Teaching phonics - the basics

Make the purpose of phonics lessons explicit

Everyone learns more effectively when they understand how the learning will be useful and can link the learning activity they have been set with wider, more general experiences. This matters because children need to apply new knowledge many times before it moves from working memory to long-term memory and becomes effortless and automatic.

Sometimes links that seem obvious to practitioners are less obvious to children, who often ‘ring-fence’ knowledge and see it as only applicable to particular activities or situations. Thus, the links between phonics lessons, reading and writing need to be demonstrated and followed through to make the wider applications completely explicit. Children need to be shown how phonics is useful, and this must be integral to the teaching session, rather than an ‘afterthought’ at the end of the lesson or a separate lesson. It also means that children should be coached in using their knowledge during real-life writing and reading tasks, not just on games, worksheets and activities.

It is always good practice to ask children to suggest when they will be able to use and apply what they have learnt: it helps to make the links explicit, encourages a disposition for seeing links and encourages children to take responsibility for, and notice opportunities for, their own learning. Incidental comments by adults are also a powerful influence on the learning ethos in class. Teachers and classroom assistants who point out and encourage children to apply their learning to new activities, and who notice and compliment children when they spontaneously make such links, help create this ethos.