What is Essential Letters and Sounds?
ELS teaches children to read using a systematic synthetic phonics approach. It is designed to be used as part of an early learning environment that is rich in talk and story, where children experience the joy of books and language whilst rapidly acquiring the skills to become fluent independent readers and writers.
ELS teaches children to:
• decode by identifying each sound within a word and blending them together to read fluently
• encode by segmenting each sound to write words accurately.
We know that for children at the end of Key Stage 1 to achieve the age-related expectations, they need to read fluently at 90 words per minute. As children move into Key Stage 2, it is vitally important that even those who have made the slowest progress are able to read age-appropriate texts independently and with fluency.
For children to engage with the wider curriculum, they need to be able to read well, making inferences and drawing on background knowledge to support their developing understanding of a text when they read. To do this, they need to be able to draw not only on their phonic knowledge but also on their wider reading and comprehension skills, each of which must be taught.
The first step in this complex process is the link between spoken and written sounds. ELS whole-class, daily phonics teaching must begin from the first days of Reception. Through the rigorous ELS teaching programme, children will build an immediate understanding of the relationship between the sounds they can hear and say (phonemes) and the written sounds (graphemes).
Essential Letters and Sounds Glossary -
Blend (vb) - To draw individual sounds together to pronounce a word: for example, s-n-a-p, blended together, reads ‘snap’
Blending hands - Clap your hands (silently) as you blend the sounds together to say the whole word.
Consonant - A speech sound in which the breath channel is at least partly obstructed and which can be combined with a vowel to form a syllable (i.e. the letters b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, z).
Decoding - Extracting meaning from symbols. In the case of reading, the symbols are letters, which are decoded into words.
Decodable text - A text which is entirely decodable based on the sounds and graphemes that have been taught. A child will not encounter a ‘tricky’ or HRS word that they have not yet been taught, nor will they be asked to ‘guess’ what sound a grapheme represents. ELS includes linked decodable readers, to ensure that every child is able to decode independently and re-read the books until they achieve fluency. Children begin using decodable readers from the first days of teaching.
Digraph - Two letters making one sound: for example
Drum roll - Technique used when introducing a new grapheme/ spelling. This should be a two- to three-second drum roll on the children’s laps. It allows the teacher to quickly see that all children are engaged and participating.
Encoding - Writing involves encoding: communicating meaning by creating symbols (letters to make words) on a page.
Grapheme - A letter or a group of letters representing one phoneme: for example (‘though’).
Grapheme Phoneme Correspondence (GPC)– The relationship between sounds and the letters which represent those sounds; also known as ‘letter–sound' correspondence
Me, then you - To ensure that children can apply their understanding independently, we must always give them the information required. First, we show how to do/say something. Then they copy us, before repeating this by themselves. We repeat these steps, reducing our modelling as children’s fluency and independence increases
Phoneme - The smallest single identifiable sound: for example, the letters ‘sh’ represent just one phoneme (/sh/) but ‘sp’ represents two (/s/ and /p/)
Phonemic Awareness - An ability to identify and make the sounds (phonemes) within words.
Phonics - A method of teaching beginners to read and pronounce words by learning to associate letters or letter groups with the sounds they represent.
Phonological Awareness - An awareness of the sound structure of spoken words: for example, rhyme, syllables, onset and rime, as well as phonemic awareness
Pseudo words - Words that do not make sense but are made up of decodable sounds
Robot arms - When sound-talking a word (orally segmenting it into the phonemes within the word), Reading Teachers and children use robot arms to physically make the link between the separating of the sounds. This assists children in hearing the separate sounds within the word and ensures that they do not form ‘consonant clusters’ or ‘onset and rime’, which are not part of the ELS programme. The word is said in ‘robot talk’ and then blending hands are used to blend the word.
Segment - To split up a word into its individual phonemes in order to spell it: for example, the word ‘cat’ has three phonemes /c/ /a/ /t/. Children are asked to count the individual sounds in the word to help them to spell it.
Sound-talk - Oral sounding out of a word: for example, c–a–t
Split digraph - Two vowels that make one sound but are split by one or more consonants: for example, as in ‘make’ or as in ‘inside’. There are six split digraphs in the English language: ,
Trigraph - Three letters making one sound: for example igh
Vowel Speech - sounds in which the breath channel is not blocked and does not cause friction when making vocal sounds (i.e. the letters a, e, i, o, u)
Vowel digraph - Two vowels that together make one sound: for example ai, ee, oa
VC - Vowel–consonant: for example, the word ‘am’.
CVC - Consonant–vowel–consonant: for example, the word ‘Sam’. (Consonants and vowels in these abbreviations can be digraphs and trigraphs too, for example the words ‘ring’ or ‘feet’.)
CCVC - Consonant–consonant–vowel–consonant: for example, the word ‘slam’. (Consonants and vowels in these abbreviations can be digraphs and trigraphs too, for example the word ‘bring’ or ‘fleet’.)