This unit focuses on alternative spellings of phonemes, split digraphs and alternative pronunciations of graphemes. Find out who this unit is aimed at, what problems they might be facing and a suggestion for how you might deliver the sessions before moving on to a spelling programme.

The focus of this unit

This unit raises awareness and consolidates knowledge of three key principles, which are crucial to children’s understanding of phonics:

  • A phoneme can be represented by one or more letters, for example: /a/, /sh/, /igh/, /ee/.
  • The same phoneme can be represented in more than one way, for example rain, may, lake.
  • The same grapheme can represent more than one phoneme, for example meat, deaf, great.

Focus graphemes

This phase focuses on four groups of graphemes which are most commonly confused by children at Key Stage 2.

  • Group 1

    Phoneme Grapheme Sample words
    /ai/ ai, ay, a-e eigh, ey, ei rain, day gate, eight, they, weight
    /ar/ ar, a farm, father
    /igh/ igh, ie, y, i-e, i night, tie, my, like, find
  • Group 2

    Phoneme Grapheme Sample words
    /ee/ ee, ea, y, ie, ey seed, sea, funny, chief, key
    /oa/ oa, ow, oe, o-e, boat, low, toe, bone
    /or/ al, our, augh, aw talk, four, caught, law
  • Group 3

    Phoneme Grapheme Sample words
    /oo/ oo, ue, u-e, ew boot, blue, rule, blew/
    /(y)oo/ ue, u-e, ew statue, cube, few
    /oo/ oul, u could, push
    /ur/ ear, or, ir, er, learn, work, firm, term
  • Group 4

    Phoneme Grapheme Sample words
    /ear/ ear, ere, eer hear, here, beer
    /air/ ere, ear, are there, pear, bare
    /oi/ oi, oy coin, boy
    /zh/ s treasure, vision, usual

Who is this for?

This unit is designed for children who can read and spell words containing adjacent consonants, polysyllabic words and are aware of most common grapheme–phoneme correspondences, for example /ai/ as in rain, /oo/ as in boot. However, they may confuse alternative spellings of phonemes, for example plaigrownd, bloobell, miet, (might) or be unaware of the digraph that represents a phoneme and separate it into individual letters when reading, for example might as m-i-g-h-t. This hinders their fluency and their comprehension.

Common problems

Some children may:

  • be unaware of, or confused with, alternative spellings for phonemes, particularly vowel phonemes, which may be represented by:
    • a single letter; /a/ /e/ /i/ /u/
    • two letters (digraph); /ay/ /ee/ /igh/ /ow/ /oo/
    • three letters (trigraph); /er/ /air/ /or/ /ow/ /our/ /ear/ /ire/
  • have difficulties understanding the principles of the split digraph and write: laet (late), tiem (time), liek (like). This needs to be taught explicitly.
  • have problems with choices of alternative spellings for particular phonemes (e.g. /ai/ as in again, today, snake, crayon, eight, etc.) and therefore need more practice in applying them.
  • need to consolidate their awareness of alternative pronunciations for specific graphemes in reading, for example /ou/ out, shoulder, could, you.

Delivering the sessions

  • In Year 3 there may be a large group of children who require more consolidation of Phase 5 from Letters and Sounds.
  • In Years 4, 5 and 6 it is more likely to be a smaller group of children or individuals who have specific misunderstandings which could be clarified through direct teaching over a number of short, focused sessions.

In all instances it must be remembered that phonics is the step up to fluent word recognition. Automatic and effortless reading and writing is the ultimate goal, therefore the phonics sessions need to include application of the learning through reading and writing.

Next steps

When you have decided through assessment that a child is secure in their phonic knowledge, you can move onto a spelling programme. [Support for Spelling] is designed for children in Years 2–6 who are secure at Phase 5 in Letters and Sounds.