Being able to read is the most important skill children learn during their early schooling and has far-reaching implications for lifelong learning, confidence and well-being. High quality phonic teaching is the prime means by which we teach children how to read and spell words.

At Hill Top, we follow the ‘Letters and Sounds’ phonics programme and this guide is designed to help you, as parents, understand ‘Letters and Sounds’ so that you can support your child at home. 


Phonics consists of:

  • identifying sounds in spoken words
  • recognising the common spellings of each phoneme
  • blending phonemes into words for reading
  • segmenting words into phonemes for spelling



Phoneme: a sound in a word

Grapheme: a letter or sequences of letters that represent a phoneme

Segmenting: means breaking words down into their phonemes to spell

Blending: is the reverse of segmenting - when you blend you build words from their phonemes to read

Diagraph: two letters making one sound, (ai, ee, oo)

Trigraph: three letters making one sounds, (igh)

Split Digraph: where the two letters are not adjacent ( a-e, e-e)


Summary of the phases

Phase 1 (pre-school)

Children should learn to:

  • show an awareness of rhyme and alliteration;
  • distinguish between sounds in the environment/phonemes;
  • explore and experiment with sounds and words;
  • discriminate speech in words


Phase 2 (Reception)

Children should learn to:

  • use common consonants and vowels
  • be able to blend and segment to read/spell simple c-v-c words;
  • begin to learn ‘tricky words’ that cannot be segmented;
  • understand that words are constructed from phonemes and that phonemes are represented by graphemes.

Phase 3 (Reception)

Children should learn to:

  • know at least one grapheme for each of the 44 phonemes (there are approximately 44 phonemes in the English language!);
  • read and spell a wide range of c-v-c words;
  • use all letters and less frequent consonant digraphs and some long vowel phonemes;
  • continue to learn ‘tricky words’. 

Phase 4 (Reception/Year 1)

This is a consolidation unit. There are no new graphemes to learn. Instead, children learn to:

  • read and spell more ‘tricky words’;
  • segment adjacent consonants in words and apply this to spelling;
  • blend adjacent consonants in words and apply this skill when reading unfamiliar texts.


Phase 5 (Year 1)

Children learn to:

  • read phonetically decodable two-syllable and three-syllable words;
  • use alternative ways to pronounce and spell the graphemes corresponding to the long vowel phonemes;
  • make phonetically plausible attempts to spell complex words. 

Phase 6 (Year 2)

Children learn to:

  • recognise phonic irregularities and become more secure with less common grapheme-phoneme correspondences;
  • apply phonic skills and knowledge to recognise and spell an increasing number of complex words;
  • recognise and use the past tense;
  • begin to investigate spelling patterns and learn how to add suffixes e.g. –ed to words;
  • break down longer words to help with their spelling;
  • apply strategies to enable them to become independent spellers e.g. by finding and learning the difficult bits in words