Reading > Letters and Sounds

What is Letters and Sounds?

Letters and Sounds is a systematic approach for teaching children to read using phonics. It is used in many schools in England, but is not a mandatory part of the National Curriculum. It is split into six phases, from starting to learn about sounds at nursery to becoming fluent readers around age 7.

Traditionally, children were taught letter names like ay, bee, sea from the start. However, letter names don’t always represent their pronunciation – examples include double u or em – and this might confuse children when they try to pronounce words made up of these letters.

The phonic approach encourages us to directly link letters (graphemes) to sounds (phonemes), and to teach children pure sounds like ah, b, k when encountering the alphabet. So, children learn how to put sounds represented by letters or letter groups (like ch or igh) together to read words in a more straightforward way.

Watch: How to pronounce pure sounds

The relationship between the letter(s) and the sound is called a letter-sound correspondence, also known as a grapheme-phoneme correspondence (or GPC).

How do children learn to read using Letters and Sounds?

The information below outlines the letter-sound correspondences children will learn in different phases. There are a few "tricky words" introduced at each phase. These words are common and useful for early reading and writing, but children won’t be able to decode them following the phonic rules taught up to that point. You can help your child learn them by reading aloud together.

Phase 1 Letters and Sounds

Approx age: 3– 4 | Nursery/Reception
Phase 1 supports children's developing speaking and listening skills and linking of sounds and letters. Activities are divided into seven groups:

  • Environmental sounds
  • Instrumental sounds
  • Body percussion
  • Rhythm and rhyme
  • Alliteration
  • Voice sounds
  • Oral blending and segmenting.

Phase 2 Letters and Sounds

Approx age: 4–5 | First term of Reception
Phase 2 introduces simple letter-sound correspondences. As each set of letters is introduced, children are encouraged to use their new knowledge to sound out and blend words. For example, they will learn to blend the sounds s-a-t to make the word sat.

Set 1:
s, a, t, p
at, a, sat, pat, tap, sap, as

Set 2:
i as in it, is, sit, pit, tip
n as in an, in, nip, pan, nap
m as in am, man, mat, map, Tim
d as in dad, and, sad, dim, Sid

Set 3:
g as in tag, gag, sag, gas, pig
o as in got, on, not, top, dog
c as in can, cot, cop, cap, cod
k as in kid, kit, Kim, Ken

Set 4:
ck as in kick, sack, dock, sick, pocket
e as in get, pet, ten, net, pen
u as in up, mum, run, mug, cup
r as in rip, ram, rat, rocket, carrot

Set 5:
h as in had, him, his, hot, hut
b as in but, big, back, bed, bus
f, ff as in of, if, off, fit, fog, puff
l, ll as in let, leg, lot, bell, doll
ss as in less, hiss, mass, mess, boss

Phase 2 tricky words the, to, no, go, I, into

Watch: How to blend sounds to read words

Phase 3 Letters and Sounds

Approx. age: 4–5 | Reception
In Phase 3 children build on the letter-sound correspondences learned in Phase 2. They learn consonant digraphs (sounds made up of two letters together such as ‘ch’ or ‘ll’) and long vowel sounds (such as 'igh' or 'ai').

Set 6:
j as in jet, jam, jog, Jan
v as in van, vet, velvet
w as in wig, will, web
x as in fox, box, six

Set 7:
y as in yes, yet, yell
z as in zip, zig-zag
zz as in buzz, jazz
qu as in quit, quick, liquid

Consonant digraphs:
ch as in chip, chat, rich
sh as in shop, shed, fish
th as in thin, moth, that
ng as in ring, thing, song

Vowel digraphs and trigraphs
ai as in rain, tail, aim
ee as in bee, leek, see
igh as in high, sigh, might
oa as in boat, toad, foal
oo as in boot, food, moon
oo as in book, wood, foot
ar as in park, art, car
or as in for, torn, fork
ur as in hurt, fur, surf
ow as in cow, owl, town
oi as in coin, boil, oil
ear as in dear, shear, year
air as in fair, pair, hair
ure as in sure, pure, manure
er as in dinner, summer, letter

Phase 3 tricky words as in he, she, we, me, be, was, you, they, all, are, my, her

Phase 4 Letters and Sounds

Approx. age: 4–5 | Reception
Children will consolidate their knowledge during this phase and they will learn to read and spell words which have adjacent consonants, for example trap, strong, milk and crept.

Phase 4 tricky words said, have, like, so, do, some, come, were, there, little, one, when, out, what

Phase 5 Letters and Sounds

Approx. age: 5–6 | Year 1
Children will learn some new graphemes for reading. They will also be taught alternative pronunciations for known graphemes. For example, they have already learned ow as in cow and will now learn ow as in blow.
In addition, they will learn alternative spellings for known phonemes. For example, the sound /igh/ has been learned as the grapheme igh as in night, but can also be spelled y, ie and i-e.

New graphemes for reading:
ay as in day, play, crayon
ou as in cloud, sound, about
ie as in pie, tie, cried
ea as in sea, meat, read
oy as in toy, enjoy, boy
ir as in bird, shirt, first
ue as in blue, true, glue
aw as in paw, claw, yawn
wh as in wheel, whisper, when
ph as in photo, dolphin, alphabet
ew as in new, crew, flew
oe as in toe, foe, tomatoes
au as in Paul, launch, haul
a-e as in make, game, snake
e-e as in these, Eve, extreme
i-e as in like, time, slide
o-e as in home, bone, pole
u-e as in rule, June, flute

Phase 5 tricky words oh, their, people, Mr, Mrs, looked, called, asked, could

Phase 6 Letters and Sounds

Approx. age: 6–7 | Year 2
In Phase 6 children will read with increasing fluency. They will have learned most of the common letter-sound correspondences and can read familiar words automatically without needing to sound out and blend. Children will work on spelling, including prefixes and suffixes, doubling and dropping letters, and so on.

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