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 Jolly Phonics



Jolly Phonics is a systematic phonics scheme that teaches children the alphabetic code of English.  In the first nine weeks or so, the children are taught the 42 letter sounds, how to blend them to read words, and how to cope with the first few 'tricky' keywords.  At this point the children can attempt to read books for themselves.

 There are five main elements to the teaching:



1.  Learning the Letter Sounds

The main 42 letter sounds of English are taught – one sound every day and in the Jolly Phonics order.

1.  s  a  t  i  p  n

2.  c k  e  h  r  m  d

3.  g  o  u  l  f  b

4.  ai  j  oa  ie  ee  or

5.  z  w  ng  v  oo  oo


6.  y  x  ch  sh  th  th

7.  qu  ou  oi  ue  er  ar

A multi-sensory method is used to introduce the children to the letter sounds.  There is a storyline, action and ‘Sound Sheet’ for each sound.  By doing an action associated with the sound, e.g., rub tummy and say “mmmmm” for the /m/ sound, the children remember it more easily.

Each child is given their own ‘Sound Book’.  Every day the new letter sound is stuck into the book and taken home.  Parents are asked to help their children learn the sounds, either by going through the Sound Book, or by cutting up the letters and playing a game of ‘Pairs’ with their child.

In order to blend efficiently it is important to know the letter sounds fluently.  Every day flash cards of the letter sounds that have been taught should be held up for the children to call out the sounds as they do the actions.

Some sounds are represented by two letters, and are known as digraphs.  The children need to recognize digraphs in words, e.g., the ‘ng’ in ‘strong’.  The digraphs ‘oo’ and ‘th’ each have two sounds, e.g., ‘book’ and ‘moon’, ‘thin’ and ‘that’.  In Jolly Phonics they are initially written in two sizes to help the children understand that there are two sounds.


2.  Learning Letter Formation

As the letter sounds are introduced, the children are shown exactly how to form each letter correctly.  Initially, the children form the letters in the air, at the same time as the teacher.  By regularly feeling the formation of each letter, and then writing it, most children will form their letters correctly after the first twelve weeks or so.  It is also important to teach the children to hold their pencil correctly, in the tripod grip.  Feeling letter formation in the Finger Phonics books or tracing over dotted letters also gives good practice.

The Jolly Phonics material uses Sassoon typefaces.   One typeface has joining tails, while another has print letters. 


3.  Blending

As well as learning the sounds the letters make, the children need to be taught how to blend them together to hear a word.  This teaching starts on the first day.  The aim is to enable the children to hear the word when the teacher says the sounds, e.g., “Listen carefully, what word am I saying … ‘d-o-g’?”  A few children will hear ‘dog’.  Try a few more words, such as ‘s-u-n’, ‘b-oy’, ‘m-ou-s’.

Once the children can hear the word when an adult says the sounds, they are ready to try and blend words for themselves.  Initially, being able to blend letter sounds fluently is the essential skill for reading and should always be the first strategy for working out unknown words.  Children must also be able to recognize consonant blends and digraphs in words such as ‘fl-a-g’ and ‘sh-o-p’.

After most of the 42 letter sounds have been taught and the children can read simple, regular words they begin taking home the ‘Word Boxes’ for extra practice.  The Word Boxes start with simple words made from the first group of letter sounds.  The children who are the fastest at learning to blend letter sounds tend to become the more fluent readers.

As soon as the children have worked their way through the Word Boxes, and learned the first ten tricky words, they are ready to start on the Red Level Jolly Readers.   The words in these readers are controlled so that the children can successfully work them out.   Once there is confidence and fluency in the reading then the children are able to read a wide variety of books that do not have controlled vocabulary.   It is helpful to encourage parents to talk about and enjoy the stories with their children.   The Read and See books are useful for the children who need more practice with blending words.

At first, one way of spelling each vowel sound is taught, e.g., ‘ai’ as in ‘rain’.  The children should have practice blending these spellings in words before the alternatives are introduced, e.g., ‘ay’ as in ‘play’ and ‘a-e’ as in ‘lane’.


4.  Identifying Sounds In Words

It is essential that children are taught to hear the individual sounds in words, especially for helping them to spell words.  Initially, the children are asked to listen carefully and say if they can hear a given sound in words.  Start with words that have three sounds in them, for example,  “Is there a ‘s’ in ‘sun’ … ‘mouse’ … ‘dog’?”; “If there is a ‘s’ where does it come – the beginning, middle or end?”.  Then the children are encouraged to say the sounds they hear.  Practice by saying a word like ‘hat’.  The children should respond by saying ‘h-a-t’.  As they say each sound they hold up a finger … ‘h-a-t’ three fingers, three sounds; ‘sh-i-p’ three fingers, three sounds, etc.  After this progress to more complicated words, such as those with initial and final consonant blends.

The teacher can sometimes write the letters on the board as the children say the letter sounds.  Then the children look at the word, say the sounds and blend them to read the word.  This gives a good understanding of how reading and writing work.  A few examples every day helps to develop this skill.

As soon as the children can hear the sounds in three letter words they can start their dictation homework, material in The Phonics Handbook.

When children can hear the sounds in words, and know one way of writing each sound, they can write independently.  Initially, the children will not spell accurately but their work can be read, for example, ‘I went hors riedin that wos fun’.  Most children, by the end of their first year, should be able to write their own news and simple stories independently.  It will be exactly what they want to say, as they are not restricted to writing only the words they have learned by heart.  Accurate spelling develops gradually from reading books, knowing the alternative vowel sounds and following a spelling scheme.


5.  Tricky Words

After their first six weeks at school, when the majority of the children know about 35 letter sounds and have been blending regular words as a group activity, they can begin to learn the tricky words.  Tricky words are words that cannot always be worked out by blending.  These can be introduced gradually using the Jolly Phonics Tricky Word Cards or Tricky Word Wall Flowers.  Look at what is ‘tricky’ in each word, e.g., ‘was’ has an /o/ sound in the middle instead of an /a/ sound.  Try and teach at least 2–3 a week, continually revising for reading and spelling.

Three spelling techniques are:

•           Look (identify the irregularity and say the letter names), Cover, Write and


•           Say It As It Sounds, e.g., pronounce ‘mother’ with a short /o/ sound so that

           it rhymes with ‘bother’.

•           Mnemonics, e.g., ‘people eat omelettes people like eggs’ to spell the word




6.  Conclusion:  Aims to Achieve in the First Nine Weeks

All the children to:

•  read and write the 42 letter sounds,

•  form the letters correctly, holding their pencil in the tripod grip,

  •  blend regular words fluently, for example, ‘leg’, ‘flag’, ‘shoot’, ‘bringing’ etc.,

•  write simple, regular words by listening for the sounds, for example, ‘b-e-d’,

    ‘f-l-a-t’, ‘s-p-oo-n’ etc., and

•  read the first 10 tricky words.



7.  What Comes After the First 9 Weeks?

Every day a little work on each skill is needed:

1.  Frequently work through the flash cards of the letter sounds:

            – including the alternative spellings, e.g., ‘er’, ‘ir’, ‘ur’,

            – practice reading regular words that use the alternative spellings.

2.  Develop the ability to write fluently and neatly:

            – correct formation of capital as well as lower-case letters,

            – dictation of words and sentences.

3.  Develop reading fluency and comprehension:

            – reading individually to parents or to adults in school,

            – group and silent reading,

            – develop a wider vocabulary and understanding of the meaning of words.

4.  Develop writing skills:

            – draw pictures on the board and ask the children to write a sentence

               about each one,

            – write news independently,

            – write simple stories that have been told to them by the teacher,

            – write the first sentence of a story on the board for the children to copy  and continue,

            – create and writing their own simple stories,

            – write up science and topic work.



5.  Continue teaching the tricky words for reading and spelling.


© Sue Lloyd