Classroom Secrets Kids Presents: the Phonics Factory!

This post has been written by Lee Peckover

Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.

Reading is an act so central to us living successfully that Harper Lee felt she could count it as being akin to breathing. While you can love reading, there is no denying that reading is in itself, an essential life skill. Unfortunately, unlike breathing, humans are born without knowing how to use this skill they need in order to reach their maximum potential. This is why we have created a set of resources designed to help equip children with this skill. We call it, the Phonics Factory. 

The Phonics Factory is a brand new line of resources to help children progress through their learning journey using synthetic phonics* (if you are unsure on just what ‘synthetic phonics’ is, there’s more on that in the footnote and if any of the language in this blog is a new to you, have a look at our jargon buster). The Phonics Factory features animated videos and games designed and planned by early years teachers with decades of combined experience in teaching children to read. All the animations are set in our new Phonics Factory where robots build words from letters using their phonics machines.  

Every animation is bright, engaging and packed full of great content to get children enjoying their learning. The robot characters will become their familiar friends helping them to develop this new life skill and little changes throughout the sets (new robots, different machines and new areas of the factory) all ensure that children are rewarded for the effort they are putting in and the progress they are making. The Phonics factory also features great interactive digital games for children to apply their new reading skills. What’s more, we don’t just cover the sounds children need to learn, but we have videos and games planned out for every skill children need to help them learn to read and spell words and then to go and enjoy their reading adventure.  

Featuring a video and game(s) for every phase, set and sound in the Letters and Sounds progression (guidance from the DfE available here), the Phonics Factory will have children decoding the letters they see (graphemes) into sounds (phonemes) and get them reading fluently, faster. What’s more, the Phonics Factory will feature videos and games for additional skills like blending sounds together and uncommon spellings that will enable children to meet expected levels in phonics screenings in year 1 (or year 2), but more importantly, it will equip them with the tools they need to begin their lifelong enjoyment of reading.  

Not everyone loves reading books as an adult, but the fact remains that everyone who can, reads far more than they might consciously think about. It is a physical act that we, as adults, can do at times without even registering it. We read signs that warn us of danger or offer instructions, we glance over maps or directions and interpret their meaning, we even skim read and take in only the most important information we need.  

It’s unlikely anyone reading this has had to stop to think about how a letter would sound if they said it out loud, even more unlikely still that anyone reading this had to pause for a moment to wonder what one of the letters actually meansYet for a young child, learning to read for the first time, the letters on this page might be as alien a concept to them as hieroglyphs are to the majority of adults today. The words we read are a series of symbols that we attribute meaning to and assign a specific ‘sound’ to. Learning to interpret these sounds, string them together, blend them to read words and segment them to assist in reading and spelling is a serious skill. If you want to know just how difficult this is, try learning a language that uses a different set of symbols to the 26 letters we’re more commonly used to. Russian is a great example, ж is pronounced a little bit like the ‘s’ in pleasure, and just as you’re getting used to that symbol’s meaning, you are reminded that there are another 32 Russian letters to get your head around yet. In English, and for children just learning to read, they have our 26 letters to learn and 44 sounds they can make.  

It’s striking how difficult it is to adapt to new symbols representing new sounds, and we’re adults – now imagine how tricky this concept is for a child. This is why phonics is so crucial in enabling children to read. It’s the skill that allows them to decode the symbols they see and turn these little symbols into sounds, and then to string them together into words they can understand with no noticeable pause in their thoughts. Getting there though, takes time.  

Reading is such an ingrained skill for us as adults, that people can even read entire passages of text where the letters are mixed up. In fact, here’s a challenge, can you read the following?: 

cna’t bvleiee taht I can aulaclty uesdtannrd waht I am rdnaieg.  

Easy, right? Yet most of those words only have the first and last letter in the correct places with the rest mixed up. That’s how good we can become at interpreting these little symbols. The only problem is, that before we can enjoy reading for pleasure or for information, we need to get to this level at interpreting these symbols and quickly assigning them a meaning. Synthetic phonics allows children to get used to this faster than any other method of learning to read.  

The Phonics Factory is included as part of a subscription to Classroom Secrets Kids. It will be developing and being added to throughout the autumn term and new features and elements will be added every week. If there’s anything more you’d love to see in our phonics resources or anything you’d love more of in the Phonics Factory, please let us know by emailing [email protected] 

*A Footnote: What is synthetic phonics? 

Phonics is a method used to teach children to read and to spell. There are three types of phonics, synthetic (which we use in the Phonics Factory), embedded and analytic. Synthetic phonics involves breaking down words into sets of sounds. It teaches children the code of sounds for letters. In synthetic phonics, you begin by learning what sound each letter makes, then how to blend these to make words. This means that spelling is taught alongside reading. Once children can read enough of the sounds to form words, they read stories they can decode using these skills. This makes synthetic phonics a systematic approach to teaching children to read. Many studies have found that a systematic approach to the teaching of reading allows children to develop their reading skills more easily and at a faster pace. Simply put, it works.  

When teaching synthetic phonics, the actual letters themselves that you see on the page are called graphemes e.g. is a grapheme, if you read it and say it out loud, the sound you make is called the phoneme. Some graphemes are more than one letter, these are called digraphs or trigraphs e.g. sh is a digraph – if you read it out, the sound you make is the phoneme for that digraph. When you put them all together you blend the sounds to make a word. E.g. sh-o-p  is 3 sounds, blending those sounds together makes the word ‘shop’. This differs from analytic phonics whichbegins with a whole word and analyses it. Analytic phonics focuses on teaching whole words and spelling ‘rules’ (e.g. if game is pronounced with a long a then came must be pronounced with a long a). Finally, there is embedded phonics, this teaches reading in the context of stories. Children often use picture clues or context to essentially ‘guess’ what some unfamiliar words say, this creates incidental learning but is nowhere near as carefully planned or sequenced as synthetic phonics. For this reason, synthetic phonics is usually taught in schools. Our Phonics Factory uses synthetic phonics, planned out carefully to systematically teach children to read. 

 

 

 

Lee Peckover is head of product innovation at Classroom Secrets. Alongside his work at Classroom Secrets, Lee is an Early Years researcher and is currently completing a part-time master’s degree. Lee has a BA in English Literature and a Post-Graduate Certificate in Early Years and Primary Education (Level 7). He lives in Bradford with his wife Zoe and his seizure assistance dog Albie.