Phonics and Reading at St. Leonard’s

As a school we are committed to continually raising standards in Reading. We aim to develop each child so that they are able to read with fluency as well as develop a love of reading that will stay with them throughout their lives. Being able to read is the most important skill children will learn during their early schooling. Our aim is to ensure the highest standards of reading and literacy for every child by providing them with the skills necessary to read with confidence, fluency and understanding. We believe that children must learn to read and read to learn. Therefore we aim to develop children’s competence in both word reading (by teaching phonics) and comprehension to develop understanding.



At St. Leonard’s we are committed to the delivery of excellence in the teaching of Phonics. The aim of teaching phonics is to develop word reading skills which enable the children to speedily work out the pronunciation of unfamiliar words (decoding) and the speedy recognition of familiar, high-frequency words. Our children are provided with a variety of opportunities to develop and extend their phonics skills in and across Nursery, Reception and Key Stage 1.

Parents often ask how they can support their children with phonics at home. There are a range of highly informative videos about the teaching of phonics on the Oxford Owl website which are well worth watching. You can find them using the following link:

The videos include advice on:

  • How to pronounce pure sounds
  • How to blend sounds to read words
  • How to support phonics learning
  • Phonics top 10 tips

At St. Leonard’s, we plan our phonics teaching around  the DfE’s Letters and Sounds to prepare children for learning to read by developing their phonic knowledge and skills. It sets out a detailed and systematic programme for teaching phonic skills to children, with the aim of them becoming fluent readers by age seven. The programme is sequenced into 6 phases. You can find the Letters and Sounds document here:

What Are Phonics Phases?

Phases are the way the Letters and Sounds Programme is broken down to teach sounds in a certain order.

At the same time, whole words that cannot be broken down easily are taught to the children. These are called ‘Common Exception Words’ or we may refer to them as ‘Tricky Words’ to the children. They include words such as said, was, could, which are not spelt the way they sound.

Phase One

(Nursery/Reception) – Activities are divided into seven aspects, including environmental sounds, instrumental sounds, body sounds, rhythm and rhyme, alliteration, voice sounds and finally oral blending and segmenting.

Phase Two

(Reception) up to 6 weeks – In this phase children learn the sound for 19 letters of the alphabet. They blend sounds together to read simple words such as hat, dog, pen and segment words into their separate sounds in order to spell them. They also begin to read simple captions and sentences.

Phase Three

(Reception) up to 12 weeks – In this phase the children learn the sound for the remaining 7 letters of the alphabet. They will also be taught the graphemes such as sh, ch, oo, th, ee, ar, igh, air, ow, ur which represent the remaining phonemes in our phonetic alphabet which are not covered by single letters. They will blend to read words containing these graphemes and segment to spell them. On completion of this phase, children will have learnt the “simple code”, i.e. one grapheme for each phoneme in the English language. The table below shows the sounds which will be covered in Phase 3.

Sound Example words containing this grapheme
ch chat  chin  rich
sh shop  sheep  fish
th that  thin  path
ai rain  wait
ee feet  seed
igh high  night  fight
oa goat  road
oo moon  roof
ar park  sharp
or born  torch
ur hurt  church
ow cow  town
oi coin  join
ear near  beard
air hair  chair
er darker  richer  sister
ure cure  pure

Phase Four

(Reception) 4 to 6 weeks – No new grapheme-phoneme correspondences are taught in this phase. Children learn to blend and segment longer words with adjacent consonants, e.g. swim, clap, jump, strap. They will also blend and segment multi-syllabic words such as moonlight: m-oo-n-l-igh-t, shampoo: sh-a-m-p-oo, downstairs: d-ow-n-s-t-air-s.

Phase Five

(Throughout Year 1) –  In this phase we move on to the “complex code”. Children learn more graphemes for the phonemes which they already know, plus different ways of pronouncing the graphemes they already know. For example, in Phase 3 they learnt the sound for ai, as in rain. Now they learn that there are alternative graphemes for the same sound, e.g ay as in play and a-e as in game. In Phase 3 they learnt the sound ow as in cow. In Phase 5 they learn that ow makes an alternative sound in words such as grow. The table below shows the sounds which will be covered in Phase 5.

Sound Example words containing this grapheme
ay play  stay
ou loud  shout
ie This makes 2 sounds ie as in pie, ie as in chief
ea This makes 2 sounds ea as in team, ea as in head, bread
oy boy  toy
ir girl  skirt
ue This makes 2 sounds, ue as in blue, ue as in cue, due
aw lawn  crawl
wh when  which
ph phonics, phone
ew This makes 2 sounds ew as in new, ew as in flew
oe toe, Joe
au launch  haunt
ow Having already learnt ow as in cow (Phase 3), we now learn ow as in show, shadow
a-e (split digraph) made  shape
e-e (split digraph) Pete, eve
i-e (split digraph) time  crime
o-e (split digraph) hope  smoke
u-e (split digraph) cube  flute

Phase Six

(Throughout Year 2 and beyond) – In this phase children work on spelling, including prefixes and suffixes, doubling and dropping letters etc. For example, they learn that we must double the p to turn shop into shopping and that we must drop the e to turn wave into waving.

What are ‘Tricky words’ or ‘Common Exception Words’

Tricky words are words that cannot be ‘sounded-out’ but need to be learned by heart. They don’t fit into the usual spelling patterns. Example words include said, some, would, you, was. In order to read simple sentences, it is necessary for children to know some words that have unusual or untaught spellings. It should be noted that, when teaching these words, it is important to always start with sounds already known in the word, then focus on the ‘tricky’ part.

What are High Frequency words?

High frequency words are common that recur frequently in much of the written material young children read and that they need when they write. Examples of high frequency words include the, he, she, of, are

What do the Phonics terms mean?

Children will be taught to use the correct technical language when learning Phonics:

  • Phoneme: The smallest unit of sound in a word, e.g. c/a/t,  sh/o/p, t/ea/ch/er.
  • Grapheme: A letter or group of letter representing one sound, e.g. sh, igh, t.
  • Digraph: Two letters which together make one sound, e.g. sh, ch, ee, ph, oa. It’s important that children understand that even though digraphs contain two letters, they only make one sound.
  • Split digraph: Two letters, which work as a pair, split, to represent one sound, e.g. a-e as in cake, i-e as in kite, o-e as in home, u-e as in flute.
  • Trigraph:  Three letters which together make one sound but cannot be separated into smaller phonemes, e.g. igh as in light, ear as in beard, air as in chair. It’s important that children understand that even though trigraphs contain three letters, they only make one sound.


  • Segmenting: We segment a word in order to spell it. Segmenting means hearing the individual phonemes within a word – for instance the word ‘crash’ consists of four phonemes: ‘c – r – a – sh’. In order to spell this word, a child must segment it into its component phonemes and choose a grapheme to represent each phoneme.
  • Blending: We blend a word in order to read it. You may have heard blending referred to as ‘sounding out’. Blending means merging the individual phonemes together to pronounce a word. In order to read an unfamiliar word, a child must recognise (‘sound out’) each grapheme, not each letter (e.g. although the word sheep has 5 letters it only has 3 phonemes/sounds:  sh-ee-p, NOT s-h-e-e-p). They then blend the phonemes together to make the word.
  • Mnemonics: a device for memorising and recalling something, such as a hand action of a snake, together with a hissing sssssss sound  to remember the phoneme /s/.
  • Adjacent consonants:  two or three letters with discrete sounds, which are blended together e.g. str, cr, tr, gr. (previously known as consonant clusters).

Reading Comprehension

As well as teaching the mechanics of reading through phonics, we aim to develop key comprehension skills to enable children to become more successful readers, to read to learn and to develop a lifelong love of reading. We ensure that children’s comprehension skills develop through providing high-quality discussion with the teacher, and establishing clear methods for answering a range of comprehension questions involving retrieving information, making inferences and making predictions. Children will read a range of genres and discuss and respond to a range of stories, poems and non-fiction.

We use the Literacy Shed’s ‘Reading Vipers’ in our whole class and small group teaching of reading. The Reading Vipers approach helps to develop key comprehension skills and enables the children to become more successful readers.  Each of the letters stands for one of the key areas of learning.

What are the Reading Vipers?

VIPERS is an anagram to aid the recall of the 6 reading domains which make up the UK’s reading curriculum.  They are the key areas which we feel children need to know and understand in order to improve their comprehension of texts.

VIPERS stands for:

  • Vocabulary
  • Inference
  • Prediction
  • Explanation
  • Retrieval
  • Sequence or Summarise

How can parents help?

VIPERS can be used on any text that a child is reading, as well as on pictures, picture books and even films! When any adult is listening to a child read, all they have to do is think of questions about the book/picture/film that cover all of the VIPERS, and there are great examples below of how you can create your own questions using the following question openers.

EYFS – Y2 Y3 – Y4
Vocabulary What does the word ….. mean in this sentence?

What does this word or phrase tell you about …..?

What do the words ….. and ….. suggest about the character, setting and mood?

Find one word in the text which means …..

Which word tells you that …..?

Infer Why was …..? feeling …..?

What do you think the author intended when they said …..?

How can you tell that …..?

What impression of …..? do you get from

these paragraphs?

Predict What do you think will happen next? What makes you think this?

What is happening? What do you think happened before?

Do you think ….. will happen? Yes, no or maybe?

Explain your answer using evidence from the text.

What does this paragraph suggest will happen next? What makes you think this?

Explain Who is your favourite character? Why?

Is there anything you would change about this story?

Do you like this text? What do you like about it?

The mood of the character changes throughout the text.

Find and copy the phrases which show this.

How does the author engage the reader here?

Why is the text arranged in this way?

Retrieve How many …..?

What happened to …..?

How would you describe this story/text? What genre is it? How do you know?


What happened after …..?

What was the first thing that happened in the story?

Can you summarise in a sentence the opening/middle/end of the story?

In what order do these chapter headings come in the story?

Examples of how to use the Reading Vipers

Here is a piece of text taken from Prince Cinders by Babette Cole:

Prince Cinders had three brothers who were not very nice to him at all. Although he did all the work around the house, they always wanted him to do more!  They did nothing to help him and they always teased him because he was small, scruffy, spotty and skinny. What horrible brothers they were!

One day, a dusty fairy fell out of the chimney as Prince Cinders was washing up and landed with a puff of ash all around her.  “What on earth was that?” he asked.  His heart was beating so fast in his chest.  The fairy dusted herself down and announced, “All your wishes will be granted!”

Vocabulary question: What two words has the author used as alternatives for ‘said’? What does granted mean?

Inference questions: (‘Reading between the lines’): Why does the fairy dust herself down? Why do you think this? How did Prince Cinders feel when the fairy fell out of the chimney? How do you know?

Prediction question: What do you think will happen next?

Explanation question: What do you think about Prince Cinder’s brothers? Explain why you think this.

Retrieval questions: How many brothers does Prince Cinders have? What was Prince Cinders doing when the fairy fell from the chimney?

Finally, you can find out more about the Reading Vipers here: and here:

KS1 Reading Viper Question Stems

KS2 Reading Viper Question Stems


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