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Step Four - thinking about different contexts

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 17, 2008 1:25 am    Post subject: Step Four - thinking about different contexts Reply with quote

Thinking about different contexts:

By now you should have had a very good look at all the resources in the free unit 1 as a minimum.

You should also have read the Overview and Guidance booklet which is free in unit 1.

You will understand that 'teachers' do not need to use all the resources but can make decisions about what to use according to their needs and their learner/s needs.

You will understand that the Sounds Book activity sheets, however, are the core of the programme and that these are essential to the effectiveness of the teaching and the learning. Each Sounds Book activity sheet includes new learning and/or revision of previous learning of letter/s-sound correspondences (Alphabetic Code knowledge) and each sheet rehearses the skills of blending words for reading, handwriting related to the focus letter/s-sound correspondence, phonemic awareness (thinking about the sounds in the words for illustrations) and segmenting words for spelling. Each sheet, therefore, provides teaching and learning opportunities in ALL THE ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS OF SYNTHETIC PHONICS TEACHING and the repetitive routines provide very effective teaching and learning!

You will appreciate that this programme is suitable for all ages, for beginners and for those learners who need additional help in learning Alphabetic Code knowledge and the essential skills of blending, segmenting and handwriting.

This could mean starting from the beginning of the programme, or the teacher deciding the earliest starting point necessary and building on from there as appropriate to the individual learner's needs.

For groups and whole class teaching, the teacher should not be expected to provide different activities at different levels for every learner's pace. Phonics International is designed with differentiation built into the Sounds Book activity sheets and the teacher can decide which words (with different levels of difficulty) to give the learners to spell on the folded-up part (the back) of the sheets.

[Please note: On visits to schools using Phonics International and/or the Oxford Reading Tree Floppy's Phonics Sounds and Letters programme, I sometimes find that teachers are not doing the spelling-with-editing routine on the back of the 'folded-up' part of the Sounds Book activity sheets. They say, 'I've adapted the programme for my children'. This is very misguided - this is not 'adaptation', this is to neglect the design and guidance of these very important multi-skills practice sheets. Please make sure that you do ALL the sub-skills and skills on the Sounds Book Activity Sheets - which are core resources in both the PI and FP programmes.]

You can hear about the rationale of these sheets on the bottom right video clip via the 'About the programme' webpage of Phonics International or via youtube here:

You will realise that the users of this programme need to make decisions about whether any, or all, of The Alphabetic Code charts as provided for free in unit 1 will be helpful and necessary for them to use. They are all designed with the phonemes displayed down the left-hand column of the charts and the graphemes (spelling variations or alternatives) displayed along the rows for each phoneme. You will realise that some charts have word examples and some charts include just the letter/s-sound correspondences themselves. Some charts are suitable for the 'teachers' and some charts are suitable for the learners. Some charts are designed for training and teacher-information purposes (charts with 'teaching points') and some are designed for whole school display (for example, the giant poster charts) and some are designed for learners to track progression (the 'colour the code' and 'write over the graphemes' charts). Some charts can be used for planning, record-keeping and tracking.

[Remember that the Alphabetic Code Charts are now provided via: and they are really essential resources for teaching and learning.

You can also find different versions of ready-made Alphabetic Code Charts which we have provided in later years in response to many, many requests from busy teachers to provide them 'ready-made'. We provide 'giant' pull-up or hang-down charts ('banner' size), A3 'tough mat' charts and A4 Table Top charts in our online shop here: ]

The teacher may decide not to use any of these charts for the very youngest learners but just to start following the instructions as provided on each Sounds Book activity sheet. This is fine and good teaching and learning can take place without the reference to charts. The Alphabetic Code charts, however, will help to ORGANISE the understanding of the complex English Alphabetic Code and provide a reasonable 'end point' to the formal 'planned' teaching.

I highly, highly recommend use of the Alphabetic Code charts for main visual display in homes and classrooms ('giant' charts for classroom walls) and, in addition, provide a paper-based 'mini' alphabetic code chart in learners' individual phonics folders. Schools need to provide 'mini' versions for informing learners' parents and for use in the home to support teaching and learning in the schools.

There are versions of the Alphabetic Code Chart in the Early Years Starter Package which include fewer graphemes than the charts provided for free in unit 1 (graphemes in units 1 to 5, or units 1 to 6).

Older learners with special needs in literacy basic skills who may need to work within the 'simple code' level at first (units 1 to 5) will be helped a great deal by reference to an Alphabetic Code chart. Such learners may know some code already and may feel very supported and encouraged by setting alphabetic code knowledge in the context of an organised structure with an 'end point'. It can also be very satisfying to realise that progress is being made towards an 'end point' (more or less). Otherwise, will the teaching not feel like 'yet another letter/s-sound correspondence' being introduced - like a never-ending story?

Please note that there are many other alternative graphemes in the English Alphabetic Code but these are better learnt through individual word-learning as this occurs in wider reading.

[Please note: It has been pointed out to me recently by some people in the UK Reading Reform Foundation that good results have been achieved using synthetic phonics programmes that do not have Alphabetic Code charts of the kind that I promote through this programme and my wider work. Not everyone approves of the use of such charts displayed in classrooms or provided for 'parents' of learners. There is a long thread about this on the UK Reading Reform Foundation message board. I feel that it is important for users of the Phonics International programme to appreciate that this notion of common use of The Alphabetic Code chart is one that I am promoting on the basis of my own experience and analysis. I would not want people to think that they have been part of other synthetic phonics programmes or that they are essential. I simply think that they are full of potential for all parties. You are very welcome to read what others have said and what I have said in response so that you are not misled by my personal emphasis on the potential of Alphabetic Code charts. Please feel free to add your own comments about these charts and whether you as a teacher, and whether your learners, have found them useful - or, indeed, whether you think they are actually 'counterproductive' to the teaching and learning!

In April 2013, we surveyed people's views of the usefulness of Alphabetic Code Charts and whether a generic alphabetic code chart should be included in the appendix of the English national curriculum. Here are the responses to our survey: ]

The Phonics International programme starts off as a programme to teach reading and spelling, but once learners 'can' read, it moves seamlessly to a spelling programme based on well-known routines. It is very important that learners are provided with additional literature to practise their reading skills, to develop their vocabulary and understanding of books and to widen their horizons! At first they are learning to read - and then they are reading to learn.

You will realise that there is one piece of cumulative, decodable text, I can read, provided for each letter/s-sound correspondence introduced and/or revised - but that you don't ask the learner to read these independently until he, or she, CAN BLEND. This means that there is a slight delay of using the text. Teachers find it useful to print off a number of the I can read texts and then staple them together to make booklets. Each piece of text can still be read and used one at a time for spelling dictations (when this becomes an appropriate exercise so the learner must be beyond 'word level' spelling). These pieces of text can also be used for 'detective work' of looking for specific graphemes (letter/s-sound correspondences). Pulling out words from the texts with the same letter/s-sound correspondences and listing them is part of helping learners to recall specific spelling word banks. This is an important activity as Phonics International progresses - particularly in the second half of the programme.

Once learners can read and are beginning to spell well, teachers may also provide additional words for spelling which are related to specific subject areas and topics in school. By this point, learners will understand about spelling alternatives and may refer to an Alphabetic Code chart to discuss with the teacher which "spelling alternative is used for THIS word?" The teacher has a ready-reference to be able to point to the appropriate section on a chart with word examples and answer, "This alternative as in the word ......".

The following poster is designed to support incidental spelling activities but using 'common language' and reference to the main Alphabetic Code Chart (it can be found via the 'Free Resources' webpage in the blue box labelled 'IMPORTANT'):

The teacher's role for developing the SPOKEN language:

Please appreciate that people looking at the Phonics International programme will have an extremely broad range of contexts - and of 'understanding'.

To undertake the 'teacher' role, you will already need to have a good grasp of the English language to follow any instructions and to provide the lead role of developing SPOKEN English.

It is very important at all times that the adult (the 'teacher') brings his or her own common sense to the programme in terms of relating to the learner/s and to fulfil the learner's needs for developing spoken English as well as learning how to read, spell and write in the English language.

If English is an additional language for the learner, the matter of learning how to speak the language and learn the meanings of a wide range of vocabulary is no small task. This problem, of course, is reduced if the learner is already bilingual and can already speak to some extent in the English language.

If English is a completely new language, however, the teacher has to allow for much additional time and effort to be spent on the 'spoken' side of the language and vocabulary development. The learner needs to be 'steeped' in the English language as far as is possible and see the English language written in simple books as often as possible.

I cannot emphasis enough how important it is for ALL teachers to expand on the learner's vocabulary bank (knowledge of words) and to take the time to do this as often as possible.

Synthetic phonics teaching is associated with rapid introduction of letter/s-sound correspondences and putting knowledge of these to use immediately to blend words (for reading) and to segment spoken words (for spelling). I have deliberately included resources for teachers to include speaking and listening as an important part of the programme, however, with instructions to describe the meanings of new vocabulary, (and always explore what the learner already knows about word meanings) and to take the time for plenty of discussion through additional resources such as the Read the words, make up a story strand in units 1 to 6.

Sir Jim Rose in his independent national review of teaching reading recommended the 'Simple View of Reading' model (original concept Gough and Tunmer 1986). The diagram for the Simple View of Reading has proved very popular in universities in England and is very helpful indeed for understanding the two main processes of being a reader - that is, ability to recognise the words on the page (the technical side of decoding) and then the capacity to understand the word that has been decoded (language comprehension). The diagram for the Simple View of Reading is very useful for considering learners' reading profiles. A similar diagram can also be helpful for considering learners' writing profiles. I've provided the diagrams for the Simple View of Reading, and Writing, via the 'Free Resources' webpage:


I suggest that pace of introducing new letter/s-sound correspondences has to be decided by the teacher according to the context. Some users of this programme may be tutors and only see their learner/s once a week. Such tutors may want to share the resources of the programme with the learner's parents - deciding on who will do what. This programme is ideal in many ways for more than one person to act as 'teacher' and still provide continuity of learning for the pupil/s.

Some leading phonics programmes suggest introducing new letter/s-sound correspondences at the pace of four to six new correspondences per week. As these are learnt to automaticity, the learner is also learning the skills of blending, segmenting and handwriting. The teacher may slow down this pace if it is clearly too fast for the learner/s or means that other aspects of the curriculum are not addressed well enough. There may be times when pace is faster and when pace is slower. Currently, for example, we are introducing just two new letter/s-sound correspondences per week for a Reception class (four to five year olds) but they are still receiving phonics teaching four days per week with 'incidental' phonics as well whenever this is appropriate. The Sounds Book activity sheets allow for the faster learners to have longer words to blend to provide differentiation (that is, work at different levels).

Pace, therefore, is something that has to be decided according to context - but allow plenty of time for learners to practise the phonics sub-skills and the three core skills for each focus letter/s-sound correspondence introduced.

Without repetition and continuity, new learning can be 'lost'. I have endeavoured to build into the programme new learning and revision and rehearsal opportunities. There are resources to support the teaching and learning (lots of visual aids like The Alphabetic Code charts, the Picture Posters and the Mini Posters) and resources to introduce new learning (like the Sounds Book activity sheets) and resources to rehearse learning (like the Say the Sounds posters and booklets and the Flash Cards, Grapheme Cards, Blend Word Cards, Pairs Games, My Word word lists) and resources to apply the learning (such as the I can read, write and draw; the I can read texts; the Read the words, make up a story).

Teaching and learning about The Alphabet is distinguished from learning about The Alphabetic Code. According to needs, teachers may not need to use the additional handwriting resources because older learners may be competent handwriters already. Teachers may wish to adapt the resources by handwriting their own style of joined writing (perhaps with leaders from lines and joins). I have kept the handwriting resources very simple and plain deliberately precisely so that teachers can choose to add to, or adapt, the resources - or simply don't use them if you don't need to. Teachers of younger children may wish to encourage some pattern work on the handwriting resources, for example.

We have now provided a purpose-designed website where you can find additional handwriting and Alphabet resources for both print and fully joined handwriting. Here you will find free resources suitable for display and for learners' phonics folders - and also free guidance for print and joined handwriting and a guidance video clip for joined handwriting. Carol Cockeram very kindly designed me a programme to be able to create resources of my style of teaching joined handwriting and schools can therefore acquire a software programme if they would like to produce resources in my joined style.

The handwriting website is here:

Homeschooling teachers may not wish to use such resources as the letter/s-sound correspondence Flash Cards - preferring instead to use the Grapheme Cards which are provided in each unit - and the Pairs Games activities which provide graphemes written on lines. These can be used simply as paper-based resources or printed on card or laminated. If teachers are able to use magnetic whiteboards, these cards can become excellent resources by using sticky magnetic tape strips on the backs of the cards.

So, despite the number of resources available in the Phonics International programme, the context of the teachers and learners will lead to which resources are the most necessary and helpful.
Please don't hesitate to ask my advice at any time.

New teachers may want to start off using fewer resources at first - gradually building up and exploring the usefulness of a wider range of resources over time.

Remember, however, that your starting point is doing your background reading and viewing the range of resources - and then at least start using the Sounds Book activity sheets. Very Happy

Whatever the context, however, I suggest that learners are set up with their own phonics folders which include:

a mini alphabetic code chart with word examples for the spelling alternatives

a mini Alphabet poster from the handwriting site above

a Say the Sounds Posters for 'revisit and review' of the letter/s-sound correspondences (provided in every unit throughout PI)

all the Sounds Book Activity Sheets

plus all the sentence and text level work which provides 'apply and extend' for each letter/s-sound correspondence introduced.

In addition, you may find it very useful for every learner to also have a simple, lined phonics exercise book to practise any aspect of basic skills literacy as required - both in phonics lessons and in the wider curriculum.
Debbie Hepplewhite

Last edited by debbie on Sat Jul 27, 2013 2:29 pm; edited 3 times in total
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 06, 2008 8:20 pm    Post subject: yet more sensible stuff! Reply with quote

I've been doing synthetic phonics for years, but never before have I thought to actually show my learners that there is an end to all the PGCs that they are having to learn. Embarassed I can really see the value of displaying the code and showing learners that there is an end in sight! Thank you Debbie for once again making me think from another viewpoint. I'm sure lots of my learners will be reassured to know that the code doesn't go on ad infinitum!!! Very Happy
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 27, 2008 11:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

A good pace for Reception children is proving to be steadily introducing three new letter/s-sound correspondences per week but this includes revision and extension work on the alternate days of the week. Wink

A good pace for maintaining as the programme progresses to a spelling and comprehension programme is two focus Sounds Book Activity Sheets per week alternating with the corresponding 'Sentences' or 'I can read' texts and comprehension 'Questions'.
Debbie Hepplewhite

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 29, 2009 9:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've just been privileged to work directly with our Phonics International trainers, Paul and Hannah Hogan, from China.

We have worked collaboratively to produce some information and training video clips for teachers and students' parents in China. This has involved Hannah speaking in both English and Chinese - and also Hannah has provided further written Chinese translations.

All these translation resources should be available shortly.

Meanwhile, Hannah and Paul showed me some video clips from using the Phonics International programme during the summer course of their school for teaching English.

Hannah took just three lessons to introduce all the letter/s-sound correspondences in unit 1 to her summer students. That is 12 new letter/s-sound correspondences in three lessons - an average of four per lesson.

The students in one class were aged around 7 and slightly older in another class - and most readily worked at this pace. They were then sounding out and blending the satipn words on the LARGE WORD FLASH CARDS - 80+ words by their fourth lesson!

As English is a foreign language to the students, of course they did not know the meaning of all these words - additional speaking and listening opportunities are provided as well as, or along with, the phonics lessons.

I've mentioned this to look at the different pace of introducing letter/s-sound correspondences according to context.

I think it is important for me to keep emphasising that Phonics International is suitable for a wide variety of contexts but that the programme is also intended to be used flexibly according to those contexts.

What is important, however, is that teachers do not underestimate the importance of finding a good pace of delivering the phonics lessons - and also establishing very good working practices whereby everyone, teacher and students, focus on the lessons in hand and don't waste precious teaching and learning time.

Meanwhile, I am very grateful for the cooperation of Paul and Hannah to improve the helpfulness of the Phonics International programme in China and look forward to seeing how synthetic phonics teaching is increasingly accepted and promoted in China. Wink

See the video clip below if you speak Chinese:

Hannah reports that the 'style 2' Activity Sheets in the Early Years Starter Package are highly suitable in the context of teaching beginners in China - not just 'young' beginners.

In fact, Hannah was instrumental in me providing the 'style 2' Activity Sheets which includes extra pictures (not just printed words) for generating spoken words for the learners to identify the focus 'sounds' of each lesson.

Thank you, Hannah! I listened to you! Wink
Debbie Hepplewhite
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