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Phonics Awareness

Among the six broader “areas of learning” that the Rose Review presented to the English Department of Education in 2010, the report found that the systematic learning of Phonics was crucial to raising standards of reading, with early interventions to prevent children from falling behind.


Children need to master phonological processing strategies, such as distinguishing the *phonemes within words and making accurate links between sounds and letters and to develop a visual memory for printed words. Instruction in phonological awareness skills supports the acquisition of literacy skills. The teaching of Phonics Awareness uses a specific approach called Systematic Phonics. Systematic Phonics is not one specific method of teaching phonics, rather, it is a family of phonics instruction that includes the methods of both Synthetic Phonics and Analytical Phonics. They are “systematic” because the letters and the sounds they relate to, are taught in a specific sequence as opposed to incidentally or on a ‘when-needed’ basis. However, it should be noted that in most instances, the term systematic phonics appears to refer to synthetic phonics because of the specific instruction methods it uses.


Systematic Phonics does not include methods such as embedded phonics and phonics mini lessons which are found in the Whole Language approach and the Balanced Literacy approach. Synthetic Phonics uses the concept of ‘synthesising’, which means ‘putting together’ or ‘blending’. Simply put, the sounds prompted by the letters are synthesised (put together or blended) to pronounce the word.


According to a 2005 report by the Scottish Executive Education Department, the instruction methods of synthetic phonics has some of the following characteristics. The sounds that the letters make (e.g.. “sss” not “es”, and “mmm” not “em”) are taught before children begin to read books. Often, the sounds of the most commonly used letters s, a, t, i, p, and n, are taught first. Then children are taught how these sounds can be “blended” together to form many three letter words (e.g. sat, tin, pin, etc.). Consonant blends (e.g. bl, cl, dr, st, etc.) are not taught separately because they can be “sounded out”. However, digraphs (i.e. two letters that make one sound such as th and sh, are taught as the separate sounds that they are.


In the United Kingdom, the term systematic phonics is “generally understood as synthetic phonics” according to the reading review which was conducted in 2006. Perhaps in an effort to reduce any confusion between the terms, the U.K. Department for Education is using the term Systematic Synthetic Phonics.

The teaching of early reading and phonics provides the best support for children with significant literacy difficulties and enables them to catch up with their peers. Students who have strong phonological awareness skills, demonstrate better literacy skills.


* A phoneme is generally regarded as being a set of speech sounds (phones) which are perceived as equivalent to each other in a given language. For example, in English, the “k” sounds in the words kit and skill are not identical, but they are perceived as the same sound by speakers of the language, and are therefore both considered to represent a single phoneme, k