First Class Phonics
What is First Class Phonics?
First Class Phonics is an innovative, new scheme that provides exactly what Head Teachers, EYFS practitioners, KS1 teachers and Teaching Assistants want:
A cost-effective, easy-to-follow programme proven to help children reach the current ELGs (Reading/Writing), designed to meet the higher demands of the 2021 ELGs and to increase attainment in the Phonics Screening Check.
What does First Class Phonics Provide?
An emphasis on continuing Phase 1 throughout First Class Phonics
This has a direct impact upon success in phonics. Speech sound discrimination and accurate voice sounds are essential for children to be able to discriminate between phonemes and use pure pronunciations – it’s important in Phase 2 but is equally important in Phase 5!
A continual focus on oral blending and segmenting all the way through First Class Phonics
This eliminates the often-heard plaintive cry from EYFS practitioners, KS1 teachers and Teaching Assistants… “They know all the graphemes but they just can’t read the words”.
If children don’t have daily opportunities to orally blend and segment, they will not become confident at blending and segmenting to read and spell words. Without these skills being developed, the learning of the graphemes would be like learning numbers but never being taught how to add and subtract.
A new start to phonics – no more ‘satpin’!
We use ‘catsnip’ and here is why. When following ‘satpin’, the first words that the child would read would be ‘a’, ‘at’, ‘sat’. As we encourage the use of pictures to help read words – an essential early reading skill – we felt that having a picture of a cat to match to the word ‘cat’ was a lot more concrete and useful! By introducing just our first four graphemes (‘c’, ’a’, ’t’, ’s’), a child will learn to read words (a, at, sat, cat), a phrase (a cat) and even a sentence (A cat sat.).
As for writing, the letter ‘s’ is one of the most difficult graphemes to write – whether you write it in the air, in the sand or on your friend’s back. It also doesn’t help you to write any other letter! On the other hand, the letter ‘c’ is much easier to learn to form – if done correctly, it will help you to write the letters ‘a’, ‘d’, ‘e’, ‘g’, ‘o’, ‘q’. With our first four graphemes (‘c’, ’a’, ’t’, ’s’), they will learn to spell words, phrases and even complete a sentence.
A new progression in word structure
Most Pink Band phonically decodable books are written in the simple past tense using decodable verbs e.g. put, hit, dug or, more frequently, in the simple present tense with verbs in the third person e.g. ‘sits’, ‘digs’, ‘puts’ and even ‘nips’.
This creates an issue when schools follow the Letters and Sounds progression which does not introduce adjacent consonants until Phase 4.
First Class Phonics overcomes this barrier by introducing adjacent consonants early in Phase 2. We start simple by giving children what they need when they need it. Children are taught to orally blend and then decode CVCC words ending in ‘s’ early on in Phase 2 – verbs in the third person e.g. ‘digs’ and plurals e.g. ‘dogs’.
A new pace and progression for teaching
We have high expectations for all children – we want them to make the best progress possible. By following our progression, teachers can be confident that children will make good progress and reach significant milestones without losing their love of reading!
We have significantly changed the timescales for Phase 2 and Phase 3 to remove one of the key issues – rushing too quickly through a phase but not allowing time for children to embed and build on prior learning. By reducing the relentless pace of introducing grapheme after grapheme after grapheme, we have put the fun back into phonics and also prioritised why we learn phonics – to read and write! In addition, we have broken down Phase 3 into three ‘parts’ in order to help teachers to teach in small steps and see progress.
We provide teaching records to support communication between the team and tracking grids to monitor progress and identify children who are falling behind.
- First Class Phonics provides EYFS practitioners, KS1 teachers and Teaching Assistants with a well-structured progression with the high expectation that all children will make good progress in Reception towards the Reading and Writing Early Learning Goals.
- It is a carefully constructed system that will also ensure that children leaving Reception make a smooth transition into Year One and have the best chance of reaching the expected standard in the Phonics Screening Check.
- We provide a steady but rigorous structure to introducing the graphemes in an order that best supports the application of skills into reading age-appropriate phonically decodable books.
- There is a systematic introduction of word structures building from simple CVCs to multi-syllabic words in all Phases. Children are taught the skills needed to decode words with increasingly difficult structures in age-appropriate texts. For example, in Phase 2 children read CVC words (‘cat’, ‘put’) plus CVCC words ending in ‘s’ (‘sits’ and ‘dogs’). In Phase 3, children need to read a greater range of structures i.e. CVCC words ((‘pond’, ‘paint’), CCVC words (‘frog’, ‘brush’) and two-syllable words (‘jumping’, ‘river’).
- Our progression has ‘revisit weeks’ built-in to assess progress and identify gaps in learning
- We include a progression for learning to read and spell the most commonly used phonically decodable and irregular (or tricky) words. We have systematically linked these words to the progression of graphemes and to their appearance in the most widely-used phonically decodable reading schemes.
- Finally, we also provide a structured approach to reading an increasingly varied range of sentence structures, questions, exclamations and speech which are found in the most widely-used phonically decodable reading schemes
Support on how to use First Class Phonics for ‘catch-up’ in 2020 - 2021
We have already started working with schools to support them on using First Class Phonics as the core programme for phonics catch-up for Reception, Year One and Year Two children in September. We have devised a teaching programme and timetable to facilitate rapid recovery by re-engaging learners, providing assessment opportunities within the teaching, by identifying and closing gaps and ensuring that children have the opportunity to get back ‘on track’ in phonics and reading.
An emphasis on ‘manipulative spelling’ for as long as it is needed.
Many children will not have the gross and fine motor control for handwriting but they will have the phonic skills and understanding required to spell words with magnetic letters or letter cards. As well as developing early reading, we have also been working with schools to develop confident and independent writers. We work closely with EYFS practitioners to ensure that gross motor skills and fine motor skills are developed before expecting children to write in phonic lessons. We recommend the use of ‘manipulative’ spelling activities to teach children to spell words – either using letter cards or magnetic letters. Many of our games involve children manipulating resources to spell rather than to physically write.
An improved and more effective weekly structure for teaching phonics
By following the First Class Phonics planning, teachers have a simple but sensible structure for teaching phonics across the week. We slow down the pace of teaching but increase the pace of learning. No more racing through the graphemes. In fact, we make it as easy as possible – teach the skills for reading then the skills for spelling.
What does our two lesson approach look like? Here is an example…
To teach ‘b’, the first lesson is all about reading. EYFS practitioners teach children to –
- orally blend using pictures which represent words (containing new grapheme and previously taught graphemes)
- recognise new grapheme and pronounce the phoneme (pure pronunciation)
- blend to read words containing ‘b’ (using pictures used in oral blending as prompts)
- read words with and without supporting ‘sound buttons and bars’
- play fun, engaging and active games to practice reading skills and develop independence
- apply new skills into reading a caption or sentence (using picture prompts).
The following day, the focus is all about spelling. EYFS practitioners teach children to –
- blend to read yesterday’s words
- oral segment by looking at pictures which represent yesterday’s words
- form the new grapheme (air-writing until fine motor skills are sufficiently developed)
- segment to spell yesterday’s words using pictures as prompts and manipulative spelling strategies (until fine motor skills are sufficiently developed)
- play fun, interactive and exciting games to practise spelling skills
- apply new skills into spelling a word, a phrase, a caption or complete a sentence (using picture prompts).
Teachers love the simplicity of the weekly structure and the easy-to-follow planning. Children love the familiarity and the confidence this gives them to read and spell.
Our Three Friends
First Class Phonics uses three puppets to help children to learn to read and spell using their phonics:
Trevor the T-Rex
Trevor is used to teach the concept of high frequency words that are not fully decodable. They are words which children will need to read on a regular basis. These words fall into two categories:
- partially decodable such as the word ‘said’. The initial and final phonemes are fully decodable but the middle grapheme ‘ai’ read as /e/ is unique to this word.
- fully decodable but not until children are being taught graphemes in the later phases, such as the word ‘came’.
Trevor teaches the children that there might be a ‘tricky trap’ in the word which we mustn’t ‘fall into’. For example, in the word ‘was’ there are actually two traps! The first is the letter ‘a’ making the phoneme /o/. The second is the letter ‘s’ making the phoneme /z/. As this word is a high frequency words, children need to add this word to their sight vocabulary and also memorise the spelling so they do not spell it ‘woz’.
Izzy the Busy Bee
Izzy is used to teach of the concept of high frequency words that are decodable after teaching a particular set of graphemes. For example, she will teach Reception children that the words ‘can’ and ‘did’ are very busy words that they see in lots of their reading books. Just like Trevor, she wants children to add these words to their sight vocabulary and also memorise the correct spellings.
The range of HFWs that Izzy introduces has been brought up-to-date and is now in line with the common words used in most popular phonically decodable books.
Luna the Moon Unicorn
Luna is used to develop vocabulary.
She may introduce words that are new to the children’s vocabulary or words that do not come along as often as Izzy and Trevor’s words. These words will always be decodable within the Phase being taught. Luna is a Moon Unicorn and has lots of Alien friends. She also makes sure the Alien words are read and that children know that sometimes a word will be an Alien word and sometimes it will be a unicorn word but they will always use their phonics to read these words.
We provide everything that practitioners need to teach effective phonics lessons – weekly planning, high-quality word/sentence and picture cards, PowerPoints, teaching records and tracking grids.
We provide the following for each Set (week):
- Easy-to-follow weekly planning
- A pack of Teacher Cards for a ‘hands-on’ approach
- A pack of Teacher Caption/Sentence Cards
- A comprehensive range of Teaching PowerPoints
- Application of spelling
- Packs of Teacher Cards for Tricky Words (Trevor the T-Rex), High Frequency Words (Izzy the Busy Bee), Alien Words and Unicorn Words (Luna the Moon Unicorn)
- Group packs of Pupil Cards
Why is First Class Phonics ‘first class’?
We say it is but don’t just take our word for it!
- Our pilot schools reported dramatic rises in children’s reading and writing abilities in EYFS plus vastly improved Check results in Y1 at the end of 2019.
- Schools using First Class Phonics have reported that fewer children are being ‘left behind’, they are more confident readers and spellers and in EYFS, they are able to read pink and red books far earlier and with more success.
- In Year One, teachers reported that transition was smoother, children were ‘ready to read’ and made excellent progress in reading and writing.
Following the success of First Class Phonics, we are currently developing and piloting the next steps – phonics in Year Two and Lower Key Stage Two.