After the Year 1 Phonics Check: for classroom teachers

Teachers can analyse student responses to the Phonics Check to investigate and better understand the skills and knowledge of each student. Differentiated teaching can be planned accordingly. Such teaching is designed to accommodate students with different levels of reading ability by differentiating at the point of practice and independent work.

Classroom analysis and response

Learning design and differentiation

Differentiation strategies may involve the whole class, small groups or individuals.

For example, in a whole-class systematic synthetic phonics lesson, students can all progress through the phonics sequence of content, but the tasks they are given to consolidate their learning can differ in complexity.

To begin with, some students may need to develop their phonological and phonemic awareness skills prior to further explicit instruction in particular grapheme–phoneme correspondences. Other students may need specific instruction in blending sounds together.

It is also important to include other observation and assessment evidence to gain a more complete picture of your students’ learning needs.

Differentiated teaching for mastery learning

The Phonics Check allows teachers to investigate student skills and knowledge in phonics, including:

  • knowledge of letter–sounds or graphemes
  • ability to blend the sounds accurately
  • correct pronunciation of words
  • speed at which the letter–sounds are recalled and blended (indicates whether this word is beginning to become ‘automatic’ or if student is gaining fluency when reading)
  • ability to identify then blend an increasing number of graphemes (e.g. from CVC to CCCVCC words)
  • ability to decode and blend multisyllabic words
  • the disposition and engagement level of students when word reading.

Students will demonstrate a range of abilities in these skills.

Other factors in learning letter–sounds

Other factors may affect the learning of English letter–sounds.

Students learning English as an additional language do not necessarily have a learning difficulty. However, the phonemes and morphemes used in English are different from those used in other languages. For example, in a tone language such as Vietnamese, tonal variations and stress patterns are used to communicate meaning.

All students, but particularly those from a non-alphabetic language background, need to have letter–sound correspondences explicitly introduced to assist their learning. These students may need more time and more opportunities to practise and master the sounds of the English language.

Ideally, explicit teaching should be in the context of classroom learning, teaching the essential language and skills required to meet the language and literacy demands relevant to the learning area.

Phonics Check student errors

Noting and analysing student errors is the starting point for teachers in determining what phonics instruction is needed.

Students can make any number of errors in the Year 1 Phonics Check. For example, they may sound out each phoneme correctly but fail to blend them accurately and subsequently say the word incorrectly. An analysis of that final word spoken may display one or more features associated with the most common student errors.

The significance of pseudo words

Teachers should pay particular attention to student success in decoding the pseudo words. These can act as an authentic assessment of phonic knowledge and skills, and provide useful information about how students apply their phonics skills to unknown words.

As the Phonics Check instructions do not ask students to sound out all letter sounds, it is only errors in the pseudo words that will give teachers insight into the students’ knowledge of each phoneme in the event they read the whole words.

The rationale for assessing pseudo words provides a detailed explanation of their significance in the Phonics Check. Pseudo words allow teachers to check all of the common combinations of letters and sounds in English to see if students can sound out and blend every one.

However, there is no need to ‘teach’ pseudo words. They are best used for assessment purposes.

The most common student errors

Students may make a range of errors as they work through the Phonics Check.

There are however, eight most common errors. The list of eight is not exhaustive – students make other types of errors – but these are those most often seen.

Being aware of these common errors will assist teachers as they focus their teaching strategies.

The case studies sections will provide further detailed information about student errors, analysis and follow up, especially in cases where students make a large number of errors.

Phonics – one of the Big Six

Students need to be able to use a combination of skills to be effective readers

The Phonics Check focuses purely on decoding a list of words, but students need to be able to use a combination of skills to be effective readers, including:

  • oral language
  • phonemic awareness
  • vocabulary
  • fluency
  • comprehension
  • phonics.

All of these skills, commonly described as the Big Six, need to be integrated throughout reading opportunities across the school day, even though teachers may highlight individual components at different times.

While the focus here is phonics, those other reading skills also need attention. The Simple View of Reading (Gough and Tumner, 1986; Hoover and Gough, 1990) provides a useful framework for ensuring all aspects of the Big Six are covered.

To assist in differentiating reading instruction, teachers can plot students on the quadrant chart (p2) when assessing students.

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After the Phonics Check: what next?


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Phonics Check: the most common student errors


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The simple view of reading


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Annotating student errors

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Phonics Check scoring guidance

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