David Walters

Teaching phonics

How to make teaching phonics effective and fun

Phonics is still the number one way to teach children to read and write and that is why it is still an instrumental part of the British curriculum. Through phonics we teach the children the sounds of the letters rather than the letter names.

I have had the privilege of seeing children taught phonics in many different schools, ranging from international schools, bilingual, Thai schools and even language schools. I have seen Phonics taught brilliantly at times and at other times not so well. If you are a phonics teacher then I hope this blog post is helpful as I guide you through the structure of a phonics lesson, how to make it fun and some of the common mistakes made by untrained teachers.

Firstly some common mistakes:

1) Knowing the letter sounds (Phonemes) - It is imperative that you know the letter sounds, and by this I don't just mean /a/ for apple, I mean all the diagraphs (th,ng,ch etc) and consonant clusters (bl, gl, st etc); all the alternative ways to represent vowel sounds and not forgetting the tricky words (sight words) that need to be memorised as they are not phonetically decodable. These words are taught in a very particular order dependent on a) their importance and b) the frequency that children use them.

2) Pronouncing the sound correctly - A common mistake is to add vowel sounds to the end of the sound that you are focusing on, for example ‘m' as "mer" or ‘h' as a short ‘her'

3) Teaching the sounds in the correct order (not alphabetically) - The whole point of phonics is to teach the letter sounds in order that they are most used. This can be found in the Letters and Sounds scheme; the Jolly Phonics program is not in order but you can find a copy of the songs reordered correctly here.

4) Teaching too many sounds in a single lesson -trying to teach too many sounds in one go is problematic for beginners, especially if the sounds are similar or the letters formed in similar ways like ‘b' and ‘d'. More advanced learners can learn more than one spelling but keep the sound the same, e.g. ai, ay, eigh, a etc...

Structuring a lesson

There is a lot to teaching phonics and indeed the Letters and Sounds booklet is a bit daunting so lets keep it simple. Basically a child needs to recognize the sounds through speaking and then through seeing. Once they are confident with this they should be able to move on to writing by copying and repeating and finally to writing through listening.

I tend to teach the recognition and reading on the first day and writing on the second with early learners but both skills with older or more advanced learners who will also be blending and segmenting too. A basic lesson should be structured as follows:

Revise and review: Spend a couple of minutes revising previous sounds

Teach: Introduce a new sound

Practise: Practise that sound, maybe mixed in with other sounds

Apply: Make sure the children know the sound in context

Assess: Check to see which children have remembered the sound and which will need another session.

Making phonics fun

Phonics can be taught in a variety of ways. Different games focus in on different skills and different levels but most can be adapted to meet the needs of your students. Try searching some of the following:

Buried treasure


Fishing for sounds

Phonics matching pairs

North South East West

Battleship phonics

Ball and cap game

For more games follow our blog or our YouTube channel. Our compilation of games is not complete but we are constantly updating and adding new activities.

David Walters

Head of British Early Years Centre


Another way is the vocabulary based method - animals at the zoo, different types of transport, things in the room etc. You can teach phonics that way. It seems more practical and the progress is immediate. They begin using new words, not just sounds.

By Ray, Bangkok (22nd January 2015)

The most important aspect of reading is understanding. Without understanding, reading is, literally, useless.
Simply turning the words on the page into sounds is only "reading" in a very limited sense. Without understanding, reading is of no real use.
Keeping it simple....
from an early age we learn to speak by listening and by repetition... and eventually we do the same in writing.
Basically when learning a language we do the same.
listen, practice speaking and correct when necessary is the best way to encourage a foreign language or a second language student to learn English.
One of the many things that I find amazing in this country, is when I hear a Thai lead singer on stage singing a song in perfect English ac sent and when ever I get the chance to have a conversation with him or her I find that most of them their English is very limited to just four words... thank you vely much ;o)

By leo, phuket (14th October 2014)

After reading part of your blog, it appears you're not a fan of synthetic phonics...why? Research by the Brit,Aussie and US governments shows the method works...

By John Davis, Bangkok (11th October 2014)

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