Learning to Decode: Unlocking Letters and Sounds
A strong start in phonics
At the Whiteoak Academies, phonics is taught using the Unlocking Letters and Sounds programme, which was validated by the DfE in December 2021.
Discrete, daily lessons lasting 20-25 minutes begin at the start of Reception. To ensure that all members of staff who deliver the sessions teach confidently and with fidelity to the programme, we regularly access accredited training. This training also facilitates a high level of consistency in the delivery of phonics teaching, both within and across year groups.
Unlocking Letters and Sounds Progression
In Reception, children continue the Phase One journey started in their pre-school setting. This phase focuses on general sound discrimination (of environmental and instrumental sounds and body percussion), rhythm and rhyme, alliteration, voice sounds and oral segmenting and blending. The overarching aim of this on-going phase is for children to experience regular, planned opportunities to listen carefully and talk extensively about what they see, hear and can do. This phase forms the bedrock of developing children’s early reading.
Phase Two is taught from week 3 in Reception (as Phase One continues alongside). The purpose of this phase is to teach at least 19 letters, and move children on from oral blending and segmentation to blending and segmenting with letters.
By the end of this phase children should be able to read some VC (vowel-consonant) and CVC words and be able to spell these on paper or with tactile resources. During this phase, children will learn to read two-syllable words and simple captions as well as some high frequency and common exception words such as: I, the, to, no, go and into.
Four new phonemes are taught each week, with one day being regularly assigned to retrieval of the previous week's learning.
Set 1: s a t p
Set 2: i n m d
Set 3: g o c k
Set 4: ck e u r
Set 5: h b f, ff
Set 6: l, ll ss
At the Whiteoak Academies, Phase Three is taught in Reception from the first week of Term 2. The purpose of this phase is to teach another 25 graphemes, most of them comprising digraphs (two letters making one sound) and trigraphs (3 letters making one sound).
The children continue to practise CVC blending and segmentation in this phase and will apply their knowledge of blending and segmenting to reading and spelling simple two-syllable words and captions. Children will also learn letter names during this phase, learn to read some more common exception words and also begin to learn to spell some of these words.
Set 1: j v w x
Set 2: y z, zz qu
Set 3: ch, sh, th (voiced and unvoiced), ng
Set 4: ai, ee, igh, oa
Set 5: oo, ar, or, ur
Set 6: reading words containing –ing with no change to the root word. Assess and review phase 3 work from weeks 1-5
Terms 3 and 4
Set 7: ow, oi, ear, air
Set 8: ure, er, reading and spelling words containing digraphs and trigraphs
Set 9: review phase 3 work
For the remainder of Terms 3 and 4, the children will work to revisit sounds and common exception words that have already been taught as part of a mastery approach. By the end of this phase, the aim is that our children can represent each of about 42 phonemes by a grapheme.
Phase Four teaching commences in Term 5 in Reception. Phase Four comprises of a consolidation of children's grapheme knowledge with new exposure to CVCC, CCVC, CCVCC and CCCVCC words containing adjacent consonants. There is also a focus on polysyllabic words and the introduction of further common exception words.
In Year 1 Term 1 our children continue to master this phase alongside Year 1 National Curriculum Requirements, such as how to form plurals. For a full list of the phonemes and graphemes covered, please see the progression document above.
In Year 1, Term 2, our children begin their Phase Five learning. The purpose of this phase is for them to broaden their knowledge of graphemes and phonemes for use in reading and spelling.
In Phase Five (a), children will learn new graphemes for reading, for example ay as in ‘hay’ and oy as in ‘boy’. In this phase, they will also be introduced to split digraphs, such as the a-e in pane. This phase provides further practice in the reading and spelling of additional common exception words.
In Year 1, Term 4, our children begin their Phase Five (b) learning. In this phase, the children are taught alternative pronunciations of known graphemes, for example y as in ‘by’ and ‘gym’. This phase provides further practice in the reading and spelling of additional common exception words.
In Year 1, Term 5, our children begin their Phase Five (c) learning. In this phase, the focus is on the alternative spelling of phonemes, for example /ch/ as in picture.
In Year 2, Term 1, the children will revise Phase Five (a) and focus on Phase Five (b) mastery. In Term 2 they will complete Phase Five (c) mastery.
By the beginning of Phase Six (in Year 2, Term 3) the children will move onto learning spelling as per the National Curriculum Requirements. By this point our children should know most of the common grapheme-phoneme correspondences. They should by this point be able to read hundreds of words, doing so in three ways:
- Reading the words automatically if they are very familiar
- Decoding them quickly and silently (as their sounding and blending routine is well established)
- Decoding the words aloud
It is during Phase Six that many of our children become fluent readers and they will start to read longer and less familiar texts with independence. The shift from learning to read to reading to learn is taking place.
We recognise that for some less fluent and less confident readers, their recognition of graphemes consisting of two or more letters is often not automatic enough at this point. We understand that the necessity for complete familiarity is essential and put into place interventions to support them with this. These children will also benefit from rereading shorter texts several times in order to experience what fluent reading feels like.
Phase Six also focuses heavily on the teaching of spelling, with a particular focus on: forming the past tense, adding suffixes and the application of spelling in writing.
Phase 2 and Phase 3 Action videos
Watch the videos, to see some of our children in action practising their Phase 2 and Phase 3 phonemes.