Phonics is phun!...or is it?

    Published: 22 January 2020

    So, it’s a Friday afternoon and you’re thinking about what to plan for your Phonics sessions next week.  Are you filled with enthusiasm and delight about the exhilarating activities you have in mind for your young scholars, imagining them all gazing up at you in anticipation?  Or do you have descending upon you the Phonic ‘cloud of doom’ as all you can think of is getting those tidy packs of whiteboards and pens out again for a daily dose of grapheme formation?

    Dark clouds

    You are not alone!

    Countless colleagues have the same thoughts when it comes to phonics planning.  For many of us in Early Years,  it’s the only area of learning that we have to plan for in the same way, on a daily basis, using the same process, so no wonder we begin to flounder from time to time when trying to plan something exciting and engaging for our young children. 

    Puzzle character

    So what can you do?

    What are your options for adding some vim and vigour to your daily phonics sessions?  Including some physical activity is a very simple change you can make and probably one of the easiest!  We have all read the research on the inactivity of our children and the rise in childhood obesity, so anything we can do to encourage our young children to be more active should be embraced and become part of our daily routine.  It doesn’t have to be complicated…

    • If you sing a song to introduce the sessions, ask the children to stand up and perform lively actions as they sing, this helps them remember particular words or sounds with associated actions
    • Limit the sedentary nature of the session by alternating activities between sitting and moving to keep pace and engagement.  Large arm movements are an essential precursor to early writing and will help add that strong physical element to how children can represent grapheme formation – much better than always writing on a whiteboard!
    • Build connections in children’s learning – why not provide opportunity for children to use a PE skills in your phonics sessions and vice versa, such as kicking a small or large ball around cones with graphemes written on them will develop gross motor skills, or try balancing on stepping stones or logs with graphemes on them to sound out a word
    • Take the session outside – whatever the weather!  So many phonic games can be played outside just as well as inside and always seem so much more fun when they are.  The children will certainly remember them better and may even use them in their CIL when they go outside
    Autumn sunshine

    There is good reason, founded in research, for taking learning outside.

    ‘The outdoor environment provides meaningful and engaging experiences for young children.  Many children not only prefer to spend time outdoors, but actually function at their highest level and learn best when they are outside…Practitioners should capitalise on this when planning for outdoor learning.  For example, children can often hear syllables far more easily if they are shouting names rather than speaking quietly’. 

    Scott and Stevens ‘L is for Sheep’ Featherstone 2006

    Young children are more likely to learn when they are having fun.  We know that learning through play is best for small children.  We are adept at tricking them into learning whilst they think they’re just having a whale of a time playing with what they love!  So why not use this knowledge to liven up your phonics teaching?  Instead of holding up phoneme cards day after day for the children to call out the sounds, mix it up!  Be dynamic!  It’ll be more fun for you as well as the children! 

    How can you mix it up? 

    • If they are interested in Space, have them crouching down and flying up in the air as rockets as they call out the phonemes! 
    • Write the phonemes on planets - Spread the planets face down on the floor and the children take it in turns to flip them over with their space gloves or ‘space spade’! – Perhaps their friends can call out the sounds. 
    • Hide them in your outdoor space and the children find them – read them to you/a friend/an older child/ a parent helper…then hide them again for a friend to find – now this game could go on indefinitely!

    Using children’s fascinations and interests will motivate them and help enthuse their participation

    Active Phonic Sessions

    The video was the catalyst for the creation of our Supersonic Phonic and Foundations for Phonics activity cards and the supporting planning formats that are designed to encourage practitioners to provide stimulating daily phonics sessions.  The activity cards will help to supplement the range of activities that you already plan for as part of your existing phonics teaching.  The lively ideas will help you add variety to your phonics sessions and maintain your enthusiasm and passion for teaching those all-important early reading skills. 

    Stamping on cup

    We wanted the cards to be quick to understand and useful, so we have ensured there are no complex instructions.  We have included clear guidance, a list of simple resources and a photograph along with additional ideas for adapting each activity.  One of our favourite activities, and definitely one that is extremely popular with the children, is ‘Stamp on the cup’.  The letters (graphemes) are placed on the floor in front of the children and cups are placed behind the letters.  The adult calls out a letter sound (phoneme) and the child that has the matching grapheme then literally stamps on the cup.  You can just imagine the excitement this generates with the children!  The game is easily adapted to match the ability of the children by placing words in front of the cups to replace the letters.   The Supersonic Phonic range starts with Foundations for Phonics which include lively activities for the youngest children or those at the earlies stages of their phonic development.  The Supersonic Phonic range then begins at Phase One and moves steadily through the phases, with the most challenging cards moving beyond Phase Four to continue the lively activities with more able Phonic learners!

    We understand that there is no ‘one size fits all’ with EY practitioners and that you are working in a variety of settings with very different cohorts of children.  For that reason, we have created a selection of planning formats that might help you with your daily phonics sessions.  They provide planning examples for Phases One and beyond.  One element in particular that we believe is unique to our planning formats is the opportunity to note the elements of Phase One that will be followed through the Reception year and beyond, regardless of which Phase the children are working within.  It is so important that the aspects of Phase One are continued throughout all phases to really ensure they are firmly embedded in the children’s early reading skills.

    With Ofsted’s new, deeper focus on the teaching of phonics and the requirement for clear, sequential teaching, our planning formats will ensure that practitioners are supported with this.   The cards fit into any phonics ‘scheme’ you might be using but they will ensure that the teaching is lively and engaging as all early years teaching should be! 

    Happy Phonic-ing!

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