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Letters and Sounds Guidance

Letters & Sounds programme is designed to teach children to read from Reception to Year 2, using the skill of decoding and blending sounds together to form words. The programme provides a full progression through all commonly occurring GPCs (sounds), working from simple to more complex, and taking into account the frequency of their occurrence in the most commonly encountered words. By following the progression children build on their growing knowledge of the alphabetic code, mastering phonics to read and spell as they move through school. Teaching of phonics should be fast-paced, with children actively encouraged to participate in each lesson. Children should take ownership of their learning and continuously strive for excellence.

Foundations for phonics in Preschool

Schools should provide a balance of child-led and adult-led experiences for all children that meet the curriculum expectations for ‘Communication and language’ and ‘Literacy’ including:

  • Activities that develop focused listening and attention, including oral blending.
  • Sharing high-quality stories and poems.
  • Learning a range of nursery rhymes and action rhymes.
  • Attention to high-quality language.
  • Ensure preschool children are well prepared to begin learning grapheme-phoneme correspondences (GPCs) and blending in Reception.

Daily phonics lessons in Reception (Phase 2, 3 & 4)

Phonics lessons build from 10-minute lessons, with additional daily oral blending games, to full-length 30-minute lessons as quickly as possible. Each Friday, review the week’s teaching to help children become fluent readers and do an informal assessment of children's progress. 

Daily phonics lessons in Year 1 (Phase 5)

It is recommended that phonics lessons last for up to 30-minutes a day. 

Full phase progressions can be viewed here.

Pure Sounds

Pronounce each letter sound clearly and distinctly without adding additional sounds to the end e.g.

  • sss not ‘suh.’
  • a not ‘ay.’
  • t not ‘tuh.’
  • p not ‘puh.’
  • mmm not ‘muh.’

Weekly assessment

Quick weekly assessments of GPCs, blending for reading and tricky words in a whole class session. Children should be observed and any that are struggling identified and provided with additional support. When assessing:

  • Hold cards at the edges and at a good height
  • Turn cards at a fairly rapid but even pace.
  • Look at the children, not the cards. 
  • Ensure children are using pure sounds.
  • Play close attention to children who are mirroring other children, or are at risk of falling behind, and provide additional support at a later stage.
  • Ensure full participation by asking individuals, rows and then the whole class.

One-to-one summative assessments

GPCs, blending for reading, tricky words and segmenting for spelling are carried out in week 6 of each phase. It is suggested that the teacher sets aside enough time to individually test a fifth of the class on each day. Results logged on an electronic or schedule. Those who are at risk of falling behind, including the lowest attaining 20% of children should be given daily keep-up lessons.

Daily keep-up lessons to ensure every child learns to read

Children that need additional practice should receive daily keep-up support, taught by a fully trained adult. Keep-up lessons should match the same structure of class teaching, and use the same procedures and resources, but in smaller steps with more repetition, so that every child secures their learning.

Reading practice sessions

We recommend children are given reading practice sessions three times a week. These should be taught by a fully trained adult in small groups of approximately six children using the relevant book matched to the focus GPC. In addition to decoding these sessions should also teach:

  • Prosody: teaching children to read with understanding and expression.
  • Comprehension: teaching children to understand the text.

Children with additional needs / inclusive lessons

Constantly gauge children’s retention of learning. Children need a great deal of repetition to move new learning into their long-term memories.

  • Keep the same routines
  • Slow the pace of teaching if necessary.
  • Ensure your mouth is visible at all times (not covering by cards).
  • Ensure children with hearing and sight impairment are close to you and have a clear view.
  • Keep the teaching area uncluttered to minimise distractions and aid focus. 
  • Think about appropriate adjustments to ensure a child can be included in the lessons. e.g. enlarged cards, weighted blankets.
  • Provide daily keep-up outside of the lesson if required. If these are carried out be additional adults please ensure they are well trained.

Guidance for online delivery

The effectiveness of online phonics teaching is determined by many of the same features which determine the success of live phonics classroom teaching. When delivering daily phonics lessons online the DfE recommend that teachers:

  • Ensure pupils receive clear and precise explanations of new learning in relation to new GPCs, new tricky words and the skills of blending and segmenting.
  • Give careful thought to teaching correct enunciation of sounds. Teachers should ensure that pupils can see the shape of their mouths when forming sounds and that they provide a good model for pupils by articulating phonemes clearly and precisely. It is important that all pupils can hear the sounds pronounced carefully and the teacher is able, wherever possible, to check pupils repeating phonemes accurately. 
  • Consider how pupils will receive feedback on learning to ensure any misconceptions are addressed early.
  • Enable pupils to practise blending and segmenting during live online lessons through interactive strategies such as phoneme counting. 
  • Allow for application of new knowledge or skills through ensuring parents have access to appropriate resources. It is essential that continued access to appropriate reading books should be considered as part of remote phonics and early reading lesson planning.