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RWI phonics

In Nursery and pre-school, children are read to regularly in order to foster a love of stories and a desire to be able to read for themselves. Adults often re-read stories so the children can join in with rhymes and repeated phrases. Alongside this, children are encouraged to hear and distinguish sounds in the environment to develop their phonological awareness.

We begin to teach phonics in the summer term of pre-school if children are showing that they are ready for this. All children will begin phonics lessons in the first week of Reception.

At THS we use the Read, Write, Inc. programme to teach our children to read. Please click on the link below for an introduction to RWI.

Children are grouped with others who are learning the same sounds as they are to enable the adults to focus on each child’s challenge point. The DfE recommends this as the best way to maximise children’s progress in phonics.

Set 1

Children begin by learning set 1 single-letter sounds and learning to orally blend them to make words. They will also be taught how to write the letter which makes the sound they have learnt, following a phrase to support the correct letter formation e.g. ‘Maisie, mountain, mountain’ helps the children to form the letter ‘m’. At this stage children do not need to use letter names.

At this stage, children may bring home a practice sheet with the sound they have learnt, offering the opportunity to practise reading the sound and saying words which contain the sound as well as space to practise the letter formation using the phrase.

Once children know their set 1 single-letter sounds and they are able to blend them to make 3 sound words, they begin to learn their set 1 ‘special friends’ these are digraphs (2 letters that make one sound such as ‘sh’, ‘ch’, ‘th’). Once children can read these sounds, they learn to read words containing these sounds. Once children can blend sounds for reading, they will bring home ‘blending books’ and then ditty sheets and then ditty red books. Ditty sheets and Ditty Red books are a stepping stone between reading single words and reading coloured story books as they contain simple phrases and sentences which the children can decode and talk about. Teachers will also provide links to videos which you can watch with your child for further practise.

Fred Talk

Teachers use a character called Fred who can only speak in sounds to encourage the children to learn to blend. Throughout the day, children who are learning to read are engaged in Fred games to encourage them to practise their oral blending skills. Adults will also use incidental opportunities to encourage children to apply their skills. For example, “It’s cold outside, get your c-oa-t.” The children would call out, “Coat.”

For oral blending we use the whole range of sounds, including those beyond which the children have been taught. However, we only ever ask children to read words with sounds they have been taught. Children know that ‘green words’ (so called because they are presented on green card) are phonically decodable and therefore they can read them using the strategy of, “Special Friends, Fred Talk, Read the Word.” This strategy is used throughout the school whenever children come across a word they can’t read. As children become more confident with the sounds, they are encouraged to use ‘Fred in your Head’ which means they blend silently and then say the word aloud. After they have encountered a word several times, they are encouraged to do ‘speedy reading’, meaning that they should be able to sight read the word. By building each layer for a growing number of words, we are giving children the strategies which they can use to become fluent readers.

Please click on the link below for some examples of Fred games

Red Words

Not all words are decodable and children will need to learn many words which can’t be read just by applying the phonics code. These words are known as common exception words because not all the sounds within the word follow the rules which we have learnt. In RWI we call these ‘red words’ (because they are presented on red card!) and the children learn that some of the sounds are represented by the letters we would expect but that there is going to be a ‘tricky letter’. We don’t call them tricky words because it’s not the whole word that’s tricky, it’s just one part and we want children to take confidence from that fact. For example, in the word ‘said’, the ‘s’ and the ‘d’ can be decoded as they are but we draw children’s attention to the middle sound which we would expect to be represented by ‘e’. On the red word card, the ‘ai’ is circled to illustrate that it is the tricky part and children need to remember that part so that they can read and spell it accurately. Throughout Reception and Key Stage 1, the list of red words which children can sight read increases and once they can read them confidently, they begin to learn to spell them too.

Please click on the link below to see the progression of Red Words through the story books

Nonsense words

Nonsense (or alien) words are used daily in RWI as a way for children to demonstrate that they can apply the sounds they are learning to unseen words. Adults make it clear to the children that these are not real words and the words are not re-used with the same group as we do not want children to ‘learn’ them.


Children are assessed every half term to enable us to track their progress and make sure they are in the most appropriate group based on the sounds they can read and their level of ‘speedy reading’. This also helps us to identify any child who is at risk of falling behind or becoming ‘stuck’ on one level. Once identified, these children will be undertake additional phonics daily in the form of tutoring which will be led by a trained adult who is known to the child. The purpose of tutoring is to enable the child to get back on track so they are achieving in line with the progress expectations (please see table below for progress expectations).

The assessment will indicate which group the child should be placed for the next half term. Once children can read all the set 1 sounds, they begin to learn set 2 sounds which are alternative spellings for the vowel sounds. Once they can read all the set 2 sounds confidently, they will be introduced to set 3 sounds – these are other common ways of spelling sounds within the English language. Children will need to begin to use letter names now to distinguish between the different spellings. 

Coloured books

Once children can read all of set 1 sounds, including special friends and they can blend 4 and 5 sound words, they will move onto coloured reading books, usually starting at ‘Green’. They will continue to learn and review their speed sounds and to practise reading green and red words daily but they will now have the opportunity to apply their reading skills to a story book. Children are never asked to read a book ‘cold’ so we always prepare them for reading by introducing the story green words and story red words and sharing an introduction to the story first.

The children then have the opportunity to practice the focus sounds and story green and red words with their partner before being asked to read the book together. In total, children will read the book in class at least three times, in addition to the story being read to them by their reading teacher. This is to ensure that children read with both accuracy and fluency, both of which are necessary for understanding.

Children will bring home a ‘Book Bag Book’ which is related to the story they have read in class. Alongside this they will bring home other books which are at the same level to enable them to practise reading books which are closely matched to the sounds they have been taught. It is important that children have the chance to read the books they bring home three times so they can practise their fluency and expression as well as their decoding skills.

Phonics Screening Check (PSC)

The PSC is completed in the summer term of year 1 as a way of ensuring that children can apply the sounds they have been learning in phonics. More information will be sent to Year 1 parents as the PSC approaches. You can support your child by giving them the chance to read their Book Bag Book and by watching their phonics videos with them. Frore information about the PSC

After RWI

Our ambition is for all children to have completed RWI by the end of the Spring Term in year 2. However, we recognise that some children will make slower progress and at THS we are committed to supporting all children on their journey to becoming a reader.

Once children have completed the programme, and throughout the rest of the school, they will have a daily reading lesson when they will have the chance to practise their reading skills to continue developing their fluency and expression as well as building their comprehension and understanding of a range of different types of text. Teachers ensure children are exposed to stories and non-fiction text in a variety of forms, as well as using pictures, poems, song lyrics and video clips to support children’s developing inference skills. At THS we recognise that the biggest factors in children understanding a text are their knowledge of the vocabulary and their understanding of the context (knowledge of the world). Therefore, teachers will explicitly teach vocabulary that children will need to access the text as well as making links to children’s previous learning and between texts to support children’s understanding of context.

There are a range of reading scheme books for children to select from which will continue to support children’s growing vocabulary and stamina for reading. Alongside these books, children also have a library lesson once a week when they can choose both a foction and a non-fiction book to bring home as well as access to the class reading corner and teacher’s reading trolley from which they can borrow books to read during independent reading time in class.

Each term, children will complete a reading assessment (PIRA) which gives teachers an opportunity to track progress and identify any gaps to inform future planning as well as identifying children who demonstrate high potential in Reading so we can ensure they are appropriately challenged. These termly assessments are also good practice for children in preparation for KS1 and KS2 SATs which take place in the summer term of year 2 and 6 repsectively. In line with normal classroom practice, there are a range of reasonable adjustments we can make to support children to access the assessments if necessary.

Not Just Books…

Any reading is reading! We encourage children to read a wide range of texts in different forms because we understand that children learn in different ways and we want them all to understand the purpose of reading. Comics, non-fiction books, recipes, instructions, song lyrics, road signs….the list is endless. Help your child to identify all the different types of reading which are necessary to get through the day.

Ways to support your child:

  • Read to your child every day – even once they can read for themselves!

  • Listen to your child read every day

  • Let your child see you reading

  • Talk to your child about what they are reading (this doesn’t mean asking them comprehension questions – just show an interest!)

  • Visit the library – Aylesbury library has a fabulous children’s section and very knowledgable staff who can support children in selecting appopriate books which will stretch them beyond the ‘supermarket authors’

  • Watch the video below for further ideas