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What is a phoneme?

A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound in speech.  When we teach reading we teach children which letters represent those sounds.  For example – the word ‘hat’ has 3 phonemes – ‘h’ ‘a’ and ‘t’.


What is a grapheme?

A grapheme is a letter or a number of letters that represent the sounds in our speech. So a grapheme will be the letter/ letters that represent a phoneme (see above). English has a complex written code and in our code a grapheme can be 1, 2,3 or 4 letters.   For example:

1 letter grapheme – m  a  t     (m)

2 letter grapheme – sh  i  p    (sh)

3 letter grapheme – n  igh  t     (igh)

4 letter grapheme – eigh  t     (eigh)


What is a digraph and a trigraph?

A digraph is a 2 letter grapheme (the clue is in ‘di’) e.g. ‘ch’ in  ‘chip’

A trigraph is a 3 letter grapheme (the clue is in ‘tri’) e.g. ‘igh’ in ‘high’


What are adjacent consonants?

Adjacent consonants are 2 or more consonants that are next to each other in a word. For example in the word ‘lost’ the ‘s’ and ‘t’ are adjacent consonants.  Or in the word ‘clip’ the ‘c’ and  ‘l’ are adjacent consonants.  It important to remember that each consonant is a separate sound so ‘cl’ for example is 2 sounds ‘c’ and ‘l’.


What are consonant and vowel digraphs?

Consonant digraphs are 2 letters that are consonants that spell 1 sound e.g.: ‘s’ and ‘h’ together spell ‘sh’. As this is 1 sound, it  cannot be called  2 adjacent consonants. Vowel digraphs or trigraphs are vowel sounds spelled by more than 1 letter e.g: ‘oo’ or ‘ai’ or ‘igh’


Encourage children to use pure sounds, (‘mmm’ not’ muh’, ’s’ not ‘suh’, etc) so that your child will be able to blend the sounds into words more easily. See link below for correct pronunciation.


These first sounds should all be stretched slightly. Try to avoid saying uh after each one:


eg /mm/ not muh, /ss/ not suh, /ff/ not fuh.


m – mmmmmmountain (keep lips pressed together hard)

s – sssssnake (keep teeth together and hiss – unvoiced)

n – nnnnnnet (keep tongue behind teeth)

f – ffffflower (keep teeth on bottom lip and force air out sharply – unvoiced)

l – llllleg (keep pointed curled tongue behind teeth).

r – rrrrrrobot (say rrr as if you are growling)

v – vvvvvvulture (keep teeth on bottom lip and force air out gently)

z – zzzzzzig zzzzzag (keep teeth together and make a buzzing sound)

th – thhhhank you ( stick out tongue and breathe out sharply)

sh – shhhh (make a shhh noise as though you are telling somebody to be quiet!)

ng – thinnnnngg on a strinnnngg (curl your tongue at the back of your throat)

These next sounds cannot be stretched. Make the sound as short as possible avoiding uh at the end of the sound:


t – (tick tongue behind the teeth – unvoiced)

p - (make distinctive p with lips – unvoiced)

k and c – (make sharp click at back of throat)

h – (say h as you breathe sharply out – unvoiced)

ch - (make a short sneezing sound)

x – (say a sharp c and add s – unvoiced)

You will find it harder to avoid saying uh at the end of these sounds.

d – (tap tongue behind the teeth).

g – (make soft sound in throat).

b –(make a short, strong b with lips).

j – (push lips forward).

y – (keep edges of tongue against teeth).

w – (keep lips tightly pursed).

qu – (keep lips pursed as you say cw – unvoiced).

a: a-a-a (open mouth wide as if to take a bite of an apple).

e: e-e-e (release mouth slightly from a position).

i: i-i-i (make a sharp sound at the back of the throat – smile).

o: o–o-o (push out lips, make the mouth into o shape).

u: u-u-u (make a sound in the throat).


Some sounds can be written in different ways.


Long Vowel Sounds





ay ay: may I play

a-e: make a cake

ai: snail in the rain


ee: what can you see

ea: cup of tea

e: he me we she be


igh: fly high

i-e: nice smile



ow: blow the snow

o-e: phone home

oa: goat in a boat


oo: poo at the zoo

u-e: huge brute

ew: chew the stew


oo: look at a book




ar: start the car




or: shut the door

aw: yawn at dawn



air: that’s not fair

are: share and care



ir: whirl and twirl

ur: nurse for a purse

er: a better letter


ou: shout it out

ow: brown cow



oy: toy for a boy

oi: spoil the boy



ire: fire fire!




ear: hear with your ear




ure: sure it’s pure





Year 1 Phonics