A Kindergarten scope and sequence (and accompanying lesson plans) should be based around science of reading research.This extensive body of research has consistently shown that: ’the evidence is clear… that direct systematic instruction in phonics during the early years of schooling is an essential foundation for teaching children to read. Students learn best when teachers adopt an integrated approach to reading that explicitly teaches phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary knowledge and comprehension. This approach, coupled with effective support from the child’s home, is critical to success’ - The Australian National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy.
So, what should a comprehensive phonics curriculum for Kindergarten include?
In a nutshell, it should predominantly focus on:
- Phonological awareness and phonemic awareness skills
- Early Phonics Skills - phonological knowledge of the basic alphabetic code (single sounds and common consonant digraphs)
- Explicit, systematic and sequential - explicit instruction followed by cumulative review of previously taught skills. Wiley Blevins in A Fresh Look at Phonics (2016) states that ‘after a new skill is introduced, it should be systematically and purposefully reviewed for the next 4-6 weeks’. We don’t give up until students can successfully apply the phonics skill to authentic reading and writing experiences.
- Diagnostic and responsive - Quality synthetic phonics programs use formative assessment techniques to constantly monitor for student understanding, and adjusting teaching programs and phonics lessons accordingly.
1. Phonological Awareness Skills and Phonemic Awareness Skills Content
Children who have phonological awareness are able to identify and make oral rhymes, can clap out the number of syllables in a word, and can recognise words with the same initial sounds (e.g. mat, map, money). Phonological awareness begins with an understanding of words and hearing gaps between words. It then moves onto the ability to identify syllables and rhyme.
Phonemic awareness is a subset of phonological awareness. It is the ability to hear, identify and manipulate the individual sounds within a word. As part of phonemic awareness, students learn to play with separate sounds (phonemes) by blending, segmenting, deleting, adding or substituting. It is an important prerequisite to learning the alphabetic code- students must be able to HEAR the separate sounds in words before they can learn to decode (read) and encode (spell) those words.
Phonemic awareness is hierarchical, and generally follows the sequence of:
Isolating sounds e.g. what is the first sound in tap, what is the last sound in pig, what is the middle sound in mat?
Blending sounds- students listen to a sequence of spoken phonemes and blend together to form a word.
- To begin with, model continuous sounds. These sounds blend easily into the next vowel sound e.g. mmmm-at (mat), ssss-un (sun).
- Then introduce ‘stop’ consonants. These sounds cannot be held indefinitely. E.g. pig, top, dog.
Segmenting sounds- students say each sound as they tap it or count it out.
- Model with simple CVC and VC words before moving onto CCVC and CVCC words.
Manipulating sounds- this is the most sophisticated phonemic awareness skill, requiring students to flexibly manipulate sounds in order to create new words.
- Phoneme addition e.g. add ‘m’ to ‘at’.
- Phoneme deletion e.g. take away ‘r’ from ‘trap’
- Phoneme substitution e.g. what word would you get if you changed the ‘r’ in ran to ‘p’?
Explicitly teaching phonological and phonemic awareness lays strong foundations for all students, and should not be glossed over, or simply used for remediation purposes. As David Kilpatrick writes: “Studies have shown time and time again that early training of phonological awareness in Kindergarten and First Grade prevents many reading difficulties from happening in the first place”.
You can learn more about effective practices for teaching phonological and phonemic awareness skills, as well as lots of phonemic awareness activities here.
2. Early Phonics Skills
I have my own scope with a suggested order for teaching letters and their corresponding sounds - you can see this free phonics scope below.
However it is important to note that the evidence shows that as long as all of the phonemes are covered, the order we teach them in doesn’t particularly matter. So, if your school uses a different scope, that's totally fine too!
In the first year of school, phonemes should be taught in clusters. Within the first few sessions/weeks of synthetic phonics, children should be able to read words made up of the letter/sound relationships which they have learnt. Students are immediately learning to blend and manipulate sounds.
For example, if the first eight letters of a phonics program are s, a, t, p, i, n, m, g then these should all be taught together. Once children have learnt to recognise these phonemes, they will be able to read, and later spell, simple words using these phonemes e.g. at, sat, pit, tap.
As their phonological knowledge develops, children will be able to read and spell more CVC (consonant, vowel, consonant) words e.g. cat, dog or peg, then longer words e.g. stamp, flip, sunset and then words with simple common consonant digraphs e.g. shop, chat, that, pick.
To begin with, children are taught one way of writing down each of the phonemes. Once they have build a strong phonics foundation, they are then gradually introduced to more spelling alternatives in first and second grade, and beyond. In Grades 1-6, a student’s phonological knowledge should be progressively built on, introducing older students to more complex phonemes, and rarer spellings.
It is important to teach students to hear phonemes throughout a word- not just ‘beginning’ sounds. Synthetic phonics teaches students to hear phonemes throughout the word- beginning, middle, and end. For example, when teaching the /t/ phoneme, it is important to not just focus on words such as ‘tap’ or ‘ten’, but also words like ‘cat’ or ‘ant’.
What does systematic phonics instruction look like in a Kindergarten classroom?
1. Direct, explicit instruction
Particularly in the younger years, synthetic phonics involves lots of repetition and chanting, and lots of guided practice of skills. These whole group lessons are always fast-paced and extremely explicit. I mostly use PowerPoints that throughout the week will contain the following phonics skills. Each new lesson gradually builds upon the content covered the previous days/weeks.
The teacher asks questions such as: What is a phoneme? What is a grapheme? How many letters in a digraph?
Quick phoneme (letter sounds) review
Flash up the target phonemes and students say the phoneme- this is always very quick and fast-paced, to help students build automaticity and fluency.
The key here is speed. Students should be able to recognise a GPC (grapheme-phoneme correspondence) within 150 milliseconds (in other words, very quickly) when reading. Otherwise, there is not enough cognitive room for blending, and this cognitive overload will make it difficult for students to blend sounds together to read words.
Practise writing the sounds, focusing on the correct formation. This could also include a multisensory approach - writing on the carpet, writing in the air, writing on a partner's back, sandpaper letters etc. You can learn more about correct letter formation here.
Word Blending Activities
Here the focus turns to applying individual letter sounds to the context of words, by sounding out words and blending the phonemes together. To blend sounds together to read words, we do this by reading one sound at a time and holding those sounds together before adding the next sound.
For example, in the example above, we would firstly read ’g’. Then we would blend two sounds together to read ‘gu’. I would get the kids to hold this in their heads as we add the third sound ‘gu-m’. The picture is only revealed once we have decoded the word, to avoid guesswork or reliance on pictures.
Here's another example using the word 'fin'.
The teacher then hides the word, and the kids write the word on their whiteboards, before checking the answer on the board.
Later on (or for strong readers), I would just display the picture without having shown the word first.
Once students are ready for it, we also do the same for words with four and five sounds. We also practise decoding quickly with our Ninja Reads.
Differentiation teaching tips
Here are some of the ways that I support all the needs of my students:
- For struggling readers requiring support, I have our target sounds in front of them as a support. They may simply MAKE the words (reducing the cognitive load) or use them as a guide for some or all of the word. Here are some examples of this in action:
- Another scaffolding tool for students requiring extra support is to use a permanent marker to record the phonemes, and some sound boxes, on mini whiteboards. The magnets are placed on top of the letters, and then students move as required to build different decodable words. This strategy works best when there aren’t too many sounds to work with! I have shared some examples of what this looks like below:
- Meanwhile, for students needing more of a challenge, I might ask them to write me a rhyming word or to put the word into a sentence. E.g. put the word ‘sat’ into a decodable sentence and ask students to write it, or ask them to think of as many rhyming words as they can (mat, bat, rat…)
High Frequency Words (previously referred to as sight words)
Mapping the words and highlighting the tricky part that we have to know by heart, then using in sentences to reinforce meaning. You can learn more about the best way to teach heart words here.
We then move onto decodable sentences. These sentences include a mix of taught phonemes and taught ‘tricky’ high-frequency words (in yellow).
We read the decodable sentences, and then the kids have a go at writing it on their mini whiteboards.
For students requiring extra support, I display the tricky words or just ask them to write one of the decodable words. Alternatively, you might like to have the sounds available for them to build the words with before they write them – this could be with flash cards, magnets or any other alphabet manipulative.
As you can see here, the magnetic letters have been provided for the first two sounds in the words ‘sat’ and ‘gig’. The student is able to use those as a support, and then attempts the final sound on their own.
For students who need extension, I might get them to think of an adjective or to add extra detail to the sentence e.g. They could turn “I like that ship” into ‘I like that enormous ship in the blue shimmering sea’.
Other consolidation activities for whole-group phonics instruction
- Phoneme Boxes
- Find the beginning, middle or end sound
- Trash or Treasure (real and nonsense words)
- Swap the Sound
- Find the missing sound
- Thumbs Up Thumbs Down
- Which word looks right?
- Drag and drop the picture sort or decodable word cards
2. Rapid formative feedback
Using formative assessment techniques, I ask my students questions randomly (using talking sticks or other random selection tools) rather than using hands up. This means students remain engaged and ‘on’ the whole time because they never know when they might be asked!
I am constantly checking for understanding throughout explicit lessons, usually by getting students to demonstrate our spelling focuses on their mini whiteboards. Some examples might be:
- Displaying a picture and asking students to write the decodable word
- Underline the phonemes in a word or write how many phonemes
- Write as many words as you can think of with a particular phoneme
- Swap a phoneme (e.g. change ‘chop’ to ‘shop’)
- Finish a word correctly (e.g. if I have ‘pa’, will I need to finish the word with ‘ck’ or ‘k’?)
3. Provide students with LOTS of opportunities to consolidate with independent practice
In addition to regular explicit lessons, students need lots of opportunities throughout the week to be practising and reinforcing phonics concepts in order to achieve phonics success. This can be done through rotation small group activities, must do/may do activities, daily word work and more.
There are SO many different activities and independent work ideas which you can use to consolidate phonics and early reading skills, including:
- Decodable word games which are focused on the current (and previous) phonics units e.g. CVC words, word families, consonant digraphs, or for students who are ready for first grade content: more complex phonics patterns such as long vowels, cvce words, r-controlled vowels (bossy r)
- Decodable sentence activities - you might like to try this free download
- Decodable reader
- Phonics worksheets and activity pages - create student workbooks or place in write and wipe mats to make the activities re-usable
- Heart word mapping activities
- Phonics apps on iPads e.g. The Hive's Word Builder tool
- Fine Motor Practice Activities - build fine motor skills and literacy skills at the same time!
You will find hundreds of free resources, word lists, decodable texts and activities for small groups in the Phonics section of Mrs Learning Bee. All of my resources are created to support you in teaching phonics skills according to best practices, so that young readers across all grade levels can build solid foundational skills in reading and writing.
If you're also looking for easy lessons which are ready to be implemented immediately in your classroom or as part of your homeschool phonics program, check out my Kindergarten Phonics PowerPoints.
4. Follow the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model
Looking to level up your phonics and spelling instruction?
I recommend checking out the following blog posts for more information about many of the concepts discussed above.
You can also download your FREE copy of the Phonics & Beeyond Handbook here.
Not only does it include lots more information about my Kindergarten phonics scope and sequence, but it provides you with detailed information about all the included components outlined above. There are tips for teaching difficult concepts (such as irregular words), helpful information about decodable readers and decodable books, and everything else that you'll need to know in order to build a strong foundation of knowledge about phonics instruction!