Phonics – What do Phases Mean?

Word phonics on a Grimms rainbow

What Are Phases?

Here’s a bite size blog post on phonics helping to explain terminology and giving you ideas and games to teach or support the teaching of your child in their phonics journey.

This series would also be useful for student teachers who are beginning their phonics teacher training. If you didn’t catch my first post in the series explaining what a phoneme and a grapheme are you can check it out here. This blog post will explain phonics phases.

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Let me tell you about phonics phases here in the UK. Now, not all schools follow phases for phonics, but in my experience lots do.

Phases come from a phonics programme called Letters and Sounds, which was devised by the National Strategies. Children start at phase 1 working through to phase 6. So, what is each phase and when is it typically taught?

  • Phase 1 – Developing listening, speaking and vocabulary skills . Usually Nursery/ Reception
  • Phase 2 – Learning some of the most common phonemes and reading and writing some simple VC and CVC words and tricky words. Usually Reception

Stay with me – VC – CVC – tricky word?

V = vowel (AEIOU) and C = consonant (the rest of the alphabet).

V = Vowel, C = Consonant. So, a VC word would be is or at, A CVC word would be cat or big.

A tricky word is one which doesn’t follow phonics rules (or doesn’t follow the rules that the children have learnt yet) and you just have to learn it – for example – the, no, I (they are not pronounced phonetically – /t/ /h/ /e/)

Tricky words the no and I on Grimms rainbow - phase 2 phonics - phases
  • Phase 3 – Learning the remaining phonemes and reading and writing words which contain them. More tricky words too. Usually Reception
  • Phase 4 – Learning to read and write longer words and more tricky words. For example longer words – CCVC = stop, CVCC = milk and CCVCC = stamp. Usually Reception
  • Phase 5 – Learning alternative graphemes (spellings) for phonemes. In phase 3 we learn the phoneme (sound) /ai/ as in rain. However the phoneme /ai/ can also be written in other ways including ay as in play. Usually Year 1
  • Phase 6 – Working on spellings. Usually Year 2

A Little Note

Where I’ve put the years that each phase is usually taught, this is just a guide and it will completely depend upon your child when they enter each phase. I have taught in Nursery through to Year 2 and I can say that phase 3 has a recommended length of time of 12 weeks…..hmmm!

I have nearly always spent longer in this stage as many of my children have needed it. I’ve often done lots of consolidation through phase 4 on phase 3.

For some children phase 1 activities are really important to continue throughout their phonics journey to develop their speaking and listening skills. It totally depends on your unique child and what they need.

satpin letters on Grimms rainbow - phase 2 phonics - phases

Letters and Sounds is not the only phonics programme that schools use. The government website has the following self assessments completed by publishers of the schemes that can give you a little more information about some of the most common ones.

If you’d like information on school reading books that accompany children’s phonics learning head to this blog post.

Click here to return to the phonics and reading homepage to find out more about phonics.

As always if there’s something specific you want to know or any advice please do get in touch through comments or email me at and I’ll do my best to help.

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