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What are the phases?

Primary schools follow different phonics schemes, and each takes a slightly different approach to teaching phonics, but it’s common for a child to be taught in a series of phases throughout the Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1.

Phase 1

In Phase 1 phonics, children are taught about:

  • Environmental sounds
  • Instrumental sounds
  • Body percussion (e.g. clapping and stamping)
  • Rhythm and rhyme
  • Alliteration
  • Voice sounds
  • Oral blending and segmenting (e.g. hearing that d-o-g makes ‘dog’)

This phase is intended to develop children’s listening, vocabulary and speaking skills, and will often be covered at Nursery or pre-school.

Phase 2

In Phase 2, children begin to learn the sounds that letters make (phonemes). There are 44 sounds in all. Some are made with two letters, but in Phase 2, children focus on learning the 19 most common single letter sounds. They also learn the first digraphs (two letter that make one sound – like ck or ss).

s  a  t  p  i  n  m  d  g  o  c  k  e  u  r  ck  h  b  f/ff  l/ll  ss

By the end of Phase 2 children should be able to read some vowel-consonant (VC) and consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words, and to spell them out. They also learn some high frequency ‘tricky words’ like ‘the’ and ‘go.’ This phase usually lasts about six weeks.

Phase 3

Phase 3 introduces children to the remaining, more difficult and/or less commonly used phonemes. There are 25 of these, mainly made up of digraphs (two letters making a sound) or even trigraphs (three letters making a single sound).

j  v  w  x  y  z/zz  qu  ch  sh  th  ng  ai  ee  igh  oa  oo ar  or  ur  ow  oi  ear  air  ure  er

Alongside this, children are taught to recognise more tricky words, including ‘me,’ ‘was,’ ‘my,’ ‘you’ and ‘they’. They learn the names of the letters, as well as the sounds they make. Phase 3 takes most children around 12 weeks. By the end, they should be able to say the sound made by most, or all, Phase 2 and 3 graphemes, blend and read CVC words made from these graphemes, read 12 new tricky words and write letters correctly when given an example to copy.

Phase 4

Phase 4 is considered a consolidation phase, and no new graphemes (ways to write a sound) are introduced. By now, children should be confident with each phoneme. 
In Phase 4 phonics, children will, among other things:

  • Practise reading and spelling CVCC/CCVC/CCVCC words (‘bump', 'stop', ‘blast,’ ‘milk’, etc)
  • Practise reading and spelling high frequency words
  • Practise reading and writing sentences
  • Learn more tricky words, including ‘have,’ ‘like,’ ‘some,’ ‘little’

Children should now be blending confidently to work out new words. They should be starting to be able to read words straight off, rather than having to sound them out. They should also be able to write every letter, mostly correctly. This phase usually takes four to six weeks, and most children will complete it around the end of Reception. 

Phase 5

Phase 5 generally takes children the whole of Year 1. Children learn new graphemes (different ways of spelling each sound) and alternative pronunciations for these: for example, learning that the grapheme ‘ow’ makes a different sound in ‘blow’ and ‘brown’. They learn about split vowel digraphs such as the a-e in ‘bake.’ They also learn that there are alternative ways of spelling the sounds they already know (n in knee, or j in hedge)

new graphemes
ay  ou  ie  ea  oy  ir  ue  aw  wh  ph  ew  oe  au  a-e  e-e  i-e  o-e  u-e

alternative pronunciations

i  o  c  g  u  ow  ie  ea  er  a  y  ch  ou

alternatives ways of spelling

c ch  f  j  m  n  ng  r  s  sh

They will start to choose the right graphemes when spelling, and will learn more tricky words, including ‘people,’ ‘water’ and ‘friend’.

Phase 6

Phase 6 phonics takes place throughout Year 2, with the aim of children becoming fluent readers and accurate spellers. By Phase 6, children should be able to read hundreds of words using one of three strategies:

  • Reading them automatically
  • Decoding them quickly and silently
  • Decoding them aloud


Children should now be spelling most words accurately (this is known as 'encoding'), although this usually lags behind reading. They will also learn, among other things:

  • Prefixes and suffixes, e.g. ‘in-’ and ‘-ed’
  • The past tense
  • Memory strategies for high frequency or topic words
  • Proof-reading
  • How to use a dictionary
  • Where to put the apostrophe in words like ‘I’m’
  • Spelling rules