Synthetic Phonics

Research shows that to get every child reading and spelling we need to teach them with a systematic and explicit approach. In the United Kingdom this approach is known as Synthetic Phonics.

Phonics Hero uses a systematic Synthetic Phonics approach to teach children to read and spell. You can get a free Teacher Account here or, if you are a parent, get a free 7 day trial here.

'Learning to Read with our Synthetic Phonics GamesLearning to Read with our Synthetic Phonics Games

What Characterises a Synthetic Phonics Approach?

Synthetic Phonics is a strange, technical name that has nothing to do with being artificial! The ‘synthetic’ name comes from the synthesising or blending of sounds to make a word and enable children to read. When you are teaching reading and spelling with Synthetic Phonics, your teaching will have the following characteristics:

1) A Simple to Complex Logic

The English language has 26 letters but 44 unique sounds. A Synthetic Phonics approach will teach these 44 sounds from the simple to the more complicated logic.

First off, children are taught that each alphabet letter has its own unique sound. For example:

synthetic-phonics-alphabet-sounds

Once children have this concept, we make the logic a little harder. Two (or sometimes three) letters can also come together to make a new sound. For example:

synthetic-phonics-digraphs-and-trigraphs

The next layer of complexity is where you really start to see spelling improve. Children learn that a sound can be represented in many ways. For example the /ee/ sound:

synthetic-phonics-alternative-spellings

Finally, children will learn that a letter or group of letters can represent different sounds. For example:

synthetic-phonics-alternative-pronunciation

2) Decoding is the First Strategy to Read and it Should Happen Quickly

As soon as children have learned between 6-8 alphabet sounds, they must start blending to read. Many programmes will wait until children know all the alphabet sounds. This is completely unnecessary – it should be done much earlier. By doing it earlier, we demonstrate to children why we are learning the sounds; to blend words to read.

The process of reading involves decoding or ‘breaking’ words into separate sounds, which can then be blended together to read an unknown word. Children tackle each word with four steps:

synthetic phonics and reading
Click here to download this image as a poster for your classroom.

3) Spelling is Taught Hand-in-Hand with Reading

The process of spelling involves the opposite method to reading. It requires children to identify the sounds in a word and then to match a letter (or letters) with that sound to essentially ‘make’ the word. This takes a five step process:

synthetic phonics and spelling
Click here to download this image as a poster for your classroom.

4) Children Practise their Skills with Decodable Texts

Let’s assume that children have learned eight sounds:

blending-first-8-sounds

The texts children practise and apply their knowledge with, should only use the sounds the children have been taught. Many phonics programmes make the mistake of giving words which, yes, are simple and use the target sound, but throw in sounds which the children simply have not learned yet. For example:

synthetic-phonics-no-decodable-text

The /oo/ in ‘moon’, the /u/ in ‘mud’ and the /e/ in ‘men’ haven’t been taught yet. It is therefore unfair to expect a child to read these words if they don’t have the knowledge of all the sounds. In Synthetic Phonics children only read words which use the sounds they have learned – they will be entirely decodable. Look at all the words they could read with only these 8 sounds:

blending-with-only-8-sounds-children-can-blend-28-words

At a Glance Synthetic Phonics Teaches Children:

  • That spoken words are composed of sounds
  • The 44 sounds of the English language
  • To blend sounds in a word to read
  • To listen for sounds in words to spell
  • All the different ways each sound can be represented, e.g. the sound /a/ as in ‘apron’ can be spelled (‘ay’ like in ‘pay, ‘ai’ like in ‘paid’, ‘a’ like in ‘apron’, ‘eigh’ like in ‘eight’ and so on…)
  • Irregular, high frequency words (we call them camera or tricky words), which are essential to help children progress the quality of their writing and move onto reading full sentences
  • The sound first and then the letter name

Learn more about Synthetic Phonics:

  • Watch our introductory video:


  • Read the English Government’s criteria for quality systematic, Synthetic Phonics programmes and teaching
  • Read our blog post on blending
  • Read case studies from Australia and the UK after implementing Phonics Hero
  • Learn about the journey our CEO went through whilst teaching her child to read