Getting started with a phonics progression
A phonics progression is the first step in implementing a systematic synthetic phonics (SSP) approach in your school or classroom. This topic covers:
- the elements of a high-quality, evidence-aligned phonics progression for reading and spelling
- the component skills required for phonological and phonemic awareness development.
By the end of this topic, you will:
- understand why following a phonics progression is key
- know what knowledge and skills need to be taught in an SSP approach
- be able to choose a quality, evidence-based phonics progression
- know how to begin explicit phonological and phonemic awareness instruction.
1. Spotlight on systematic synthetic phonics progressions
20 minutes reading and viewing
A systematic synthetic phonics (SSP) progression is a sequence of letter–sound correspondences (sometimes called grapheme–phoneme correspondences or GPCs) covering the 44 phonemes in the English language. The sequence is designed so that each letter–sound correspondence can be taught explicitly and directly, allowing students to build their knowledge of the language code sequentially while developing skills required to use those letter–sound relationships to read and spell simple words and sentences.
The Literacy Hub phonics progression is an example of an SSP progression.
Why follow an SSP progression?
Following a well-sequenced SSP progression allows teachers to plan for phonics instruction in a structured way that will support and maximise student learning. As each letter–sound correspondence is explicitly taught, students are given the opportunity to learn one new concept at a time and integrate this new knowledge with letter–sound correspondences they have already learned.
Following an SSP progression is supported by cognitive load theory, a theory of how human brains learn and store knowledge. This theory tells us that students learn best when they are given new information in small chunks and can practise this new learning and integrate it with already known information.
The National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy refers to the strong body of evidence supporting explicit and direct SSP instruction and its link to proficient reading development.
What makes a high-quality, evidence-aligned SSP progression?
A quality SSP progression, whether it is free or comes from a commercial program, has several key attributes. If the SSP progression you choose aligns with this advice, you can be confident that you have chosen a suitable sequence to start building an SSP-aligned approach at your school. The Literacy Hub phonics progression is one example.
This 5-point list details what to look for when deciding on an SSP-aligned progression.
Watch this 3-minute explanation about teaching the alphabetic principle and building students’ skills from simple to complex.
This 4-minute read outlines the rationale for teaching irregular words in terms of their parts (letters and sounds) as opposed to teaching whole-word reading.
I’ve chosen my progression, what do I teach first?
One of the most powerful and fundamental skills required for early literacy skill development is phonological and phonemic awareness. This ability to break up spoken language into component parts and manipulate the individual sounds in words is the glue that helps phonics content to stick.
‘Poor readers as a group do relatively less well on phoneme awareness tasks than on other cognitive tasks. In addition, at least 80% of all poor readers are estimated to demonstrate a weakness in phonological awareness and/or phonological memory. Readers with phonological processing weaknesses also tend to be the poorest spellers.’ (Louisa Moats, 2009)
Watch this 2-minute overview of phonemic awareness.
Read this 2-page PDF about the continuum of phonological and phonemic awareness skills and how phonemic awareness instruction can be incorporated in the classroom.
Download phonological and phonemic awareness lesson activities to use in your classroom.
2. Coaching webinar: Phonics progressions and phonemic awareness
- how to follow an evidence-based phonics progression
- how to start explicit phonological and phonemic awareness instruction.
Presented by Elaine Stanley and Rebecca McEwan, this webinar explains each of the free Literacy Hub phonics progression resources.
Register to view a recording of the event.
3. Putting learning into action
Now that you have engaged with this topic, use the prompts below as an opportunity to reflect on your current practice and take action in response to your new learning.
Actions for school leaders
You could choose from the following:
1. Lead your staff through Spotlight on systematic synthetic phonics progressions and included links.
2. Discuss the following questions with your staff (reflecting and evaluating).
- Do we as a staff understand the developmental progression of phonics knowledge and skills?
- How do we currently determine the order of teaching letter–sound correspondences across Foundation to Year 2?
- What can we do to support our students’ phonological awareness development?
3. Support your staff to explore the downloadable resources and use the phonological and phonemic awareness lesson activities slide pack with students in line with their needs.
4. Choose an SSP progression for your school.
Actions for Foundation to Year 2 teachers
- Consider your current order for teaching letter–sound correspondences. Does it follow best practice?
- Use the phonological and phonemic awareness lesson activities slide pack in line with the learning needs of students in your class.
4. Q&A webinar: Making a start with a phonics progression and phonemic awareness instruction
Presented by Elaine Stanley and Rebecca McEwan.
Register to view a recording of the event.
The Literacy Hub phonics progression includes a sequence of letter–sound correspondences and phonics skills for development across Foundation to Year 2.
This document outlines spelling generalisations included in the Literacy Hub phonics progression and explains teaching points relating to each one that may be used to support instruction.
This document outlines the continuum of phonological and phonemic awareness skills and provides evidence and advice on effective phonemic awareness instruction.
This slide pack is a practical resource for use in the classroom and includes teacher scripts and visual slides to support phonological and phonemic awareness instruction.
This slide pack provides recorded pure sounds for each letter–sound correspondence in line with the Literacy Hub phonics progression.
References, useful links and further reading
- Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation (CESE). (2017). Cognitive load theory: Research that teachers really need to understand: report summary. Retrieved from the NSW Government Education website: https://education.nsw.gov.au/content/dam/main-education/about-us/educational-data/cese/2017-cognitive-load-theory-summary.pdf
This summary of a literature review provides an overview of cognitive load theory, which is a theory of how human brains learn and store knowledge.
- Five from Five. Scope and sequence. Retrieved from https://fivefromfive.com.au/phonics-teaching/essential-principles-of-systematic-and-explicit-phonics-instruction/scope-and-sequence/
This webpage outlines important guidelines for choosing a scope and sequence.
- Five from Five. A word about sight words. Retrieved from https://fivefromfive.com.au/phonics-teaching/essential-principles-of-systematic-and-explicit-phonics-instruction/a-word-about-sight-words/
This webpage discusses sight words and their place in early reading instruction.
- Queensland Government Reading and Writing Centre. Alphabetic principle [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.literacyhub.edu.au/search/alphabetic-principle/
This video explains the importance of the alphabetic principle.
- Queensland Government Reading and Writing Centre. Phonemic awareness [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.literacyhub.edu.au/search/phonemic-awareness-video/
This video discusses phonemic awareness, which is the ability to reflect on sounds in words as separate from the meanings of words.
- Rowe, K., & National Enquiry into the Teaching of Literacy (Australia). (2005). Teaching Reading: Report and Recommendations. Department of Education, Science and Training. Retrieved from https://research.acer.edu.au/tll_misc/5/
This report summarises best practice in effective approaches to literacy teaching and learning, both at classroom level and in the training of teachers.