Whether you think it’s a sound idea or lost in translation, it is widely accepted that systematic phonics is one of the essential components of a balanced approach to the teaching of reading when utilised alongside other enriching literacy activities.
All schools have their favourite phonics programmes and there are some crackers out there; although what works for one group of learners won’t necessarily be right for another. Whether you are happy with your provision or ripe for a change, it’s always worth looking at new offerings – and perhaps even considering a spot of ‘mix and match’.
Schofield and Sims has added to the success of its Sound Phonics activity books with three new titles for teachers - turning the collection into what’s described as the ‘ultimate Letters and Sounds resource’. Whilst this might not be the definitive synthetic phonics programme for some it is certainly an ambitious, handsome and comprehensive series worthy of serious consideration as a whole school programme or supplement. It’s an ideal choice for home schooling too. It’s quite a package and ticks all the core criteria boxes when it comes to systematic phonics teaching, multi-sensory activities, rich phonics practice, integrated revision and ongoing assessment.
So what do you get? Quite a pile. At the heart of the programme you will find ten activity books from Phase 2-6, each one being very finely graded for achieving the best results, and written to a very high standard. Phase 1 is a reusable stimulus book containing sound discrimination activities and games. The activity books provide focus statements, revision of points previously covered, very easy to use assessment activities, explanatory notes and a glossary of terminology. The advice is that children use them with an adult but I know plenty of colleagues who find them effective for independent and group work, or to send home. On the presentation front, publishers can sometimes struggle with producing something that’s ‘child-friendly’, yet not too flashy and disctracting. I think these books have been pitched just right, and focus on the content with simple drawings where appropriate. The key issue for me is whether they are challenging enough and yes, I think the level of demand is healthy and fitting. The coverage is impressive and the scope and sequence comparison chart shows what’s what in each book in terms of practice of new graphemes, revision of graphemes, reading activities, spelling and writing activities, letter formation and assessment areas.
The Teacher’s Guide is bound to get well-used because this helps you use all the materials effectively and the notes are first-rate. They tell you how to introduce and revise the key learning points and provide clear references throughout to other relevant materials. They contain a very handy outline of the chapter contents for easy navigation, provide ideas for practical multi-sensory activities, and include little and often practice activities, as well as help for those who are struggling, and extension games/activities for further consolidation. You will also find sound assessment notes and spelling choices and guidelines. These notes ooze expertise and provide an excellent structure to teach from whilst still leaving room of plenty for creativity. The Guide is supplemented by the equally excellent Teacher’s Resource Book, which contains general resources, activity book resources and assessment resources. The general resources will be invaluable as they can be easily adapted over several phases and include word sort sheets, voting paddles, phoneme frames, a phonic family tree, caption book, and blank word cards. The activity book resources are plentiful too, with picture cards, sound mats and tricky word mats, games, grapheme cards, word cards and sound button cards, reading captions and sentences, phoneme frame letters and reading and writing sentences.
A fine collection they are too; focused, diverse and challenging. The assessment and record-keeping resources include group activity sheets, group record sheets and analysis sheets to check for understanding and pinpoint any errors.
For me, one of the most useful resources in the programme is the Rhymes for Reading book, which contains 60 photocopiable, phonically decodable rhymes to help children practise and apply their phonic knowledge. Each rhyme comes with some brief but very useful teaching notes and ideas for discussion questions to which you could easily add. These brilliantly penned rhymes are perfect for one-to-one or guided reading and you’ll be desperate to use them again and again. They are full of energy, fun and talking points par excellence.
Price-wise you are onto a winner. I didn’t think it was possible to buy a whole phonics programme for under £50 but it is (although obviously you’ll have to factor in how many activity books you need to purchase). At £1.95 per book, and with the Teacher’s Guide only £7, then I’d say that’s real value for money – you can even buy a taster pack for £20 to test the water. My only real bugbear with Sound Phonics is that it doesn’t come on a CD, which is a bit of a mystery because this resource would be so much more accessible in digital form, especially from an editing point of view.
Sound Phonics can count itself as being one of the best phonics materials on the market now it’s got the teaching guide books, rhymes for reading and resources on board. It provides a very clear structure for progression and caters for all learning styles, and its systematic and focused approach makes it an assured buy. If you are looking to get in the phonics zone then this programme is both intensive and extensive enough to help you prepare children for full fluency in reading, writing and spelling. I can easily see this being a popular and valuable resource to have in your collection - especially when you get online support and numerous downloads to make use of too.