Phonics is the relationship between the 26 letters of the English alphabet, and the approximately 44 speech sounds they represent, depending on dialect. The sounds of the English language are known as phonemes and the letters and letter combinations are known as graphemes. Grapheme-phoneme correspondences (GPCs) are represented by approximately 250 different spellings (Moats, 2010).
The term phonics can also represent an approach to teaching of reading and spelling that emphasises directly teaching the relationship between speech sounds and the way they are represented in print, especially when it comes to early reading instruction.
Beginning readers need to be explicitly taught how our speech sounds map to the different spellings or GPC’s in a logical and sequential order, starting with the simple code (see below for an example). Once a few of these have been introduced, young children should be given opportunities to learn to blend them together to form words. Beginning readers should also be taught segmenting and phoneme manipulation.
Segmenting, blending and phoneme manipulation are essential phonemic awareness skills and once children start school these skills are best learned in conjunction with grapheme-phoneme correspondences or phonics.
There is overwhelming research evidence that demonstrates early reading progress is most likely to occur when the early reading instruction includes systematic and explicit teaching of phonics, especially for those children who are at greatest risk of reading difficulties. Phonics should not be taught on its own. Phonics should be taught alongside phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension every day in the beginning stages of learning to read.