Teachers' tricks for phonics

Teachers' tricks for phonics
Understand more about how children learn about sounds and try some of teacher Niki Jackson's practical tips to help your child with their early phonics learning at home. We particularly like the alphabet cookies suggestion...

Listen to the sounds around you

From a very young age children hear and respond to sounds in the environment. They quickly recognise familiar voices, respond to their name and express shock when they hear unfamiliar sounds (big bangs and sneezes, for example)... all part of living in and creating a sound-rich learning environment, which is the basis of phonics.

Make everyday sounds into learning tools by...

  1. Responding to sounds you hear. Make a big effort to include your child in the sounds around them too by asking them questions about what they can hear, for example: Can you hear the police car?  What does it sound like? What noise is that dog making? What does the rain sound like?
  2. Engage your child in lots of funny rhyming games and read lots of rhyming books, first pointing out the sounds to them and then encouraging them to create their own rhyming sounds.

Highlight initial sounds

Once your child is more attuned to hearing sounds in the environment, start drawing their attention to initial sounds at the beginning of words. Practical ways to do this include:

  1. Stuttering out the initial sound of a word in order to drawing their attention to it: Please can you pass the j j j jam. Please can you get in the c c c car. You can play games with this, too, where they have to guess what you are going to say just by the initial sound, for example: 'Put your finger on your n n n... (pause to let them guess!) nose' or 'Would you like to eat a b b b... (banana)?'
  2. Games like I spy are brilliant for playing with initial sounds.
  3. Find lots of alliteration opportunities (alliteration is when words start with the same sound), for example: Daisy and Danny are dancing in the dark. It’s also fun to think of alliteration names for all your friends and family (how about Marvellous Mummy and Delicious Daddy?).

Link letters and sounds

Use everyday opportunities to start linking sounds to letters.

From a very early age your child will start to recognise familiar print in the environment around them. Many children will know supermarket logos or what the title of a favourite TV programme looks like, for example. This does not mean they are reading, they are simply linking an image to an experience, but it is a great way to help them link sounds to letters. Build on your child's first experience of letters by:

  1. Drawing their attention to the logos they recognise and then helping them find other things that start with this letter (for example, 'Tesco starts with a t t t. What else can you think of that starts with a t t t?'). Many logos are written in capital letters whereas at school children tend to learn the lower case letters first. Use this as an opportunity to show them both and talk about the difference in shape but how they both make the same sound.
  2. When shopping, encourage your child to look at the labels on food or to help you write the initial sound of a word on a shopping list ('I need 3 things that start with a b (banana, bread and broccoli), so please can you write me 3 bs on the list?').
  3. Investing in a box of plastic letters (magnetic fridge letters are perfect, but do be careful if your child has siblings aged under 3 as they can be small and pose a choking hazard). When you are out and about, especially on car journeys, have your box of letters with you and choose a different letter for each journey. Give your child the letter to hold and, as you are driving/walking around, try to find words for things that begin with that sound. 

Step-by-step blending

As your child's phonics learning progresses, you'll reach the 'blending' stage. It’s time to hear all the sounds in the word and blend them together!

Start with words that have just two sounds and split them up whilst talking. Model for your children how you sound them out, for example: 'Can you jump U-P? Can you turn the light O-FF?' Then build it up to words with three sounds: 'Can you pass me the J-A-M? Can you hop on one L-E-G?' Once your child can hear all the separate sounds in a word, demonstrate this with letters if you can. Ideal are bath letters (made of foam, so your child can make words on the tiles while they splash), letter-shape biscuits or letter-shape potato or pasta shapes. Eating your words is sure to become a favourite activity!