Teaching phonics - the basics

The literacy environment

Literacy teaching starts with the classroom environment. There should be plenty of attractive books (fiction and non-fiction) and a comfortable area where the children can gather to read, as a class, a group or individually. There should be posters, alphabet friezes, labelled displays, word walls and labelled resources, all of which create a print-rich environment.

Ideally there should be lots of language resources, including phonic resources such as games, magnetic, felt and wooden letters and individual whiteboards for children to ‘have a go’. Days could start with some songs, nursery rhymes or a language game. For some children these reinforce their phonemic awareness, for other’s they are essential in continuing to give them vital early language experiences they still need. A role-play area can be set up to provide a context in which they can see and use reading and writing (and mathematics). Ideas for example are a hospital, or a fairy tale cottage where a notice on the door saying Just gone for a walk can turn it into the Three Bears’ cottage, one saying Lift up the latch and walk in can turn it into Grandma’s cottage, an invitation in the letter box can turn it into Cinderella’s kitchen and so on.

There should always be writing materials in this area and the children can use their phonic knowledge as they write out a shopping list for mummy bear or a ‘do not disturb’ notice for Grandma’s door. There could be a puppet theatre with a range of puppets including a ‘Word Wizard’. A Word Wizard’s cloak is relatively easy to make with letters scattered over it. The Word Wizard takes part in many of the phonic games and attempts at blending and segmenting. He can help, prompt and demonstrate. There could also be a ‘Baby Word Wizard’ (who has a different coloured cloak and an L-plate) who often gets things wrong or gets stuck. The children will love helping him out.