What is synthetic phonics?

When your child is learning to read there are two crucial things to learn:

  • the sounds represented by written letters
  • how to blend the sounds together to make words.

Synthetic Phonics is a way of teaching reading.

Children are taught to read letters or groups of letters by saying the sound(s) they represent – so, they are taught that the letter l sounds like llllll when we say it. Children can then start to read words by blending (synthesising) the sounds together to make a word.

At school, you will probably hear teachers talking about blending , but you might also hear them refer to sounding out or Fred Talk too, depending on which phonic scheme your child’s school is using. All these terms focus on the same point – synthesising sounds .

What is taught first?

Children are first taught a small group of sounds, then learn to blend the sounds to read words made up of those sounds, e.g. mat. Then they are taught more sounds and learn to blend those too.

The order in which the sounds are taught will vary depending on which scheme is used at school, but it won’t be alphabetical order because that’s not the best order to allow your child to start blending the sounds for reading. Schools can tell you about their chosen scheme and in what order the sounds are taught.

Speedy recognition of the sound for each letter is really important too, so your child can blend them to read words easily.

Top tips

Watch Ruth Miskin give her top tips

1. Saying sounds correctly

This is really important when you are helping your child to learn the sounds. Just remember not to add an uh to the end of the consonant sounds – so say mmm not muh, lll not luh, etc. because then later it’s easier to blend the sounds together to make words.

If you’re not sure then use our sound chart to hear how to say each sound .

2. Linking sounds to letters

Encourage your child to make a link between the sound and the written letter shape. Start with the sounds in your child’s name and then look out for them in signs. The sound m in McDonalds is always a good starting point too!

3. Sounds represented by more than one letter

Some sounds are represented by more than one letter such as sh in ship, ch in chat, th in thin, qu in quick and ng in sing. When you’re out and about point out examples of these to your child too. You might see them in posters, signs, or leaflets.

4. Practise, practise, practise

Build up a knowledge of the letters and sounds quite quickly with your child and keep practising so that it becomes automatic. Keep reminding ‘Do you remember when we were talking about the sound ch...?’, or ‘Oh look! There’s a big t (sound) on that poster!’.

5. Putting sounds together to read simple words

Say the sounds c-a-t to read cat, sh-o-p to read shop and s-t-r-ee-t to read street. If your child gets stuck and is struggling to blend the sounds, say the sounds yourself, quickly, until your child can hear the word!

Only beginner readers need to sound out every word as they read all the time. But, they will still need to work out new and long words.

6. Tricky words

Some everyday words in English have tricky spellings and can’t be read by blending. Imagine trying to read the word said or does by blending each letter! These are sometimes called high frequency tricky words , or Red words. These words just have to be learned by sight and flashcard-type games are a good way to practise these.

7. Reading books

Schools using a synthetic phonics scheme are likely to be sending home decodable books. This means the books contain mostly words that children can read by sounding out to get them off to a good start with independent reading. After your child has read a page, you can read it aloud again, to make sure that the story is enjoyed and understood.

8. Using pictures

Pictures are great for sharing and talking about a story (which is really important too!) but don’t encourage your child to use pictures to guess the words that they don’t already know.

9. Writing letters

Teach your child how to write the letters as the letter sounds are learned. And don’t forget to show your child how to hold the pencil correctly too!

10. Common sense ...

Lots and lots of books! Carry on sharing and reading lots and lots of stories and information books to and with your child.

Praise and hugs! Most importantly, remember that your child will learn much faster with encouragement, praise and hugs.

Find out more

The following websites will give you further information on phonic reading schemes and more detailed phonics advice.

Phonics programmes

Further phonics advice

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