Understanding why teaching your children ABC is not the first step to successful reading and writing.

Phonics is the basis for reading.


We have students that come through to us convinced that “EL-MNOW” is a sound in the alphabet. We have all learnt the ABC song as children and probably still use it when we are searching for a particular alphabetical structure even as an adult.

In order to help our children, learn their letters and sounds, it is important to have multiple strategies for teaching letters and sounds.  We also need to understand the misconceptions and the challenges students face when having to learn and remember their letters and sounds.

I would like to clarify a few things before we get into the core of what students need when it comes to this concept.  I understand the way we teach letters, sounds, and the alphabet may vary.  However, one thing will remain the same.  Sounds are sounds.  Letters are letters.  The alphabet is the alphabet.  These are all different things that are all connected to each other.  Just because a child knows his/her alphabet, does not mean he/she knows the letters and sounds.  Just because a child knows a letter, doesn’t necessarily mean he/she knows it’s sound, and vice versa.  It is important to know the difference, because students will eventually need each separate skill for different things.  

It is highly unlikely that your child will be taught the letters ABC when they start school as it is far more useful for them to learn the sounds or “phonemes” which will benefit their reading. 

Most schools follow a programme for learning sounds and it is highly likely that your child will learn s, a, t, p, i, n, first – admittedly this will be a slow repetitive process and will likely take much of the first half term. 

“In a multimedia world adults have less time to talk and listen to children, but children need to talk to learn and grow.” 

What is the term phonics all about. 

Analytical phonics is where we 
• Learn whole words (sight vocabulary)

• Start to see similarities like the same initial letter (c in cat and c in cub) 

• See spelling patterns (say, pay, may  – called onset and rime) 

• Use what we know to break down new words 

Synthetic phonics is where

• The synthetic bit relates to synthesising or blending 

• Letter sounds are learnt with most frequently used first (s a t p i n or m a s t d) 

• Words are made by blending them together 

• Sounds are clearly articulated 

Phonics is:

Knowledge of the alphabetic code  + Skills of segmentation and blending 

In summary, research has made learning more effective: we used to teach reading by teaching whole words first, we now teach using component sounds first. In reality……good readers use both the above methods and many other strategies 

So how can you help your child to become a good reader? 

Sounding out words is the starting point
  • Make sure that your child’s ‘ear’ is ready for phonics by reading to your child as much as you possibly can (see our list of recommended books)
  • Point out and play with rhymes
  • Clap out syllables in words 
  • Make up alliterative sentences 
  • Say phrases with missing bits (e.g. Fish and chips without saying ‘ch’) 
  • I spy with my little eye… 

What else? 

  • Learn how to say all the sounds correctly 
  • Know the difference between a letter and a sound 
  • a letter is one of the 26 written elements of the alphabet 
  • a sound is a single voiced element which may be made up using one or more letters (e.g. m & igh are both sounds) 

English has the following sounds: 

  • 44 sounds or phonemes
  • 19 vowel sounds
  • 25 consonant sounds

Pronouncing phonemes 

A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound that you can hear within a word. The word phoneme refers to the sound, NOT the letter(s) which represent the sound in writing. 

* Fish has 3 phonemes f-i-sh * Cat has 3 phonemes c-a-t 

1. Stretchy sounds  – f l m n r s v z th ng ee 

2. Bouncy sounds   – a p t h c d g j w qu y ch 

Letters are the start of learning to read.

The alphabetic code… 

• When we say that children can decode what we mean is that they can use the alphabetic code to work out how to read new words. 

• This is tested at the end of year one when every child will sit a phonics assessment comprising 20 real words and 20 nonsense words.

• Don’t make the common mistake of thinking the letter names refer to capital or upper case letters and letter sounds relate to lower case letters 

• Remember that your child’s visual memory will play a big part in remembering what all the letters look like 

Interesting fact …If children are read to only once or less a week by the age of 5 they are already 6-8 months behind peers. The simple solution read to your children