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A Guide to Phonics & the Year 1 Phonics Screening Check

phonics screening check
Here’s our Comprehensive and Easy Guide to Phonics and the Year 1 Phonics Screening Check for NQTs & parents.

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A Guide to Phonics & the Year 1 Phonics Screening Check

Here’s our Comprehensive and Easy Guide to Phonics and the Year 1 Phonics Screening Check for NQTs & parents. 

What is Phonics?

Phonics is the principle technique used to teach children in reception and year 1 to read.

It runs alongside other teaching methods such as Guided Reading and Shared Reading to help children develop all the other vital reading skills and hopefully give them a real love of reading.

Phonics was implemented in schools following the Rose Review in 2006. The report had very clear instructions about the teaching of early reading. This was very welcome as there was a lot of confusion about what schools should be doing to teach reading.

What are Phonemes?

Phonics teaches children to read by teaching them the sounds that make up the English language. These sounds are called “phonemes”.

Some examples of phonemes are:

1 letter – p, c, k.

2 letters – sh, oi, ow, ah.

3 letters – tch, igh.

4 letters – ough, eigh.

There are 44 phonemes in the English language.

Phonics helps children listen to words and break them down into sounds or phonemes. This in turn helps children to learn to read and spell.

What is a Grapheme?

A grapheme is the way a phoneme is written. So a grapheme is “sh”, where the phoneme is the sound.

 

What is Grapheme-Phoneme Correspondence (GPC)?

Grapheme-Phoneme Correspondence (GPC) is the process of matching phonemes to graphemes, or the sounds to the way they are written. This is of course the essence of reading and spelling.

What is Blending?

Blending is where children merge phonemes together to make a word.

So a child seeing the word or grapheme “cat”, knows the sounds or phonemes for “c”, “a” and “t”, merges the phonemes together until they can hear what the word is.

Therefore, blending is a child using the Grapheme-Phoneme Correspondence (GPC) to determine what word is written or more simply blending is how a child reads using the sounds represented by the letters.

What is Segmenting?

 

Segmenting is where children break words down to determine how they are spelt.

So a child hearing the word “bed”, would segment the word into the phonemes “b”, “e” and “d”. From there, they would be able to write the phonemes down – as a grapheme – hopefully with the correct spelling.

Therefore, segmenting is a child using the Grapheme-Phoneme Correspondence (GPC) to determine how a word is written or more simply segmenting is how a child learns to spell.

What is a Digraph?

Graphemes with two letters that make one phoneme are known as digraphs. For example,

ch as in chat
sh as in ship
th as in thin
wh as in what
ph as in phone
ck as in rock

What is a Split Digraph?

A Split Digraph is where a Digraph is ‘split’ by a consonant. For example, in the word “dime”, the digraph “i_e” has been split by the letter “m” to make a new word, “dime”.

Split digraphs are represented like this: a_e, e_e, i_e, o_e, and u_e.

What is a Trigraph?

Graphemes with three letters that make one phoneme are known as trigraphs. For example:

igh as in sigh
ore as in bore
air as in fair
ear as in dear
are as in dare

Phonics Glossary & Recap:

Phonemes are sounds.

Graphemes are how sounds are written down.

 

A phoneme with a two-letter grapheme is a Digraph.

A phoneme with a two-letter grapheme separated by a consonant is a Split Digraph.

A phoneme with a three-letter grapheme is a Trigraph.

 

Blending is reading words by merging the sounds of their constituent graphemes.

Segmenting is spelling words by breaking it down into constituent phonemes.

phonics screening check (2)

Why is Phonics tricky and confusing?

Phonics is tricky and confusing as the English language is tricky and confusing.

Fundamentally, there are 44 phonemes and around 125 graphemes. So, some phonemes can be written down in a number of different ways. For example, two, too and to.

Even worse, some graphemes can represent more than one phoneme. For example, “ch” sounds different in “school”, “chip” and “chef”.

How is Phonics taught in school?

Children in Reception and Y1 should have a 10-20 minute phonics session almost every single day. This session will be fast, fun and multi-sensory.

Each session will follow a order such as:

Revisit – The children will play a quickfire game (perhaps on Phonics with Emile) to practise something they have learned before and help build confidence.

Teach – The children will be taught a new phoneme/grapheme or a new skill. This will be taught in a fun way. For example, using: songs, dances, actions, mimes, pictures, stories, puppets, or a combination.

Practise – The children will play games to practise the new phoneme/grapheme/skill.

Apply – The children will have a quick go at reading or writing sentences that involve the new phoneme/grapheme/skill.

When phonics is taught well, children love phonics sessions.

Where to Start with Phonics?

There are a number of different phonics Schemes of Work. These Schemes of Work detail the order in which phonics is taught. Here we are following the “Letter and Sounds” scheme of work as (1) it seems to be the most used scheme, (2) it is free for schools to follow and (3) it was published by the Department for Education themselves.

Letters and Sounds divides up phonics into 6 Phases:

Phase 1

Activities are divided into seven aspects:

(1)         environmental sounds,

(2)         instrumental sounds,

(3)         body sounds,

(4)         rhythm and rhyme,

(5)         alliteration,

(6)         voice sounds

(7)         oral blending and segmenting.

Phase 2

The sounds of 19 letters of the alphabet in 5 sets:

  • 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, l, ll, ss

Blending phonemes together to make words.

Segmenting words into their separate phonemes.

Read simple captions.

 

Phase 3

The remaining 7 letters of the alphabet.

  • Set 6: j, v, w, x
  • Set 7: y, z, zz, qu

Graphemes such as ch, oo, th representing the remaining phonemes not covered by single letters.

Reading captions, sentences and questions.

Tricky Words:
• he
• she
• we
• me
• be
• was
• you
• they
• all
• are
• my
• her

 

Phase 4

Children learn to blend and segment longer words with adjacent consonants.

They will be able to blend phonemes to read CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words and segment in order to spell them.

Tricky Words: 

• said
• have
• like
• so
• do
• some
• come
• were
• there
• little
• one
• when
• out
• what

Phase 5

Children learn more graphemes for the phonemes which they already know, plus different ways of pronouncing the graphemes they already know. For example, they already know ai as in rain, but now they will be introduced to ay as in day and a-e as in make.

Tricky Words:
• oh
• their
• people
• Mr
• Mrs
• looked
• called
• asked
• could

Phase 6

At the start of Phase Six of Letters and Sounds, children will have already learnt the most frequently occurring grapheme–phoneme correspondences (GPCs) in the English language. They will be able to read many familiar words automatically. When they come across unfamiliar words they will in many cases be able to decode them quickly and quietly using their well-developed sounding and blending skills. With more complex unfamiliar words they will often be able to decode them by sounding them out.


At this stage children should be able to spell words phonemically although not always correctly. In Phase Six the main aim is for children to become more fluent readers and more accurate spellers.

Year 1 Phonics Screening Check

What is the Year 1 phonics screening check?

The year 1 phonics screening check is a simple check performed by teachers with all children in Year 1 in England usually in June.

It is designed to help teachers identify children that need additional support so that they do not fall behind their peers in this vital skill. It should not be a stressful situation as the teacher will be well experienced to understand your child’s level of skills. Indeed, struggling in this check may lead to your child receiving extra attention and resources.

What form does the Year 1 phonics screening check take?

The phonics check is an oral check conducted by a teacher. It involves 40 words split into two sections and takes about 5 minutes.

A child will read up to four words per page for their teacher. The teacher will determine if the word has been read correctly. This is a video guide for teachers showing how they should assess and perform the check: https://youtu.be/IPJ_ZEBh1Bk

What is the Year 1 phonics screening check for?

The Phonics screening check ensures that a child can:

  • Sound out and blend graphemes in order to read simple words.
  • Read phonically decodable one-syllable and two-syllable words, e.g. cat, sand, windmill.
  • Read a selection of nonsense words which are referred to as pseudo words.

What are nonsense or pseudo words and why are they included?

The nonsense or pseudo words are words that are phonically decodable but are not actual words. For example, sheb or roopt.

Pseudo words are included in the check specifically to assess whether your child can decode a word using phonics skills and not their memory.

All pseudo words will be shown to your child with a picture of an alien and they will be asked to tell their teacher the name of the alien by reading a pseudo word. This provides the children with a context for the pseudo word.

Children generally find nonsense amusing so they will probably enjoy reading these words.

Is there a pass mark?

The check is not about passing or failing but checking appropriate progress is being made. If children do not reach the required standard, then the teacher will be in touch to discuss plans and offer additional, tailored support to ensure that your child can catch up.

Children progress at different speeds so not reaching the threshold score does not necessarily mean there is a serious problem. Your child will re-sit the check the following summer term.

In 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 the “pass threshold” was 32, which means children had to read at least 32 words out of 40 correctly. The threshold mark is communicated to schools at the end of June, after the test has been taken, so that teachers can mark the Check.

What happens to the results?

The school will report your child’s results before the end of the summer term as well as to the local authority, but the results won’t be published in a league table. You will be told how your child did, but schools’ results will not be published. If your child’s score falls below the standard, they will be given extra phonics help and can re-take the Phonics screening check in Year 2.

The Department for Education has published a detailed Q&A about the Screening Checks with more information about why non-words are included, and what allowances have been put in place for SEN students.

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