The ability to read and write is a key life skill that paves the way to success at school and in the world beyond.
In September 2015 we introduced a scheme called Read, Write Inc. to teach children phonics and develop early reading skills. Children progress gradually through the scheme learning to read and spell a range of words using their phonics skills.
Every day children are taught individual sounds during a quick fire 10 minute 'Speed Sounds' session. Children learn how to blend these sounds to read green words.
'Green' words are words which can be decoded using phonics. Through daily practice reading green words children gradually learn to read and blend words instantly. Regular practice reading these words means that the words and sounds become familiar and soon children are able to read them at speed. They can then use their knowledge of these words to read similar words more quickly.
Red words are words that children need to learn on sight because they contain parts that cannot be decoded using phonics. For example the word 'want' would be decoded incorrectly using phonics because the ‘a’ in want does not make and ‘a’ sound it makes an ‘o’ sound. This is called a ‘grotty grapheme’ (a letter, or group of letters, that is making the wrong sound). To build a full reading vocabulary children must learn the correct pronunciation and spelling of these red words.
Research has shown that incorporating nonsense words into teaching reading can be an effective way to establish blending and segmenting skills. However it is important to ensure that children understand that they are reading nonsense words (and why) so that they are not confused by trying to read the words for meaning. They are an indicator of early reading skills and work as a quick, reliable and valid way of assessing children. However reading nonsense words is only a small part of the Read, Write Inc. phonics teaching.
Fred is our Read, Write Inc. mascot. He can only speak in sounds though, so we have to help him learn to say words, instead of sounds. For example Fred says 'c-a-t' instead of cat. We also teach him not to add 'uh' to our sounds in order to keep them pure. For example we say 'c' and not 'cuh'.
We use 'Fred Fingers' to help make the transition between oral sounding out and spelling with magnetic letters or on paper.
Firstly we count how many sounds we can hear:
"cat, c-a-t, 3 sounds".
Then we hold up that many fingers.
For each sound we use our other hand to squeeze a Fred Finger and say the sound
Then we use our free hand to 'sweep' over our Fred Fingers and to blend the sounds into a word
Watch out - words such as fish needs 3 Fred Fingers - "f-i-sh". Words such as flight need 4 Fred Fingers - "f-l-igh-t".
As children become more confident with their sounds and spelling words they will move away from using their Fred Fingers and instead rely on sounding out in their head.
Read, Write Inc. books
After children have learned enough sounds they begin to read 'Ditty' books in their Read, Write Inc. lessons, as well as continuing Speed Sounds sessions. Ditty books contain 3 short stories that the children read and these stories are made up from green and red words which children can already decode and read with confidence.
Following Ditty books children continue to read groups of books that have been specially written to support progress through the scheme. These books follow their own colour scheme and do not tie in with the home/school reading books scheme.
Each colour band contains 10 main books, with extra books to support non-fiction reading as well. Children are taught to read the 'green' and 'red' words at the beginning of each book, before checking understanding using the 'vocab check' page. The children also talk about the upcoming story to make links to their own experiences before reading the book, usually 3 times. The first time is to practise decoding the words, the second time is to practise expression and the third time is to read for comprehension. Each book focusses on a particular sound or set of sounds, allowing the children to practise the sounds that they have been learning. Adults will move their group through the books, picking and choosing books that they feel will best support the learning of their group.
A typical Read, Write Inc. session contains a mix of learning and practising sounds, reading and writing. Each of the coloured storybook bands have a matching 'Get Writing' book that contains activities that the adults can use to complement the reading activities the children have completed. The activities are designed to support the learning of sentence structure and grammar as well as developing vocabulary and generating ideas for writing.
Activities often include:
Hold a sentence - listening to, orally repeating and then writing a sentence linked to the book they were reading.
Edit a sentence - correcting errors in a sentence, for example missing capital letters, punctuation and spelling mistakes.
Build a sentence - writing a sentence using key vocabulary, gradually building more complex sentence structures.
For each reading book children also complete longer writing activities using the stimulus provided (such as a letter, retelling the story, a recipe). Through the writing activities children demonstrate how effectively they can make use of all the strategies taught.
Once children have learnt all of the sounds and spelling patterns from the Read Write Inc scheme they move into full English lessons. For most children this will be during year 2, though some children take longer than others and some children progress through the scheme faster.
For children who continue to need support there is an additional scheme called Fresh Start. In the Juniors this is used during year 5 and 6 to support those children who continue to struggle with their reading. Fresh Start teaches the same sounds and spelling patterns as Read Write Inc. and uses the same strategies for decoding and spelling. However, the content of the reading texts have more mature themes and are more suitable for older children.