Phonics – What do Phases Mean?

Word phonics on a Grimms rainbow

What Are Phases?

Each week I’ll be adding 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 week – 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. I will be dipping into some of these of the coming weeks so you can get a taste for what they each have to offer.

Phase 1 – Listening Skills

Listening, vocabulary and speaking skills are developed in phase 1. This is crucial to being able to read and write and without these precursory skills learning phonemes can be very tricky. Children need to be able to differentiate between the different phonemes (sounds) and to do that they need to be able to listen for different sounds in the environment first and distinguish them from others.

Phase 1 Games

The Letters and Sounds document gives lots of ideas of games and activities to play to be able to hone these skills. I’ll share a couple of games that my daughter Floss loves.

Animal Noises

Listening game with Lanka Kade animals - phase 1 phonics - phases

Using animal figures or pictures make a noise of an animal and get your child to pick the corresponding animal. To practise speaking skills you can swap and get them to do an animal noise for you to match. A great online resource from is Welcome to the Zoo. A noise is made and you have to pick the correct animal from 4 pictures on a bingo card. You could also do different vehicle sounds.

Guess the Sound

You can use real instruments or different objects from around the home that make different noises. I use a large cardboard box, but you can use anything that puts up a small barrier. If the items are only small you could use a little bag. To begin use a couple of different instruments only under they get the idea of the game. Play one of the instruments or make the noise using the household item. Then show them the two options and see if they can work out which one made the sound. To make it a little trickier you could then introduce three to choose from. Phonics Play again have a great little phase 1 game that gives you a sound to work out what it is. Great for getting children to use their vocabulary to talk about what they can hear.

Range of musical instruments - phase 1 phonics game - phases

Many of the games played in phase 1 can seem overly simplistic, but these games are essential to develop the fundamental building blocks needed to become fluent readers and writers.

Coming up next…

  • More activities for phase 1 phonics
  • Phase 2 phonemes and how to teach them
  • Basic resources to get you started in phase 2

Click here for next blog post in the series.

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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