Phonics instruction is recommended for beginning readers. While different schools may take different approaches to teaching phonics, it is most common to teach phonics in a strict sequence of phases during pre-K, kindergarten,
first grade, and second grade.
Here's a summary of when children learn 6 different phases in phonics in school:
Phase 1: Teaching Listening, Vocabulary and Speaking Skills
Phonics instruction begins in pre-K or the start of kindergarten. Phase 1 focuses on developing children’s listening, vocabulary and speaking skills. This phase also focuses on developing phonemic awareness, the ability to identify
and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. Phonemic awareness is the foundation for later phonics work.
In Phase 1, children learn: voice, environmental, instrumental sounds; body percussion (snapping, clapping, stomping); rhythm and rhyme; alliteration; and oral blending and segmenting.
The goal of Phase 1 is to help children identify and understand different sounds. This is also when children begin practicing oral segmenting and blending, a technique that allows them to break down or “decode” words. It is important
that children finish Phase 1 with strong phonemic awareness, as this skill is crucial to later phonics success.
Phase 2: Teaching Phonics
In Phase 2 (kindergarten), children start to learn the sounds (phonemes) that letters (graphemes) make. There are 44 sounds (phonemes). Some of these sounds are made up of more than one letter. In Phase 2, children focus on learning
just the 19 most common single letter sounds. These 19 phonemes are generally taught in smaller groups of 6, beginning with the most commonly used phonemes: /s/, /a/, /t/, /i/, /p/, /n/.
It generally takes children about 6-8 weeks to master these first 19 phonemes. At the end of Phase 2, children can read and spell some short vowel-consonant (VC) and consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words. They also know some high
frequency sight words, generally short VC and CVC words. Different strategies for teaching sight words are discussed later in this paper. But instruction generally starts with short words that appear frequently in the texts
they are reading, such as: a, the, an, can, is, of, you, he, and I.
Phase 3: Learning More Phonics
In Phase 3 (typically in kindergarten), children learn the remaining 25 phonemes. These phonemes are more difficult and/or less frequently used. Some of these 25 phonemes are digraphs, meaning they are made up of two letters
(e.g. /ow/ and /ee/). Learning these phonemes helps children read and spell more words.
During this phase, children master the names of letters, as well as the sounds they make. They also learn how to copy letters correctly. Solidifying the association between phonemes and basic graphemes will help children begin
to sound out new words. Learning more sight words will also improve their reading, helping them build fluency and comprehension.
It takes most children about three months to master the material in Phase 3. By the end of this phase, children are confident with all 44 phonemes. They are able to say the sound made by most, or all, Phase 2 and 3 graphemes. They
blend and read CVC words made from these graphemes, and they can comfortably read the sight words they’ve learned to date.
From here, phonics teaching is about consolidating and refining knowledge, introducing more spelling patterns and tricky words, and increasing vocabulary (and thus comprehension)
Phase 4: Teaching Blending and Segmenting
In Phase 4 (typically in kindergarten), children can use blending to understand new words. They can confidently read and write the letters of the alphabet. They may also rely less on sounding out words, as they begin to recognize
and read some words automatically.
Children practise reading and spelling more challenging CVCC words, as well new high frequency sight words. As they progress, children may move forward to practising reading and writing short sentences. The goal of this stage is
consolidation and reinforcement - ensuring children are confident in beginning phonics so they can succeed in Phases 5 and 6.
This phase usually takes four to six weeks, and most children will complete it around the end of Reception. This sets them up for success for Phase 5 of phonics, which generally begins at the start of Year 1.
Phase 5: GPC Grapheme Phoneme Correspondence
In Phase 5 (typically in First Grade), children learn that many phonemes have multiple graphemes (e.g. different spellings for the same sound). They also learn that many graphemes have different phonemes (e.g. the same spelling
can be pronounced different ways).
They learn alternative graphemes for phonemes. Many of these new graphemes are digraphs and trigraphs. Some of them are “tricky” rules, including split digraphs (“magic e” such as i-e). Most children master these first in reading.
It may take them longer to use them correctly in spelling.
Children should become quicker at blending, and start to do it silently and automatically. They’ll start to choose the right graphemes when spelling, and will learn more complex sight words, including ‘people,’ ‘water’ and ‘friend’.
Phase 5 generally takes children the whole of Year 1. By the end of Year 1, children should be able to:
- Say the sound for any grapheme they are shown
- Write the common graphemes for any given sound (e.g. ‘e,’ ‘ee,’ ‘ie,’ ‘ea’)
- Use their phonics knowledge to read and spell unfamiliar words of up to three syllables
- Read 100 high frequency words, and be able to spell most of them
- Form letters correctly
At the end of Year 1, all children are given a Phonics Screening Check to ensure they have mastered the appropriate knowledge.
Phase 6: Reading Fluency, Comprehension and Spelling
Phase 6 (typically in Second Grade)is the final phase of formal phonics instruction. At this point, teachers and parents focus on supporting children as they use the tools of phonics to become fluent readers and accurate spellers.
In Phase 6, children can read hundreds of words using these strategies they’ve learned from phonics:
- Reading them automatically
- Decoding them quickly and silently
- Decoding them aloud (e.g. sounding them out)
Children can also spell most of these words with speed and accuracy. This process, known as encoding, is slower than reading. So children will continue to make mistakes. But with practice, as their reading improves, their spelling
should also improve.
In Phase 6, children are also learning about topics and resources related to reading and spelling. They will learn spelling rules and introductory grammar concepts like tenses and punctuation. They will also learn how to work more
independently, learning how to proofread and to use resources like dictionaries.
From this point, children will learn more sight words. Figuring out how to read and spell more challenging words. They will also focus on building reading comprehension.
Phase 6 takes place over the course of first grade. While systematic synthetic phonics instruction is usually complete by the end of first grade, children continue to use this knowledge in schooling.