real audiences and purposes for reading and writing. Watch the clip of children in the role play area which is set up as a travel agent’s, at
This shows how the children draw on and apply their knowledge of phonics, reading and writing, as well as their real life experiences of a travel agent. It is important to note that, just like the other examples in this section, the children’s interactions haven’t happened by accident; they happen because of careful planning by the teacher. It is likely that children have been taken to a real travel agent; they will have had time to talk about this experience with the teacher highlighting and recording key vocabulary; the teacher will have modelled how to behave in the role play area, e.g. by demonstrating to the children how to flick through a box file scanning the contents until the right card is found; by modelling how to record details of a proposed trip using the pro-forma prepared, including modelling the process of thinking aloud about grapheme–phoneme correspondences needed to complete the form. All of this teaching will have happened within the context of play, with the teacher ‘playing’ alongside the children.
The book corner
A language-rich classroom should have children’s literature in all its forms at its heart. The OFSTED report Excellence in English (2011, p2) noted that
Schools that take the business of reading for pleasure seriously, where teachers read, talk with enthusiasm and recommend books, and where provision for reading is planned carefully, are more likely to succeed with their pupils’ reading.
Gambrell (1996, p20) identified some key factors in developing reading: a teacher who is a reading model; access to a book rich classroom environment; being able to choose books oneself; being familiar with books; social interactions with others about books; incentives that reflect the value of reading. The book corner needs to be the hub of the activity that OFSTED and Gambrell identify.
Clearly, the book corner needs to be stocked with books that are of interest to children, and so it is important to both know your children and know children’s books. Cremin et al. (2008) identified that teachers’ knowledge of children’s literature tended to be quite narrow and that they relied on books they had read as children to use in the classroom. While keeping up to date with children’s literature and reading can be time consuming alongside planning, marking and assessment, it needs to be viewed as integral to teachers’ subject knowledge of the teaching of reading. This knowledge is part of the planning process. One way to keep on top of the volume of wonderful children’s literature is to keep an eye on children’s book award pages. The UK Literacy Association (UKLA) children’s book award is a good starting point (see www.ukla.org/awards).
One of the criteria for this award is writing which offers language rich in layered meanings, imaginative expression and exciting vocabulary. Where present, high quality illustration is also an important feature of the chosen texts. The book corner offers ways for children to apply their phonic learning in context, both in terms of reading and writing. Consider encouraging writing in the book corner using the following ideas:
- a message board where children can write about their favourite book;
- sticky notes available that children can write on and then stick on their favourite page of a book with a message for the reader who finds it;
- strips of card that can be put around a book with readers’ views, or book jackets made by the children. Hardback books often come with a book jacket, but these can be made for paperback books too, and enable children to decide what they would put on the front cover, the blurb at the back, and their reviewer comments;
- posters sharing the author of the week;
- pieces of card available for children to note down their favourite words or phrases;
- a reading tree, with leaves available to stick to the tree with recommendations and pictures of favourite parts.
The book corner also needs to include all sorts of other authentic texts: leaflets; cinema guides; maps; recipes; magazines; newspapers; school newsletters as well as electronic texts.
Games and activities in and outside the classroom
There are lots of published games, but games can be made and adapted to match the context of topics or role play areas. Children in the early years (or Key Stage 1 and 2) can be encouraged to access these independently or they can be used to support teaching and assessment if a teaching assistant, adult volunteer or the teacher leads them. Try the following ideas.
Make a number of fishing rods with paper clip hooks on the end. In a bucket or sugar paper pond, put a number of paper fish with small magnets attached. Each fish has a decodable word on it. Children ‘fish’ for the fish and keep their fish if they are able to sound and blend the word. Play the game a number of times, moving children from sounding and blending to automatic decoding, i.e. able to read the word without needing to sound and blend.
Provide children with lots of objects to sell in a shop. Tell the children the shop labels with their prices have become detached and their job is to match the label to the object. This works well when setting up a shop role play area.
Create a Twister mat (originally produced by Hasbro), a mat divided into a number of squares. Rather than colours, each square has a word written in it. Have a replica small board and a die. Roll the die and whichever word it lands on is where the first child puts his or her left foot – the child has to read and confirm the word before standing on it. The die is rolled again and this indicates where the right foot should be placed and so on.
Write a list of outdoor ingredients children need to collect to create a special potion. This might include: 3 sticks; 2 scoops of mud; 1 leaf; 1 snail; 3 ants. Link this idea to stories like George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl to give it a real context. Ensure that the words selected are phonically decodable at the phonic phase the participants are learning.
Many of these games and more can be found at www.pininterest.com
Search for phonics games. Most of these are things you can make yourself, especially if you filter the games using the DIY tab
Cremin, T, Mottram, M, Bearne, E and Goodwin, P (2008) Exploring teachers’ knowledge of children’s literature. Cambridge Journal of Education, 38(4): 449–64.
Department for Education and Skills (DfES) (2007) Letters and Sounds: Principles and Practice of High Quality Phonics. London: DfES.
Department for Education (DfE) (2013) The National Curriculum in England: Framework Document. London: DfE. Available at: www.gov.uk/dfe/nationalcurriculum [accessed 18 May 2015].
Gambrell, LB (1996) Creating classroom cultures that foster reading motivation. The Reading Teacher, 50: 14–25.
Miskin, R. (2011) Read Write Inc. Phonics Handbook. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
OFSTED (2011) Excellence in English: What We Can Learn from 12 Outstanding Schools.
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