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East Sheen Primary

Upper Richmond Rd West, London, SW14 8ED

Early Reading & Phonics

At East Sheen Primary School, we believe that every child should be taught to read and to love reading. We do this for our early readers through a highly effective phonics programme and the fostering of a love for reading and stories. We use phonics as the route to teaching decoding.

(Phonics Programme: Read, Write, Inc.

What is Read, Write, Inc?
When teaching your child to read, we put an emphasis on the different sounds (phonemes) that different letters (graphemes) make. At East Sheen Primary School, we used Read, Write, Inc. Phonics for many years and believe it is the best scheme to support your child in learning to read.  Your child will be assessed and grouped according to their phonics ability, working in small groups with a teacher or teaching assistant.  Read, Write, Inc. uses pure sounds; it removes the 'uh' sounds from words. Parents are invited to a 'Parent Reading Talk' in the autumn term when their child is in Reception and then in the spring term for children in other year groups. In these talks, we model and explain how we teach phonics in greater detail.

What should my child read at home?

While completing their phonics learning, children will bring home a Read, Write, Inc. 'Book Bag' book, where the words will contain the sounds that the children have been learning to decode in school. This will match each child's individual decoding ability. We also send home shared readers, which we encourage parents to read to their children. There will be words in these books that children will be able to sound out to show off their decoding ability. Children throughout the school also get an opportunity to take home a library book; this will be a book to explore with parents and may focus around a particular interest the child has. We strongly encourage parents to share stories with their children frequently (see tips below).   

Speed Sounds
When teaching your child phonics, we will use the term 'speed sounds'. These are individual sounds which your child will learn to read quickly and effortlessly as they progress through Reception, Year 1 and Year 2. Your child will be regularly assessed to ensure they are reaching their full potential and will receive additional intervention sessions if appropriate. Children will also be able to bring home particular sounds to learn and books will be matched to include words made up of the sounds your child has been taught.  

Your child will learn a new sound every day accompanied by a handwriting rhyme which helps them to remember how to form the letter shape when writing it. A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound in speech; this may be one letter, or a group of two or three letters which make one sound. We encourage children to practise breaking words down into their sounds (segmenting), and we practise this throughout the day, for example, by explaining that children should wear a 'h-a-t, hat' before going out to 'p-l-ay, play'.  In set 1, your child will learn the most simple phonemes before moving on to look at additional, more complex sounds in set 2 and set 3.

As your child learns each sound (phoneme), they are taught how to blend the sounds together to make two and three letters words. We begin by looking at CVC (consonant, vowel, consonant) words, such as the word 'dog'.  Your child will learn how to read real and nonsense (made up) words.

Green Words
Alongside this, your child will start to read 'green' words.  'Green' words are words which can be sounded out and blended like ‘mat’, 'cat' and ‘shop’.  

Red Words
Having gained confidence in sounding out green words, your child will be taught about ‘red' words.  These words are tricky words which can’t be sounded out phonetically, like ‘to’ and ‘go’.  Your child will start to learn the 'red' words and will practise recognising these words in their Read, Write, Inc. story books and reading books. They will also learn why these words are tricky and cannot be sounded out.  As your child progresses through Reception and Key Stage 1 (Year 1 and Year 2), they will learn to read these 'red' words by sight.

Digraphs and Trigraphs ('Special Friends')
When children have learnt the single sounds, they begin to move on to two and three letter sounds. These are called digraphs (2 letters making 1 sound like ‘ea’  in the word 'tea') and trigraphs (3 letters making 1 sound like ‘igh’ in the word 'light'). Set 1 sounds include the digraphs 'ch', 'sh', 'th', 'ng, 'nk, and 'qu'.


Fred Talk
At school, we use a puppet called Fred who can only speak in sounds, not whole words. We call this Fred Talk. For example, Fred would say 'd-o-g' where we would say 'dog'. Your child is taught to hear sounds and blend them together in sequence to make a word.

Fred Fingers
Fred Fingers are used for spelling. Your child is taught to sound out the word they are spelling and put up the correct number of fingers for the sounds they can hear in that word. For example: m-ee-t = 3 sounds = 3 fingers. When your child starts to write words, they will be taught to use their 'Fred Fingers':

Say the word.

Hold up the correct number of Fred Fingers.

Palm facing you.

Say the word again.

Pinch the sounds. (Gently pinch each finger as you say the sound)

Write the sounds.

Add sound buttons/dashes.


Sound Buttons and Dashes
Sound buttons are circles or spots that can be written underneath a sound to support reading.  Your child will be taught to say the sound aloud as they touch the sound button.   If reading a digraph (two letters making one sound) or trigraph (three letters making one sound), your child will know that this sound is represented by a dash underneath the letters which make the sound. Sometimes, we ask children to circle these 'special friends' when focussing on these sounds. Below, in the word 'play', 'ay' is a digraph, so has the dash underneath.

Fred in your head
Your child's teacher will hold up a green word, giving your child time to mime the sounds, and will then push the word forward as a signal for your child to say the whole word (as opposed to blending individual sounds).  This will be repeated over a period of time, until your child can say the word straight away. Your child will start off initially mouthing the sounds silently and then saying the whole word to by saying the whole word straight away.

Your child will start to learn set 1 sounds in Reception, and some children will be ready to move onto set 2 sounds.  It is important to remember that each child is an individual and may be ready to progress before other children. In Year 1/2, your child will continue to progress through set 1, 2 and/or 3 as appropriate. If appropriate, phonics lessons and interventions will also continue into Key Stage 2 (Years 3, 4, 5 and 6).

Phonics Screening Check
All children in Year 1 sit the Phonics Screening Check in June.  The purpose of the check is to confirm whether individual children have learnt decoding and blending skills to meet an age-appropriate standard.  The phonics screening check contains 40 words and your child will work one-to-one with the teacher, reading words out aloud. There will be a combination of real words and nonsense words. This test is sat nationally by all children in Year 1. More information is given to parents closer to the time.

If your child does not meet the pass mark, they will need to retake the screening test in Year 2. (You will be informed on their end of year school report on this).

By the end of year 1, it is expected that children will be able to recognise the grapheme-phoneme correspondences, segments and blend them confidently in words. For the past few years, the expected pass mark has been 32 out of 40. However, the Department for Education does not release the pass mark until a few weeks after the children have completed the check.

Here are some tips to help children of all ages to enjoy reading and to read more often.

  1. Take breaks while reading
  2. Build reading into your child's daily routine. 
  3. Encourage your child to follow their interests. 
  4. Use technology together. 
  5. Encourage your child to be the author, retell or make-up stories.
  6. Discuss favourite stories and the story within the book they are reading.

Useful terminology:

Blend –  to draw individual sounds together to pronounce a word, e.g. s-n-a-p, blend together, read snap.

Digraph – A digraph is a single sound, or phoneme, which is represented by two letters, like ‘ow’ as in  ‘s-n-ow’ reading ‘snow’.

Grapheme – A grapheme is a letter or a number of letters which represent a sound (phoneme) in a word.

Grapheme-phoneme correspondence (GPC) – the relationship between sounds and the letters which represent those sounds; also known as ‘letter-sound correspondence’.  This means that your child will be able to recognise and/or identify the written form of a letter when listening to the sound.

Phoneme – A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound in speech. This may be one letter, or a group of two or three letters which make one sound. 

Segment – to split up a word into its individual phonemes (sounds) in order to spell it, e.g. the word ‘cat’ has three phonemes: c – a – t, 

Sound buttons – the number of phonemes (sounds) in a word. Your child will be encouraged to draw a dot under a single letter to denote the number of sounds. If it is a digraph, they will underline both sounds instead of drawing a dot. For example, is in snail.

 Split digraph – two letters (consonants), split by another letter (vowel), but which make one sound, e.g. a-e as in make or i-e in site. 

Trigraph –  A trigraph is a phoneme which consists of three letters like ‘air’ as in ‘hair‘. 3 letters, make 1 sound.