How Schools Teach the Sounds in Reception

In the first two terms of Reception, children learn approximately 44 sounds, also called phonemes (smallest units of sound that make up a word). Some phonemes consist of just one letter (e.g. j k e) and others consist of two/three letters (e.g. ch, sh, ure, igh) often referred to as digraphs (two letter sounds) and trigraphs (3 letter sounds).

Children are taught the phase 2 sounds (orange) first and then move onto learning the phase 3 sounds (purple) afterwards. Finally in Reception, children move onto phase 4 (green) where they read initial and end consonant blends. Generally speaking, children will start learning the phase 2 sounds in the Autumn Term and by the Spring term (April onwards) most children will have moved onto Phase 4.

Phonics sounds

Definitions of terms used in phonics

  • Digraph — two letters making one sound, e.g. sh, ch, th, ph. vowel digraphs comprise of two vowels which, together, make one sound, e.g. ai, oo, ow
  • Split Digraph — two letters, split, making one sound, e.g. a-e as in make or i-e in site (Children learn these in Year 1, during Phase 5 of Letters and Sounds)
  • Grapheme — a letter or a group of letters representing one sound, e.g. sh, ch, igh.
  • Grapheme-phoneme correspondence (GPC) — the relationship between sounds and the letters which represent those sounds; also known as ‘letter-sound correspondences’
  • Mnemonic — a device for memorising and recalling something, such as a snake shaped like the letter ‘S’
  • Phoneme — the smallest single identifiable sound, e.g. the letters ‘sh’ represent just one sound, but ‘sp’ represents two (/s/ and /p/)
  • Segment (vb) — to split up a word into its individual phonemes in order to spell it, e.g. the word ‘cat’ has three phonemes: /c/, /a/, /t/
  • VC, CVC, CCVC — the abbreviations for vowel-consonant, consonant-vowel-consonant, consonant-consonant-vowel-consonant, and are used to describe the order of letters in words, e.g. am, Sam, slam
  • Compound word – when two small words are joined together to make one new word, e.g. sunshine, rainbow, skateboard, butterfly