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Reading at St Mary's School

The importance of early reading, our approach to teaching phonics

At St Mary's, phonics is taught through the systematic acquisition of sounds using the synthetic phonics programme, Ruth Miskin’s ‘Read Write Inc.’

Phonics is the method of teaching children to read by linking sounds (phonemes) and their symbols (graphemes). Phonics lessons begin in Nursery when children are developmentally ready and following baseline assessments in Reception for those who join from other settings.

Children are introduced to 'single sounds' such as /p/, /o/ and practise recognising them, writing them and 'blending' them. 'Blending' is the ability to combine sounds together in order to create a word. Teaching staff ensure all phonemes are pronounced purely, without an additional 'uh' on the end of each sound – known as 'schwa' - which can potentially confuse children when combining the sounds together into words, for example:

/p/ /o/ /t/ = pot        (correct)        
/puh/ /o/ /tuh/ = puhotuh      (incorrect)    

Phonics lessons continue throughout Reception and Year 1 when children are exposed to more complex phonemes such as 'ay' in 'stay' and 'ee' in 'see'.  Pupils are taught that these sounds are called 'digraphs' because 'two letters represent one sound', or 'trigraphs' when 'three letters make one sound' such as /air/ in 'fair'. In order to help children decode each word, dots (for single sounds) and dashes (for digraphs and trigraphs) are marked under words.

 The 'Phonics Screening Check' is taken individually by all children in Year 1 and is designed to give feedback to teachers and parents on how each child is progressing in Phonics. Pupils are asked to read 20 real words and 20 pseudo words, known to the children as 'alien words', in order to ensure children are decoding the words instead of memorising or guessing. ‘Alien words’ are introduced to children in Reception.

The Simple View of Reading theory underpins our approach to early reading according to which confident readers have the ability to:

  • decode a word
  • comprehend the meaning of each word they read

The absence of any of the above skills will result in a child having weak reading skills. 

All children have explicit phonics lessons throughout their first three years at school, starting from Nursery in order to ensure they have enough time to become secure with their decoding skills. Phonics teaching is accompanied by Read Write Inc ‘Grapheme, Phoneme, Correspondence’ ditty books which are read in buddy-reading pairs and during Guided Reading with the teacher. These books correspond to the sound that is currently being learned. ‘Read Write Inc Home books’ are sent home to further consolidate the learned sound and increase pupils’ success with reading. Gradually, pupils are exposed to a variety of texts which build their comprehension skills and their vocabulary throughout the curriculum. As a result of this, children become confident readers early on and shift from ‘learning to read’ to ‘reading to learn.’

For a more detailed breakdown of our phonics teaching see our map below.


Whole Class Teaching of Reading 

Once children are fluent readers, teachers use the whole class teaching of reading approach to teach reading comprehension. Teachers choose a high-quality text for these lessons which ideally links to what is being taught at the same time in the curriculum and contains a number of words which are unknown to the children.  

An example structure for the whole class teaching of reading is set out below: 

Book Introduction 

This provides the context for the reading. The teacher will present the cover of the text  to activate children’s prior knowledge and discuss the main themes of the text, including some prediction of the contents. 

Explicit teaching of vocabulary 

Teachers skim the text to find 6 words which the children are unlikely to understand. They teach these words explicitly using the SEEC model. 

Reading the text 

The teacher reads a chapter or section aloud to the children while they follow along using a ruler in their own copy of the text. The children should be able to notice and explain words they come across that have been pre-taught.  

Teaching of a reading skill through the text

The teacher will explicitly teach a skill, such as summarising, using the book. They will model how to use evidence from the text and provide children with the opportunity to write a shared response to a question. Once confident readers, teachers may combine a range of reading skills in one lesson.

Individual application of a skill 

The teacher sets a task for each child to complete verbally based on the skill or skills that they have taught. This may be scaffolded for some children and extended further for others. The teacher will work with a particular group to support or extend their understanding.  


From Nursery through to Year 6, every class has a daily storytime session. Children listen to a range of stories, poems and non-fiction texts which have been carefully chosen to develop children’s knowledge of the world around them, to build knowledge of vocabulary and establish an appreciation and love of reading.