True or false: Five facts you need to know about phonics

March 1, 2018 Published by

Since 2007, children in England have been practising their ‘a-a-ants’ and ’sss-nakes’. This literacy teaching method, known as phonics, consists of learning 42 letter sounds and then blending them together into words.

This approach can provide a springboard for the reading ability of many children, but there are still many misconceptions surrounding phonics.

Here are a few misconstrued beliefs about phonics – but how many are true? Lets see!


1. Children have to learn lots of phonics before they can start decoding words.

Answer: False!


It’s more important which phonics children learn than how many, because just a few learned letter sounds will allow them to decode a surprisingly large number of words. For example, just look how many words children can decode using the phonics –  s a t i p n m d.

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In the widely used Jolly Phonics teaching programme, children learn phonics in seven groups, in a set order (see below). You’ll notice that the phonics above (that enable children to decode 60 words) are covered in the first two groups alone.


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2. Learning phonics doesn’t improve vocabulary or help ‘reading for meaning’.

Answer: False!


Looking at the random letters listed above, you’d be forgiven for thinking that learning the sounds that match them won’t contribute much to a child’s vocabulary. But actually, once children can sound out a word, they can begin to take the meaning from the context; whereas a child who relies on context to recognise a word may struggle to do this.

Similarly, children need to be able to decode the printed word before they can start taking meaning from it – otherwise, letters are just a confusing jumble of symbols. Could you (assuming you are not fluent in Chinese Mandarin) translate the following?

3. Phonics works for all children.

Answer: False!


A ‘one size fits all’ model of reading would be ideal – but one learning method is never going to suit every child. In a 2014 poll run by ReadingWise UK, half of the teachers surveyed said they believe phonics is not effective in helping pupils with dyslexia (which affects more than 1 in 20 children learn to read). It can also risk putting able readers off reading, as they are “forced to move back from reading for meaning to a mechanical exercise of blending and decoding” (Dr Davis, former primary school teacher).

It’s important to note, however, that the phonics method is thought to be a good approach for the majority of children. Research shows that children aged between five and seven years are up to two years ahead of pupils taught using alternative methods, giving them an excellent head start in school. Although parents shouldn’t be concerned if their child doesn’t quite gel with phonics; children tend to catch up by age 11 using other reading methods.


4. Getting a child to read a book above their reading level is the best way to improve their reading skills.

Answer: False!

While it can be tempting to try to ‘push’ children’s skills by giving them more advanced books than perhaps recommended (either by the age on the book, or by their teacher), reading is one of those skills that for most children needs to progress step by step. If a child isn’t able to read (or, decode) the majority of the words in the book, it could really knock the child’s confidence, an adult is likely to take over reading many of the words.

That’s not to say all of those lovely long storybooks are off limits. We often hear about reading for pleasure, and one of the best ways to encourage a love of reading at this point is to simply let children enjoy the story! Cuddle up together, make the silly voices, bring the story to life – and look forward to the day when your child can read the book for themselves.


5. Learning phonics can’t be fun

Answer: False!

Children love learning new things – it’s a great confidence boost.

Although it might take a lot of perseverance, eventually they’ll have that eureka moment…


As well as the thrill of mastering a new skill (that they’ll now get to show off to you!), there are plenty of fun ways you can engage your child in practising their phonics. For example, Jolly Phonics uses memorable actions to demonstrate phonics (find these actions on page 8 of the Jolly Phonics parent/teacher guide).

Some carefully chosen toys and apps can also make phonics practice more interactive too.

Take a look at our independent, expert reviews for some great phonics apps for children to get you started. 

So there you have it, five phonics myths busted.

How many did you get right?

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This post was written by Anna Taylor

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