Teaching phonics - the basics

Talking about letter sounds

When people begin working on phonics it is easy to make small and basic mistakes that create confusions for children. One basic mistake is confusing letter names and letter sounds. Children need to be taught quite clearly that letters have a name and make a sound. For some letters, the name and the sound are quite similar (the letter ‘f’, for example, makes the sound at the beginning of ‘fish’). For others, the name and the sound are quite different (the letter ‘c’ makes the sound at the start of ‘cat’.

The complex orthography of English means that letters do not consistently make the same sounds (compare, for example, the ‘c’ in ‘cat’ and in ‘circle’ or the ‘s’ in ‘sea’ and in ‘sugar’). This can be confusing for children and needs to be acknowledged rather than ignored. It is particularly important to discuss it when children are doing activities such as the ‘sound bag’ or collecting objects beginning with a particular sound (perhaps to make a ‘sound table’).

Several phonics schemes such as Jolly Phonics begin by teaching children the sounds that letters make, and teach the letter names slightly later.