Phonics in the classroom

Back in 1965, International Literacy Day was declared by UNESCO; it falls on September 8th each year. The World Literacy Foundation has themed campaigns in line with this day each year, with the aim of increasing the availability of education to children in developing countries. This year, the theme is ‘The Sky’s The Limit’, inviting schools to participate in Literacy Day and promote literacy in wider communities.

The World Literacy Foundation‘s projects are wide and far reaching, with some of the most poorly resourced countries in the world benefiting from innovative programmes that bring libraries, digital technologies, community reading, and phonics into classrooms where it is most needed. The Fun of Phonics is one such programme, created by Australian primary school teacher Jody Unterrheiner. Using adapted phonics flashcards, Jody has created a buzz among Ugandan teachers who, upon implementing her programme, have seen the speed of learning gain momentum. The flashcards began life in Year 6 classrooms, and, over the next 18 months, the phonics programme became a part of the primary school curriculum. As a testament to its success and effectiveness, Jody was invited by the Municipal Education Office to teach the programme to Ugandan teachers.

The inspiring story of this project and the actions of educators in extending its reach underlines just how active phonics is in today’s classroom, no matter where in the world you are. So in the spirit of International Literacy Day, we’re heading back to basics. For anyone still not sure on phonics; read on to learn a little more.

Not All Phonics Are The Same
There are technically two types of phonics taught: synthetic and analytical. Analytical phonics teaches children to focus on the perceived most important sound or letter in a word and build on this to identify the word. Synthetic phonics, on the other hand, uses combinations of sounds made by single and multiple letters to help children in building words with units of sound. There isn’t a shortage on debate when it comes to which is most effective, and a quick Google of the two terms will retrieve myriad results either in favour of or rebuking each method.

Blending and Segmenting
Sounds like something you might do to fruit in the kitchen, but these are actually two of the three foundations used to teach phonics, the other being GPCs (grapheme phoneme correspondences). Blending and segmenting are opposites, the former being the ability to blend two or more sounds together to make a complete word, and the latter covering the skill of dismantling a whole word to identify the sounds within it.

The English Language Makes Phonics Trickier
The UK’s colourful history means that the language has changed and adopted new sounds along the way; the result is that there are 44 phonemes (units of sound) in the English language, and a whopping 120 ways of writing them down (graphemes). With only 26 letters in the alphabet, that’s quite a lot of letter combinations to remember, and is the reason why phonics is often broken down and taught in stages to build confidence.

Where can I find resources on phonics?
Phonics resources online are plentiful depending on what you want to find; more information about teaching phonics, or its effectiveness compared with other methods of learning to read. Here are a few we’ve found helpful.

Phonics Play
This colourful, vibrant website hosts a plethora of information for teachers and parents, along with guides on how parents can support their children in learning phonics, and printable activities and resources.

The School Run – Phonics Step by Step
This handy guide breaks down the stages of phonics in the order they are introduced to children. There is also plenty of related content linked on the page for further reading, including tips on boosting phonics confidence.

Jolly Learning – Jolly Phonics
Resources for teachers from Jolly Learning.

Communication 4 All – Phonics Plus
More printable resources (example pictured above).

What do you think about phonics – in particular, synthetic phonics? Let us know in the comments below, or come visit us on social media.

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