Learning to Read Basics

There are six elements of effective reading: oral language, phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. These six elements have become known as the ‘Big Six’ due to their importance. This specific blog post will focus mostly on the foundational principles of teaching children to read. 

Oral Language

The primary mode of communication has always been oral language. Learning to read starts with speech.

It is super important to speak to your child, for them to hear you clearly enunciate words. Have conversations, ask questions and have your child watch how you say words. Lots of rhymes, stories and singing children’s songs are all marvellous ways to help a child become phonologically aware and of course, develop a lovely bond with your child. 

Beyond an abundance of oral language naturally occurring in your home with your child, the ‘Letters and Sounds’ Phase 1 program has some good resources and guides that will help develop children’s speaking and listening skills, setting them up for phoneme awareness. See some ideas and resources here: Letters and Sounds Phase 1

At this point, I want to add how important it is to be precise in phoneme pronunciation! It can be easy to over emphasis a sound when teaching the sounds and end up giving your sound a schwa. This can cause issues for children when writing. Here are two very informative videos on the pronunciations:

What are the 44 sounds of Australian English by Alison Clark

Why is it so important to get ‘phoneme pronunciations’ right? by Decodable Readers Australia

This video might help to further explain phonemic awareness and give you ideas on how to teach these skills.

Learning the code:

Moving beyond phonemic awareness, children essential need to learn a code. This code is made up of symbols (letters or graphemes) we use to represent the speech sounds (phonemes) of the English language. There are 44 sounds of the English language, yet only 26 letters available to represent these sounds. The videos above covered the 44 sounds and below I have also included a link to a lexicon of the English spellings for your reference.

Despite the complexity of the English language, the most effective way to teach children to read and spell is by using a systematic and explicit synthetic phonics approach. This approach is backed by research. In this approach, students learn sounds (phonemes) that are represented by letters (graphemes) and they then learn to blend or ‘synthesise’ phonemes to read words. When students are spelling words they separate (segment) words so that they can then write words. It’s important to note that sounds are first and then the represented letters follow. 

The explicit synthetic phonics approach I have been trained in, ‘Sounds Write’, actually teaches the phonemes within the context of a word. Sounds are not introduced in isolation, out of context. This makes sense when the reason we have represented graphemes is to form words. The first lesson taught in a sounds write class is the word:

m – a – t

The students, in their very first lesson, learn with modelling, gestures and the represented graphemes how to read and write a word. In this learning to read their first word, students learn to isolate sounds, segmenting and blending. It’s a wonderful first lesson – sounds > write.

Some key terminology:

Phoneme – the smallest unit of speech sound in a word

Grapheme – the written letter or group of letters that represents a speech sound

Phonemic aware – being able to hear, identify and manipulate phonemes (sounds) in words.

Phoneme/Grapheme Correspondence– the relationship between speech sounds and letter symbols.

Decoding (Reading) – the process of reading a word by recognising which sound (phoneme) corresponds with each letter (grapheme) and then blending these individual sounds/letters to make words.

Encoding (Spelling) – The process of spelling a word by deciding which letters represent the speech sounds.

Here is a quick video to further explain synthetic phonics:


DSF (Dyslexia Speld Foundation) also have a Tip Sheet ‘Guide for Teachers and Parents‘ on ‘Structured Synthetic Phonics‘  which is quite informative.

The key elements of a quality structured synthetic phonics program are:

  • There is a structured sequential way in which sounds and skills are taught.
  • Spoken words are composed of sounds.
  • The 44 sounds of the English language.
  • Blending sounds in a word to read.
  • Listening for sounds (segmenting) in words to spell.
  • Teaching all the different ways each sound can be represented, e.g. the sound /ae/ can be spelled in multiple ways as in play, mate, pain and great
  • High-frequency words are taught to help children progress in their ability to read and write complete sentences.
  • Sounds are first and then the letter names.

Lesson format

For each phonics lesson taught follow this format to be most effective:

  1. Review: Activate prior knowledge and previously taught phoneme-grapheme relationships.
  2. Teach: Demonstrate and models the new knowledge or skill. ‘I do’
  3. Practise: Teacher and student word together. ‘We do’
  4. Apply: Students complete tasks and activities independently. ‘You do’

Fun quality ‘learning to read’ apps supporting explicit instruction

These are the top recommended apps by Alison Clarke from Spelfabet:

Alison Clarke also has a list of home programs for ages 5 – 7 on her very informative website. Home programs.

My Recommendations

I look forward to discussing further, the other key components of the ‘Big Six’ in future posts.


Feature image:<a href=’https://www.freepik.com/photos/tutoring’>Tutoring photo created by freepik – www.freepik.com</a>



Passionate about my family and the things of God. Love life, love creativity and all things good.

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