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Sounds Write

What is Sounds Write?

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Sounds Write

Sounds Write is a highly structured, systematic synthetic phonics program. The evidence-based linguistic program is recommended by AUSPELD.

Sounds Write teaches students how the alphabetic code works. Fundamentally, it teaches students the key skills required to be effective readers and spellers.

What we need to understand about learning to read is that it is not one skill; it is a complex of skills, conceptual knowledge and code knowledge. Children are biologically primed to learn the language that they speak but are not primed to learn the writing system of that language. We need to teach children the writing system explicitly and systematically.

Sounds Write starts with the skill that children learn naturally: the sounds of their own language.

Sounds Write then teaches that letters or combinations of letters are the ways in which we represent those sounds when we write.

The 3 skills Sounds Write teaches are:

  1. Segmenting
  2. Blending
  3. Phoneme Manipulation

These skills need to be perfected and practised to become a fluent reader.


Segmenting individual sounds in speech is vital for both reading and spelling. To read, the reader must segment the sound-spelling correspondences in a word before blending them to make a recognisable word. When writing, a student also needs to split the word into its component sounds. E.g. /c/…./a/…/t/… and to represent each sound as a letter.


The skill of blending involves pushing sounds together to form meaningful words. For example /b/ /oa/ /t/ = ‘boat.’

Phoneme Manipulation

The skill of manipulating individual sounds within words enables one sound to be replaced by another. For instance, take the word ‘bat,’ and replace the sound /a/ with the sound /i/ so it becomes ‘bit.’ This skill is essential when the reader is problem solving when decoding. For instance, the letter <o> represents 4 completely different sounds in the words ‘go,’ ‘pot,’ ‘mother,’ and ‘to,’ When reading unfamiliar words, a child needs to decode by trying different letters or spellings and they must be prepared to test out alternatives. Therefore, the reader needs to be able to manipulate sounds instantly. This is a skill proficient readers are able to carry out automatically, and it occurs without having to think about it.

Sounds Write

Core Concepts of Sounds Write

To become a proficient and fluent reader, a child must grasp the following:

  1. English speech is written in a visual code where symbols, known as spellings or letters or graphemes, are used to represent individual sounds (phonemes).
  2. You can spell a sound with 1, 2, 3 or 4 letters.
  3. There are many different ways of spelling a sound. (e.g. the sound /ae/ as in ‘rain,’ play,’ ‘gate,’ or ‘break.’
  4. A spelling can represent more than one sound. (For instance, the spelling <ea> in the words sea, head, break.

A systematic approach to the teaching of reading is required.

We start by teaching that you can spell a sound with one letter. Then, that you can spell a sound with two letters: ff, ll, ss, zz. In the Extended Code children discover through explicit, structured teaching more complex concepts. It is at this point of our English code that many children become confused and find spelling difficult. As many of our sounds have different spellings we begin with the most common and return to that sound, adding more alternatives. Just as in the Initial Code, lessons progress at a brisk pace with a variety of activities in each session. In general, teachers choose a target phoneme and spend 1-2 weeks working with words containing it.

Sounds Write is Multisensory

Sounds Write is also multi-sensory. As children are copying and saying the sounds they are using touch, sight, sound and speech. Using Sounds Write from the start children learn right away that the alphabet code, like any code, is reversible, you can both read and spell it. As they are using their senses, young children make a direct connection between what they hear and what they see written down.

Phonics Books

The secret to getting kids to read, is giving them books they can actually read. Decodable Readers enable children to use their knowledge of sound-letter relationships that they have been explicitly taught and practise their reading fluency through a story. We have the full range of Phonics Books UK, and Little Learners Love Literacy to enable children to practice what they have been explicitly taught in their lessons. This includes books for beginning readers, including Dandelion Launchers and Dandelion Readers and books from the extended code to books for catch-up readers, including the Moon Dog series, That Dog!, Magic Belt series, Alba, Totem Rescue, Titan’s Gauntlet and the Talisman Series. These books are compatible with the Sounds Write scope and sequence.

Good phonics programs, such as Sounds Write, teach children spellings (graphemes) and the sounds they represent. Decodable books offer reading practice, allowing children to blend sounds into words and to segment words into sounds when they spell. Decodable books offer children an opportunity to practice what they have been taught with guaranteed success. In each lesson, we incorporate decodable readers so children are given plenty of opportunity to practice their reading fluency.

Sounds Write

What does the research say regarding reading?

The evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of the benefits of a beginning code emphasis and of an early start to phonics knowledge. There is a strong statistical relationship between phonemic awareness skills and success in the beginning stages of reading and spelling. The skills of blending, segmenting and phoneme manipulation have ‘remarkable strong predictions of and correlations with beginning reader acquisition’ (1994, p 81) Marilyn Jager Adam, author of Beginning to Read. Sounds Write is premised on the assumption that children learn the sounds of their own language naturally. Then we establish a link between the sounds and the visual signs (letters/graphemes) that represent those sounds.

There is a reason that Sounds Write is recommended by the peak body AUSPELD. It is a first-rate linguistic phonics program. The program is a highly structured, multi-sensory, incremental and code-oriented, instructional approach to successfully teaching children to read and spell. 

The 2 skills every primary school student needs to master

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The Victorian primary school curriculum is so jam packed that sometimes it can feel like there are endless topics your child needs to learn each year. From turning mixed number into improper fractions to endless lists of spelling words – it can be hard to know what primary school skills are the most important.

In an ideal world, your primary school child would remember and grasp the key concepts of every topic. But in reality, this is a huge expectation to place on children. To make things easier for your child, prioritising these two key areas will help them more seamlessly transition from primary school into year 7.

What are the two key skills every primary school student needs to enter year 7?

1. Times Tables

2. Reading

Times Tables

The times tables underpin so many topics in high school maths. For instance, turning mixed numbers into improper fractions, finding factors, all require quick recall of tables.

Maths is like building a house – the foundation must be secure to add later furnishings.

Using this example, consider times tables to be the foundation. If a child is still having immense difficulty working out their times tables in year 7 – the more advanced maths topics, covered in years 9, 10, 11 will cause immense difficulty for them.  

Learning tables is easier said than done, though. But it’s certainly not impossible. Here are some handy hints to help.

primary school

1. Repetition leads to mastery

Remembering tables facts takes a lot of time, effort and practice. For children with working memory problems, this is especially true.

To put tables facts into long term memory, your child will require a ton of deliberate practice.

For deliberate practice, sitting down and working through times tables drills each week will be a huge help. Have your child write down all the multiples of the tables first, before working through the worksheet.

2. Spaced Practice

Help your primary school child to do spaced practice – by doing a few tables drills across several nights per week. Spacing the information helps them to learn and for the information to be permanently stored in long-term memory.

Doing a little and often is the best bet to consolidate learning.

There are a variety of useful apps you can download which cover tables drills too. You could do fun activities like play basketball, and have your child take a shot at goal every time they get a times tables question right.

The idea is to keep learning tables fun and challenging for kids. Since children love YouTube, have them watch a few funny American teachers who have made viral times tables songs.

Practising the tables in a variety of ways will strengthen the brain pathways and help your child to remember.

3. Focus on one times table at a time

If you’re helping your primary school child at home, don’t try to cover all the tables at once. Help your child to master the two times tables first, before moving onto the 5s, 10s and 3s.

Once a child has learnt up to the 6s times tables, tables facts begin to repeat themselves. E.g. 3 x 7 = 21, Then 7 x 3 – 21 (repeated again in the 7s). Breaking down learning the tables into smaller, more manageable chunks will make the task of learning times tables less overwhelming for your child.

Starting with the 12s or 9s is likely to be overwhelming for younger primary school students and your child could lose a lot of confidence and morale if you start with the harder tables. Instead, focus on smaller numbers to begin with and work your way up.

primary school times tables

4. Link times tables to division

Primary school students need to link multiplication and division facts before they enter high school. They must understand that 3 x 8 = 24, and that we can use these numbers to divide as well, e.g. 24 % 8 = 3.

Practising times tables drills alongside division teaches children that multiplication and division facts are relate and fit together.

This will make adding, subtracting and dividing fractions much easier in year 7 when students must find factors.

primary school division


It is hard to think of a single high school or primary school subject that doesn’t require solid reading skills.

Students must read books, information reports, their textbook and make sense of and summarise huge swathes of text across English, Literature, History, Geography and maths.

If you child cannot read fluently or sound out words properly, they will find it incredibly hard to make sense of what they are reading and to do the required work.

Your child will be on the back-foot from the get-go in year 7 if they don’t have solid reading skills. intervening early and making reading an absolute priority in the primary years is essential.

1. Decoding words

Decoding words involves applying the phonics rules of English to correctly sound out a word. It requires knowing that certain letter combinations stand for one sound. A phoneme (sound) can be represented by 1, 2, 3 4 letter combinations.

For example, to read with confidence, your child must understand that “ci” makes the “sh” sound in the word optician – op-ti-ci-an. This is decoding in action.

By the time they start year 7, your primary school child should confidently be able to read the more complex symbols (graphemes) and the corresponding sounds that go along with these.

This way, your child will be able to focus on more high order reading skills, like comprehending the meaning of the texts they are reading.

2. Comprehension skills

Comprehension is truly the reason for it all. It is why we read – to learn, to make sense of and to understand what the author is trying to say.

Comprehension is about being able to find meaning through reading. Comprehension involves extracting meaning from text using knowledge of words, concepts, fact and ideas.

Good writers write to entertain, to persuade or to inform. Understanding what the text’s purpose is allows your child to summarise information, take good notes, answer questions and to construct meaning.

3. Improved Vocabulary

Children who read regularly and read for pleasure have a much wider vocabulary than students who do not read regularly. In fact, this difference starts at the very beginning of school.

If a child was read to every day as an infant – they will have been exposed to 290,000 more words by age 5 than those who don’t regularly read books with a parent or caregiver. These children are likely to pick up reading skills more quickly and easily in primary school.

This difference in the number of words a student knows and is exposed to, compounds throughout primary school. There can be a huge difference in the number of words known by year 7 and the gap between the language-rich and the language-poor grows over time.

A wider vocabulary equates to general world knowledge and greater intelligence.  

primary school reader

Better Writing Skills

A wider, richer vocabulary helps a child write more interesting sentences. Writing essays and narratives will be easier for your child – as your child has a bank of words in their memory to draw from to make their sentences more detailed.

For example, instead of writing “The man was very sad,” a child with a strong vocabulary may write “The tired, miserable man was grief-stricken.”

Good writers regularly add to their writing descriptive adjectives and adverbs. Reading regularly will expose your child to many different words which will have the benefit of improving their narrative and persuasive writing skills as well.

primary school


Making the transition to high school is a big step up, socially and academically for many children in year 6. Forming new routines, making new friends and the demands of the school curriculum all dramatically increase in year 7. Your child will go from being the top of their primary school school to being a small fry in a big school again.

To make the transition easier, focusing on the two core skills of reading and times tables will help your child to tackle the academic challenges of year 7 confidently.

6 Tips for Boosting your child’s working memory

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Quick facts

  • Working memory refers to working with information stored in short-term memory.

  • It’s keeping in mind anything you need to keep in mind while you’re doing something.

  • Kids use working memory to learn and complete tasks.

  • Working-memory boosters can be built into your child’s daily life.

Working memory refers to being able to use and manipulate the information that short-term memory stores. It’s a skill kids need and use to learn. 

It’s needed for tasks like following directions with multiple steps or solving a maths problem in your head.

Learning Works uses strategies like this to boost working memory in kids and teens. You can help your child improve this executive function at home by building some working memory boosters into his or her daily life.

Work on visualisation skills

Encourage your child to create a picture in his or her mind of what has just been said. For example, if you have told your child to make their bed in the morning, have them come up with a mental picture of what their room should look like when they have finished cleaning. This works really well for maths problems too. If your child needs to use comprehension skills to work out whether a maths problem is a take away or an addition problem, visualising the story will help them work it out.

Have your child teach you

Being able to explain something to someone else means a child must have made sense of the information and mentally filed it. If your child is learning a new skill, like how to do maths a certain way, ask him or her to teach it to you. Even if you know it, your child is getting an opportunity to use the information right away, rather than waiting to be asked. Teachers use this strategy all the time by putting students into small groups and pairs.

Encourage active reading

There’s a reason stationary at Officeworks is so popular! Colour coding text, underlining and highlighting can help kids keep the information in mind long enough to answer meaningful questions about it. Talk with your child out loud and ask questions about the taught material to reinforce what they are reading. Taking notes is another useful tool. Regular active reading can help to strengthen the neural pathways that form long-term memories as well.

Chunk information into smaller bits

Give multi-step directions one at a time. Running through the 5 activities your child needs to get done will simply overload their brain and mental capacity. Keep this in mind when you need to give your child multi-step directions. Write down the things you would like them to do or give them instructions one at a time. Your can also use organisers and mind maps to help your child break larger projects and assignments into more manageable pieces.

Make it multisensory

Processing information using different brain pathways can help information convert into long-term memory. Some kids learn best with information they hear. Others may find it easiest to learn by seeing something. Using multisenosyr techniques helps your child to engage more than one sense at a time, increasing the likelihood that they will keep the information in mind long enough to use it.

Write tasks down so your child can look at the instructions. Say them aloud so your child can hear what is expected of them. Play down ball or dance while you discuss a topic. Expanding teaching beyond listening and seeing stimulates new pathways and opportunities to remember.

Make connections to previous information

Help your child form connections that mentally join the information he or she is learning. For instance, mnemonic devices are one of the best ways to teach your child to spell tricky words. A mnemonic device is a memory tool that helps a person to remember larger bits of information—or tricky-to-spell words—with something easier to remember such as a phrase or rhyme.

For example, spelling the word dessert could be taught using these fun trips.

  1. There are two ‘ss’ in the word dessert for two scoops of ice-cream
  2. Desserts spelled backward is stressed – and maybe you eat dessert when you’re stressed.

These associations make it more likely that the information you are teaching your child will stick.

Key Information

  • Visualising is a great working memory booster
  • Mnemonic devices and fun sayings help to improve working memory
  • Using multisensory strategies activates multiple brain pathways – increasing the chance your child will remember

How can I help my child learn their times tables?

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Learning times tables is one of the most important maths skills kids need to master in primary school.

Lots of kids struggle to remember their times tables. Being able to quickly remember times table facts and apply them to a problem is essential if a child is to confidently approach maths. Times tables underpin so many maths processes. 

1. Start with the easier times tables – we start with the twos

Getting the twos right establishes a pattern of understanding how one column of a table moves up one number at a time, and the other in multiples. So, if your child is having trouble with tables, time taken to build confidence with the 2 times table will often be the key to learning the rest.

And if they learn them easily, the pattern can be a springboard that will make tables pretty straightforward up to twelve times – and beyond.

2. Hang up a times table poster on the toilet wall

Hang up the chart in a place your child will see it regularly – the toilet is one example. That way, every time they visit this room they will be exposed to the tables.

fun ways to teach times tables chart

3. Teach your kids some tricks

One of the great things about maths is that it’s full of tips and tricks – and times tables are no different. Our favourite trick involves using your fingers to figure out nine times tables.

Start by spreading all 10 fingers in front of you. To figure out 9×1, put your left pinky down. What are you left with? 9 fingers! For 9×2 put your left ring-finger down. What are you left with? 1 finger and a gap followed by 8 fingers or 18.

This trick works up to 9×9 (8 and 1 or 81). That said, when teaching children these tricks, encourage them to ask why these techniques work and the mathematical reasoning behind them.

4. Listen to some fun songs

fun ways to teach times tables demaio song

What’s a great way to get information stuck in someone’s head? Yep, that’s right! Catchy music! We recommend checking out videos made by Youtuber, Mr.DeMaio, an American school teacher who uses clever parodies of pop songs to teach kids their times tables.

Our favourite is definitely his cover of Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson’s song Uptown Funk which aims to teach children their three times tables.

5. Make a multiplication wheel

One for the creative kids. Children start this activity by drawing the centre of the flower, in which they write the times table out. They then draw 12 petals around the centre, with each petal containing the numbers 1 through 12.

The last step is to draw another set of 12 petals which contain the answer to the centre number multiplied by the petals.

6. A pack of cards

Take out the aces and Kings, count Jack as 11 and Queen as 12, and you can practise the full range of tables by dealing your child two cards and asking them to multiply them.

7. Relating multiplication to addition.

Children begin laying the foundation for times table work in prep when they skip count in twos.

Before starting to learn their times tables, children should be familiar with addition principles. To master their tables, children need to learn that 2 x 3 is the same as 2 + 2 + 2.

Drawing groups of numbers helps to cement the idea that multiplication is simply repeated addition.

This also teaches kids why they are learning in the first place. It gives them a context for their learning – rather than just doing it because the teacher says so. It shows them in a concrete way that it saves time.

Happy multiplying!


Dyslexia tutoring, Learning Works – improving self esteem

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Through our dyslexia tutoring at Learning Works Geelong, we see many children who have low self esteem.

Children with specific learning disorders, like dyslexia and learning disabilities have spent many years at school feeling “stupid.” Their self esteem is at an all time low.

We see many children for dyslexia tutoring at Learning Works who do not value themselves, believe they are capable or feel important. 

From a young age, children compare themselves to their peers in social areas, like their ability to make friends, their sporting talents and their skills in the classroom.

Children with learning difficulties and disorders are particularly at risk for developing low self-esteem. Consistently receiving bad grades, not “getting” the content in class and finding school work really tough, can have dire consequences for your child’s self confidence and self-belief.

There is a general agreement that children with special needs have lower self-esteem and self-concept than those without learning difficulties. Their academic achievement is generally lower and children with learning difficulties are less likely to have been accepted by their peer group and are sometimes bullied. Around half of all children we see through our dyslexia tutoring Geelong services have been teased and many have had experiences with teachers who are ignorant of, and who do not acknowledge the existence of dyslexia.

Vicious Cycle

Many children with learning disorders have been struggling in school without adequate interventions for many years before they are formally diagnosed or something is done. A diagnosis for a specific learning disability is typically made when there is a significant gap between the child’s IQ score and their results in a specific area. Therefore, a child with a specific learning disorder or difficulty has put up with many years of feeling inadequate, labelling themselves internally as “slow” or “dumb.”

Children we see for dyslexia tutoring at Learning Works feel “disappointed, frustrated, fed up, ashamed, depressed, angry and embarrassed,” by their difficulties. They question what the point of trying is when they find everything takes them much longer to grasp.

After many years of schooling where their hard efforts have not been recognised, a child with a specific learning disorder many fall into a trap of learned helplessness, developing an attitude that they shouldn’t bother trying anymore, because they always fail.

Your child with a specific learning disorder will likely feel confused, discouraged and worn down by the demands of school and their inability to “get it,” and understand aspects of learning like other children.

For some children, it is easy to see how they get into a vicious cycle where they give up trying with literacy skills because they haven’t had success, widening the gap between their school performance and the performance of others in their class.

The toll of low self-esteem

Children with low-self esteem, will not advocate for themselves and their learning needs properly. They may have trouble gaining the confidence they need to face their specific learning disorder.

Low self-esteem is also at the root of other concerning problems. The “secondary” symptoms of dyslexia and other specific learning disorders can lead to mental health problems, like anxiety and depression in children and a lot of acting out at school as a coping mechanism.

  • Repeated failure can lead to feelings of anger, severe anxiety and sadness
  • Children with low self-esteem can lose interest in learning and school
  • Friendships can suffer as frustrated kids seek attention – even if it is negative. Children with low self esteem in certain areas (such as reading) are at a higher risk for disruptive behaviour such as conduct problems and hyperactivity in the classroom
  • Many children with low self-esteem develop poor coping methods to deal with the challenges they face everyday – like quitting tasks and avoiding school.

Dyslexia has been associated with depression, anxiety, lower self-esteem, attention deficits and often, behavioural problems.


After a diagnosis, many children we work with for dyslexia tutoring at Learning Works feel relief, as they now have an understanding about why their child found learning in certain areas so challenging. Some children and families however, have the opposite reaction and feel more stigmatised and see themselves in a more negative light after a diagnosis and label is given.

Learning Works sees children for dyslexia tutoring who blame themselves

Attributions are the reasons or explanations your child will give for their performance or the performance of someone else. Children who have learning difficulties are more likely to view any success they have as a result of luck and to attribute failure to a permanent problem within themselves. In other words they blame themselves for any failures. This can set up a feeling where children think there is nothing they can do that can change the situation so they give up trying at all.

The basic issue for teachers and parents of dyslexic children is to break this circle and start to change a child’s behaviour and experiences. Our job is to help these children see themselves more realistically, to raise their self esteem and self-belief in themselves. It is important to give verbal or written feedback in a way that attributes success to internal controllable factors such as the effort or imagination that a child has put into a piece of work.

Learning Works dyslexia tutoring can enhance self-esteem in children with dyslexia

The question is how can teachers and parents change a dyslexic child’s view of themselves and make a difference to change their life?

Children with dyslexia and other specific learning disorders often lack the hope that the future will be any better that the present. They feel they’re the only one with the problem. Our aim with dyslexia tutoring at Learning Works is to be the one person who stood by a struggling child, believed in them, and gave them the strength and courage to keep trying.

Speak to your child’s teacher about creating a friendly learning environment for your child

There are many benefits of increasing teachers’ knowledge of the social side of school. 

  • Every child needs to feel competent – why would a child want to go to school if the teachers only focused on what he didn’t do well? Talk to your child’s teacher about their specific learning disorder and self-esteem issues. 
  • Make sure your child feels safe at school and secure in their classroom and in their teacher’s presence.
  • Ensure there is good communication between your child’s teacher and yourself.
  • Use multi-sensory learning techniques at home so the dyslexic child can learn more efficiently.

Encourage your child’s interests

Find your child’s area of strengths. Figure out how your can use your child’s strengths to increase his or her feelings of competence.

Finding an activity they enjoy and that they are good at can help your child discover their strengths and keep their academic struggles in perspective. If you child is a gun at football or likes gymnastics or even computer coding, encourage them to pursue that so they can bolster their self-confidence in other non-academic avenues.

Praise your child’s approach and efforts—not just the end result.

Find something praiseworthy in your child – Be generous with your praise. Rather than just focusing on the outcome – praise the hard work that your child put into their work. Acknowledge the way your child tackled challenges – this teaches them that they’re capable of overcoming obstacles.

Find ways to praise your child for working hard on their school work and for the effort they are showing. Even if they are significantly below their peers – they are trying. That attitude is something you want to foster in your child.

Find examples of successful people with specific learning disorders

Knowing there are successful people, including athletescelebrities and entrepreneurs with learning and attention issues who faced similar struggles can also be a source of inspiration. For example, actor Daniel Radcliffe has said that doing stunt work for the Harry Potter movies helped him overcome some of his struggles with dyspraxia.

Key takeaways

Helping your child develop positive self-esteem is possible. Being supportive, encouraging your child to have interests outside of school and being involved in your child’s learning are all ways to improve their skills.

No child will change until the adults in their lives have the courage to change – how we interact with them, and how we teach them. Contact us about our dyslexia tutoring at Learning Works to see how we can help your child today.



  • , Relationships between Reading Ability and Child Mental Health: Moderating Effects of Self‐EsteemAustralian Psychologist53, 2(125-133)(2017).Wiley Online Library
  • , Developmental dyslexia: emotional impact and consequencesAustralian Journal of Learning Difficulties10.1080/19404158.2018.147997523, 2(107-135)(2018).
  • , Are reading difficulties associated with bullying involvement?Learning and Instruction,10.1016/j.learninstruc.2017.05.00752(130-138)(2017).
  • , The impact of dyslexia on pupils’ self-esteemSupport for Learning25, 2(63)(2010).

The 5 things a child needs to become a reader

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There are 5 key skills required for a child to become a reader

Unlike speaking, reading does not come easily or naturally to children. For a child to learn to read, they must be taught clearly and in a defined sequence. Correctly sounding out words (decoding) and understanding what words mean (comprehension) are the two broad skills every child needs to become a reader.

Broadly, the 5 skills a child needs are:

1. Phonemic awareness 

2. Phonics

3. Fluency

4. Vocabulary

5. Comprehension


Phonological awareness – a broad umbrella term that involves many skills

  • Phonological awareness is the understanding that words can be broken down into sounds that have different meanings.
  • It is made up of a group of skills and involves the ability to recognise and manipulate sounds in spoken language.
  • It is a broad skill set that allows children to break up spoken words into sounds.
  • Children who have phonological awareness skills can clap out the syllables in a word (hos-pi-tal)
  • They can do things like rhyme “cat, sat, mat”
  • They also recognise that words can have the same initial sounds such as the ‘f’ in ‘frog’ and ‘fish.’

Early phonological awareness

A child’s phonological awareness prior to starting school is one of the most important predictors of their later reading success. Phonological awareness should be a key feature of early literacy programs.

Awareness of rhythm and rhyme

Phonological skills develop in steps. Children first realise rhymes in songs and can clap along to the syllables. It also involves noticing how sounds repeat themselves and sound the same at the end (alliteration). This rhyming aspect of English is why so many young children enjoy Dr. Seuss and nursery rhymes.

Rhyming is a critical skill as it indicates that the young child has identified specific features of spoken English. Research from the past 20 years shows that rhyming games and nursery rhymes helps pre-schoolers learn sound similarities in language.

This is an important step prior to reading and understanding that squiggly drawings correspond to sounds. Rhyme has a significant role to play in emerging literacy skills.

Required phonological skills in learning to read are:

  • Being able to clap beats in a word
  • Recognising and making rhymes
  • Identifying separate sounds in words
  • Separating and manipulate separate sounds in words

1. Phonemic Awareness – the most important of the phonological skills

Your child’s phonemic awareness on entering school is the single most powerful determinant of success he/she will experience in learning to read. 

What is phonemic awareness?

Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear individual sounds (phonemes) in words. Children need to be aware that spoken words are made up of sounds.

The word ‘sat’ has three phonemes – ‘/s/ /a/ /t.’ To successfully learn to read, children must learn to make a link between sounds and letters.

There are 44 phonemes in English – including sound combinations like ‘th.’

Phonemic awareness is absolutely essential in learning to read. A strong relationship has been established between phonemic skills and later reading. Even when intelligence and memory are considered, phonemic awareness is the strongest predictor of learning to read.


Important Phonemic Awareness sub-skills:


Segmenting and blending work together in emerging literacy. Blending sounds together to make words and segmenting words into sounds needs to be taught and practised. These skills are difficult to master, but can be achieved with explicit teaching and practice.


Blending words involves saying sounds in a sequence and also blending them together to say a word (reading). For example, using the same sounds /b/ /i/ /g/ to hear and say the word big.

These skills go together as we sound out the phonemes /bbbb/ /iiiii/ /gggg/ and then join them together to make big.

Blending and segmenting are the most important of all the phonemic skills. (National Reading Panel, 2000).


The ability to hear each separate sound in a syllable.

For example, the first sound in the word soon is /s/ and the last sound is /n/.


The ability to hear the first phoneme in a syllable or word. That is, the /d/ in dad. Identifying the first phoneme is a critical step in breaking words down into their separate parts.

Letter-sound knowledge – the alphabetic principle

The understanding that spoken words are made up of sounds that are represented by letters.

Required skills

  • Clapping beats in words
  • Recognising rhyming patterns
  • Detecting the separate sounds in words
  • Separating and manipulating the separate sounds in words


2. Phonics – sounds

Phonics is the relationship between sounds and their letter symbols.

It is the process of using letters and their sounds to sound out (decode) words. 

Phonics instruction taught early is much more effective than phonics instruction introduced after the first year of school.

For example, it is knowing that ‘ea’ can make a short ‘e’ sound as in the word ‘bread,’ and using that knowledge to sound out similar words, like ‘head.’

The awareness of sounds and how they are represented in letters is an important part of learning to read. By learning the relationship between speech sounds and letter-symbols, children can use this code to read almost any word.

Letter sound knowledge = the alphabetic principle = phonics.

We start off teaching the spoken sounds of the alphabet, then introduce vowel teams or digraphs. This is when two vowels go together to form one sound – such as the /ai/ in the word ‘rain.’

Once clearly taught, phonic skills need immediate practice in reading.

We teach systematic synthetic phonics at Learning Works,which has the most research to back up its use

What on earth is systematic synthetic phonics?

When children learn synthetic phonics, they learn the associations between letters and their sounds in a clear sequence. Children also learn how to blend (putting sounds together to make words) and segmenting (sounding out words).


The role of sight words

Sight words refer to high frequency words that do not ‘play by the rules,’ and cannot be sounded out, so they must be recognised visually. Helping children learn high frequency words is a useful way to help children who struggle with their reading. Rapid word recognition is necessary for independent reading.

3. Fluency

Fluent reading shows a reader is confident, accurate and expressive. Fluent readers read rapidly and smoothly. Fluency is affected by familiarity with words and background knowledge of the text.

Fluency is important because it frees students to understand what they read and to read for meaning.

How to improve fluency:

1. Repeated reading with guidance:

Reading the same book again may be repetitive, but repeated reading improves word recognition, speed and fluency for your child.

2. Extensive independent reading

Good readers spend much more time reading than poor readers. Children benefit from regular reading, so great encouragement should be given to your child to read books at their reading level at home.

4. Vocabulary

Vocabulary knowledge is strongly related to reading skills and school achievement in general. The greater the vocabulary, the more chance there is that readers will recognise words as they attempt to decode them.

Young readers find it incredibly difficult to make sense of words that they have not heard before and that are not part of their vocabulary.

Building a wide and varied vocabulary is an important part of a reading program.

Children learn early words and develop their vocabulary from their parents, other adults they have contact with and family members. Readers find it very difficult to read words that are not already part of their oral vocabulary.

Beyond the importance of vocabulary development for reading, word knowledge has wider implications. It influences thinking, speaking and writing throughout a child’s life.

5. Comprehension

The final fundamental skill in your child’s reading process is comprehension – the reason for it all! Comprehension is the process where your child gains meaning from what they have read, and opens the door to a world of knowledge and creativity.

For beginner readers, the most common obstacle for comprehension is poor decoding of words first, followed by vocabulary.

Typically, reading comprehension improves as decoding skills advance. In children older than 10 years who struggle with comprehension – it becomes the most concerning focus. 

Other factors that can cause difficulties in comprehension are:

  • working memory
  • making inferences
  • a child’s ability to stay focused.

Good readers have purpose

Good readers know why they are reading, whether it is to work out how to make slime, read a recipe, work out how a video game works or research a topic for an assignment.

Good readers actively engage in the text

Good readers think about what they are reading, ask question, search for answers, and mentally picture events relating to the text. Good readers know when they have difficulties what they are reading and know what to do when that happens. Good readers become involved in their own reading processes.

Poor readers do not typically do these things. They do not use comprehension strategies efficiently.

Comprehension is a skill that can be taught

Thankfully the evidence shows that comprehension can be improved when specific comprehension strategies are used.

Teachers can show children strategies that will help them develop the skill of identifying the purpose of reading by:

  • accessing prior knowledge
  • asking and answering questions as they read
  • distinguishing major content from small details
  • creating mental images as they read.

Tips for helping with teaching comprehension

Choose a variety of books, including short books

As adults, most of the reading we do is short newspaper articles, letters; emails; recipes, newsletters and so on. Yet much of the material that we ask our children to read is long. Including shorter paragraphs, sports stories, even materials like cartoons and jokes – are helpful.

Teach comprehension from the first stages of reading

Even before your child can sound out all words properly, you can start helping them with their comprehension. Teaching comprehension is really teaching thinking. Picture books can even be used to teach comprehension. Non-fiction picture books can convey an enormous amount of information through photographs, maps and diagrams.

Teach comprehension by reading to your children

Children beyond middle primary school still enjoy listening to stories. You can read at a level that is beyond their own reading level and expose them to more sophisticated vocabulary and language. You can model your own thinking as you determine the meaning of the text.

Important comprehension skills are: 

  • Clarifying the purpose of reading
  • accessing prior knowledge
  • organising new information into current knowledge
  • distinguishing major content from details
  • using a range of strategies to help understanding, such as rereading, confusing sections, creating mental images, taking notes, summarising, using concept maps and using a dictionary or thesaurus.


How to help your child become a reader from kinder to prep

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Early literacy fundamentals

Learning to read is perhaps the most important educational achievement. It is a complex process that unlike language, does not come naturally to children.


Children must have mastered many developmental skills before they become fluent readers. Learning Works Geelong created this guide for you so you can understand the processes involved as your child learns to read, write and spell in the early years.

Reading is so critical to success in our society that failing to read well in early childhood creates both problems at school and in later life. There is a strong relationship between early reading success and school failure.

For this reason, Learning Works believes early reading education and intervention is essential so your child will have the best chance at success throughout their education and into later life.

Early literacy (2-5 years old)

Learning to read starts in infancy

Many early experiences help your child prepare for reading. By the time they start school, thousands of hours of ‘reading experience’ has been clocked up.

In fact, the language experiences that your child develops since almost the moment of birth shape language development and their future reading success.

There is considerable evidence that a home and early education environment that values and encourages literacy provides the foundation for advanced reading and writing.

The more familiar your child is with language structures such as how to ask questions and use tenses, the more likely it is that your child will be able to read fluently in the future.

Encouraging Early Literacy

Sound awareness – Rhyming and songs

Many young children enjoy rhyming games and songs. This means they are beginning to have an awareness of the features of the English language and are developing important early phonological skills.

There is an extensive body of research showing that children who enjoy rhyming do much better at reading.

Playing games like ‘I spy’ will help your child realise that words start with particular sounds, a critically important skill when they start reading and writing.  When you say to a small child “I spy with my little eye, something beginning with M,” your child’s brain is registering that sounds match with certain squiggles on a page and things in their environment.

Teaching and practising nursery rhymes, jingles and speech rhymes will set your child up for acquiring language.

Teach your child to love books

Young children are like sponges and absorb a lot from their early experiences. When parents, grandparents and preschool teachers read to them, children begin to understand that the print means something to the people reading. They have a magic skill of ‘reading!’ – modelling the value of books encourages their desire to explore language in more depth.

At this stage, your child will see whole words as pictures. They recognise letters almost like adults recognise logos – but they are memorising shapes at this stage, rather than understanding that letter shapes go with particular sounds.

How to help with your child’s language development

  • Involve your child in lots of talking and listening
  • Ask your child lots of questions to encourage your child to talk and express ideas
  • Use new words in conversations and explain what they mean
  • Play word and listening games to build vocabulary
  • Show your child how to hold a book, where to start
  • Model the value of reading and writing in everyday life – write notes, read books and magazines, make shopping lists

Language Development

The early language experiences that children develop since almost the moment of birth shape language development. A home environment that encourages literacy provides the foundation for reading and writing. The more familiar your child is with language structures such as how to ask questions and use tenses, the more likely it is that that your child will be able to read fluently in the future

There is a strong relationship between language difficulties and school failure. The greater the spoken language, the better chance of rapid reading development and comprehension.

School language

In order to read, children need to have a broad vocabulary and knowledge of language or they will not have the background to become a reader. When they make the transition from home to school they need to use spoken language for a new range of purposes – such as telling stories, asking questions, following instructions and learning to communicate more clearly with others.

Most of the words young children hear and use are words they already know. There is a big jump between the sort of language children are exposed to at school compared to their home environment.

Your child must learn to move from informal face-to-face communication on familiar topics to more abstract language. At school, there is a demand for sophisticated and literate language.

Literate language consists of complex sentences with a number of linked ideas. Literate language involves discussing specific topics. E.g. What does the word fragile mean? What is the first word you hear in the word hippopotamus?

Language milestones at 5 Years

By the time they reach school, your child should be able to:

  • Recall part of a story
  • Speak sentences of more than five words
  • Use future tense
  • Tell longer stories
  • Say their name and address
  • Name familiar items within their environment
  • Talk to peers and adults about familiar objects
  • Ask and answer simple questions
  • Respond to simple instruction
  • Listen to, and participate in, stories, rhymes and songs
  • Know that words, not pictures, tell the story
  • Know what letters and words are
  • Know how to handle a book – knows that we read from left to right.
  • Begin to link letters with sounds. E.g. M says “mmm”

Becoming a Reader – Kinder to Prep

What can I do to get my child off to a good start for reading success before they go to school?

Read to your child daily. Children become readers on the laps of their parents.

Spend 5-10 minutes each day reading to your child. Short and colourful picture books are ideal for children so they can look at the visuals while you tell them the story.

Make story time an enjoyable time that you spend together and that your child looks forward to, so they learn to value reading and associate it with relaxing time with you.

Young children are like sponges and absorb a lot from their early experiences. When parents, grandparents and preschool teachers read to them, children begin to understand that the print means something to the people reading. They have a magic skill of ‘reading!’ – modelling the value of books encourages their desire to explore language in more depth.

Sing nursery rhymes together

Many young children enjoy rhyming games and songs. This means they are beginning to have an awareness of the features of the English language and are developing important early phonological skills. There is an extensive body of research showing that children who enjoy rhyming do much better at reading. (Adam, 1990; Burns, Griffin & Snow, 1999).

Playing games like ‘I spy’ helps children realise that words start with particular sounds, a critically important skill when they start reading and writing. When a parent says to a small child “I spy with my little eye, something beginning with M,” the child’s brain is registering that sounds match with certain squiggles on a page and things in their environment. Teaching and practising nursery rhymes, jingles and speech rhymes will set your child up for language acquisition success.

Teach your child about print and books

  • Show your child how to hold a book, where to start and that we read from left to right
  • Point out logos and text in the environment, such as street names, the police station or McDonalds.
  • Create a book with your child. Engage in a craft activity using their own drawings. You can add in text according to the story your child makes up.
  • Ensure your child has access to writing materials and paper so they can practise their motor skills and can experiment with drawing, which will pave the way for writing.


Involve your child in lots of talking and listening.

  • Involve your child in lots of talking and listening
  • Ask your child lots of questions to encourage your child to talk and express ideas
  • Use new words in conversations and explain what they mean
  • Play word and listening games to build vocabulary
  • Show your child how to hold a book, where to start and that we read from left to right
  • Model the value of reading and writing in everyday life – write notes, read books and magazines, make shopping lists
  • Ask open ended questions to encourage your child to talk and express ideas

Happy Reading!

Need some extra help?

Learning Works Geelong offers literacy (phonics) programs to help preschool children enter school with confidence, while they transition from pre-school to their first day in prep.

Read more about our school readiness program

Our program is play-based and teaches children to love learning, reduce anxiety around starting school, become confident and happy in the classroom and reach their full potential.

Plus, we promise serious fun for little people!

We believe every child to have access to education and the support they need in the early years.  

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