Research School Network: Phonics beyond phonics In part two of a three-part series, Allison Carvalho discusses recommendation 2 from Improving Literacy in Key Stage 1

Phonics beyond phonics

In part two of a three-part series, Allison Carvalho discusses recommendation 2 from Improving Literacy in Key Stage 1

by East London Research School
on the

Recommendation 2 of the Guidance Report says: Use a balanced and engaging approach to developing reading, teaching both decoding and comprehension skills.

IL strap

Let’s look at one bullet point under this heading:

Both decoding … and comprehension … skills are necessary for confident and competent reading, but neither is sufficient on its own’.

The report refers to decoding as the ability to translate written words into the sounds of spoken language’. What could this mean in class, beyond statutory phonics lessons?


We dedicate time to pre-teaching key vocabulary, but it’s also vital to regularly revisit it in different ways to help ensure that children can read and understand novel words.

Some words are not decodable all the way through, so teach learners to read them whole. You could also divide words into categories: sight words and decodable words.

On reflection, the long-term aim is to read words whole to facilitate fluency (automaticity, expression and pace); this strategy could help to make that aim explicit. It may also give some children the chance to learn new sounds within a meaningful context.

Ask the future experts

In groups, children could be asked to categorise new words themselves. What strategy do they think is appropriate to read and spell them. Why?

Organic phonics

When planning around, or writing, new material for children, why not collate words into sound families? This can be a powerful and, again, meaningful way to teach vowel sounds in particular, which are the most common. Once you’ve done this, pre-teach and revisit as usual.

If you have space in your classroom, encourage children to build their own working wall of sounds and add words they learn while reading and spelling beyond phonics sessions. No extra time need be taken for this as it could be part of your lessons, or a nice way to start or end the day. Revisit regularly, or the wall will become wallpaper! An interactive whiteboard wall could be just as effective.

I’ve termed this approach organic phonics’ because the pre-taught words come directly from the text, which is enlivened and enriched each time it is revisited. Regularly revisited words become part of our long-term memories, which research currently suggests are formed in our brain’s hippocampus.

Two skills for the price of one

After finishing a text, or subject, whole-class miscue analysis may help you to check word reading skills and comprehension.

Choose material, perhaps no more than 100 words long, and ask the class to complete cloze sentences about it. This could help to identify whether children can both read and understand the text and evaluate how effective your lessons have been.

Provide the missing pre-taught vocabulary – about 10 words – at the top of the page so that readers immediately know what they’re looking for.

Alternatively, doing this activity before reading too may help you to spot words that are especially tricky and need a bit more learning time. You may like to read the passage and missing words to your class to help free-up working memory for comprehension. This approach may be especially suitable for less experienced readers and could help you to ascertain everyone’s current level of knowledge.

The EEF’s reading fluency resource suggests other very helpful strategies that you could try.

Allison Carvalho is a Specialist Teacher and Dyslexia Assessor at Kaizen Primary School in East London. 

For further reading, we recommend the EEF’s Literacy Development Evidence Review

All of the documents below are available via this page:

Improving Literacy in Key Stage 1: Recommendations Poster

Improving Literacy in Key Stage 1: Guidance Report

What might fluency practice look like in the classroom?

Reading and writing speeds and SpLD assessment from the SpLD Assessment Standards Committee (SASC) offers helpful guidance to teachers and practitioners. Please note: this is guidance and is not a formal synthesis or review of the research with a transparent methodology or peer review.

See also:

Does cognitive science imply quick fixes’? by Allison Carvalho

Part 1 of this three-part series

Part 3 of this three-part series

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