Phase 3 Phonics – Sounds & Tricky Words – Reading & Spelling

Phase 3 Phonics

Phase 3 phonics is an incredibly fun, yet complex challenge for most children. Some children will easily pick up these new phonemes, but for others it can take a little more time and plenty of repetition. It’s often the phase called the ‘digraphs’.

If you’d like to learn more about phonics from the start head to this blog post. If you want to understand what phonics phases are then check out this post.

A white tray has wooden stars, the word words spelt out in wooden letters and a range of orange to brown wooden people.

Phase 3 phonics is usually introduced in the reception year in the UK. Although, I’ve found that continual consolidation is needed for the majority of children through into key stage one to ensure the essential skills of phase 3 are firmly embedded.

Phase 3 Phonics – Digraphs

Children were introduced to consonant digraphs in phase 2 with ch, sh, th, ck. They often fall at the beginning or end of words children are currently learning and make them much more easily identified when reading.

Digraph – two letters that make one sound. For example ch, ph, th.

If you’d like to understand more phonics terminology then head to the Phonics Glossary here.

Phase 2 and phase 3 phonics grapheme pebbles laid out with a wooden four section tray with the pebble d, u, ck, s placed in to spell out ducks.

Phase 3 introduces vowel digraphs such as ai, ar and ow. At this point children are taught the grapheme that phoneme more commonly makes. For example ow as in cow NOT snow.

Grapheme – How you write the sound (phoneme) using a letter or number of letters. For example – the five letter word night consists of three sounds (phonemes): /n/ /ie/ /t/ and is written using three graphemes: ‘n’ – ‘igh’ – ‘t’.

Phase 3 Phonics Challenges

So why can this be a tricky challenge? Children need to first find the digraph when reading before having to remember what the digraph sound is. In the word ran children are familiar with sounding out each letter eg. r-a-n and then blend to form ran. In the word rain they need to first identify the digraph ai then blend the rest of the word r-ai-n.

Phase 2 and phase 3 phonics grapheme pebbles laid out with a wooden three section tray with the pebble r, ai and n placed in to spell out rain.

Blending – Putting together individual sounds to make words (reading). Before they can do this to read written words they need to be able to blend orally (hearing the sounds to merge them together).

Free Phonics Sound Mats

Children may still need to associate each letter with an image they have learnt from a phonics mat. This process takes time.

Phonics Phase 2 Sound Mat

Phonics phase 2 sound mat using real images.

In phase 3 children will need lots of practise to help identify phase 3 graphemes and their corresponding sounds. Sounds are usually learnt in a specific order starting from j through to er.

Phonics Phase 3 Sound Mat

Phonics phase 3 sound mat using real images.

As you will notice from my phase 3 Montessori friendly sound mat (above) towards the end of phase 3 we come across trigraphs. Being able to identify these digraphs and trigraphs quickly is a key skill to being able to read more complex words.

Trigraph – three letters that make one sound. For example igh, air.

Phase 3 High Frequency and Tricky Words

As with phase 2 phonics phase 3 introduces more high frequency and tricky words (click on links to find out more on each one). Learning high frequency words in phase 3 such as went, from, it’s, just, help and children improves the fluency of children’s reading.

In phase 3 phonics children are usually taught to read the following tricky words – he, she, we, me, be, was, my, you, her, they, all, are. They also learn to spell the tricky words that they learnt to read in phase 2 – the, to, I, no, go.

The BBC have a catchy phase 3 tricky word song and a quiz here and you can find lots of free printable resources here. I’d also highly recommend Geraldine the Giraffe videos. These were a big hit when I was teaching.

Red, orange, yellow, green and brown playdough in glass jars at the top of the image. Underneath is a wooden board that has green playdough rolled out with wooden letters to spell out the word snail. There is a wooden snail under the words.

Phase 3 Phonics Tips and Tricks

  • Helping children to spot patterns is key for phase 3. You’ll note in the tricky word list that there are words – he, she, we, me, be. Supporting children to be able to spot the pattern of the same letter and sound at the end of the word helps children to commit these to memory.
  • If a child is learning a particular phoneme and associated grapheme get them to skim through the text first to see if they can spot it. You may need to point out the word it is in and ask them to find the digraph/ trigraph. When they then come to read that word they may be able to identify the digraph themselves or may need a little prompting – eg. do you remember what you spotted in this word. Check out this blog post if you’d like more tips on how to help your child practise their reading skills.
Three fabric rope bowls in grey red and yellow. Inside are phase 2 and phase 3 graphemes depicted on individual pebbles.
  • The more immersion in the digraphs and trigraphs the better. If you’re able to appeal to the senses even better. Having the digraphs on post its or flash cards around the house is great. Get children to practise picking out the correct letters from magnetic letters to form the digraphs and trigraphs of phase 3. Practise writing them in sand, using a special pen to write them or discovering them in messy play.
A box of phonics pebble stones with pebbles surround the box. Phase 2 and phase 3 graphemes represented.

Further Phase 3 Phonics Ideas

  • There are many books available now for helping children to practise their decoding and blending skills. Schools often send these home to help hone skills – find out more about book banded books here.
  • Play games! Making learning fun helps. Phonics Games has some interactive online games you can play for free. Buried Treasure and Picnic on Pluto (they make burping noises) were always firm favourites.
  • Labelling every day objects and exploring packaging of the things you use daily are great opportunities to practise in real life settings. Just a couple of minutes a day makes a hug difference.

Yoto Player Audio Content

Audio players for kids are brilliant. If you’ve not discovered them yet head to this post. Yoto Player have cards for learning phonics. They have a phase 3 version that you can find here. The words are displayed on the Yoto Player and children are encouraged to read, draw or trace the word.

You’ll find the full range of resources on the website to support phonics and early reading here.

A random selection of wooden letters and white glass pebbles with different single images on.

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