Teaching phonics - the basics

Take a critical look at activities and worksheets

To use phonics effectively, children must be taught to hear the phonemes in words, to hear the sequence of phonemes and to know and be able to write the letters and letter combinations that commonly represent those phonemes in written English.

We all know that teachers must actively teach and cannot expect activities and worksheets to do the job for them. Some activities and worksheets may give opportunities to clarify understandings and to practise and consolidate knowledge. To be sure of this, however, practitioners need to look analytically at the talking and the thinking that the worksheet or activity promotes in practice. There are several drawbacks to using worksheets as the mainstay of a phonics programme.

One is that ‘doing’ the worksheet often involves spending less than a minute thinking about the sounds and the letters; the bulk of the time is spent colouring in the pictures. Another potential problem is that many phonics worksheets can be completed purely on the basis of visual information; the child can correctly match-up similar letters without ever thinking about how the word sounds, how it is articulated or connecting the phonemes with the letters that represent them.