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Literacy Online. Every child literate - a shared responsibility.
Ministry of Education.

Building on oral language

The Ready to Read Phonics Plus books have recently been developed to support instructional reading and focus on explicit teaching of word recognition knowledge and skills. We recommend teachers of children in early years use these books to support early literacy development in the classroom.  

Please note over the coming months we will be making changes to existing content on Literacy Online to ensure current early literacy teacher supports place a sufficient emphasis on word recognition. Throughout this process you may find content has been changed or has been moved. Please let us know by emailing [email protected] if you cannot find something you are looking for and keep an eye on the newsreel for links to newly updated content. We welcome any feedback that will help us make it easier for you to navigate the changes.

Sound Sense logo.

Sound Sense: Supporting reading and writing in years 1–3 is a revised and updated edition of Sound Sense: Phonics and Phonological Awareness (2003). 

You can download the new PDF here: 

The ability to hear the different sounds within words is essential to reading and writing successfully. Sound Sense provides suggestions for how you can support students, particularly year 1 students, in developing and applying understandings about sounds, letters, and words when reading and writing.

The suggestions are closely linked to the expectations for students’ learning described in  The Literacy Learning Progressions for the first year of school. They include links to specific Ready to Read shared texts, including poem cards. You can find many more suggestions for building and consolidating these understandings in the teacher support materials for all Ready to Read guided texts.

Sounds and Words – a clarification

Sound Sense provides suggestions for how teachers can support students in years 1–3 to develop and apply understandings about sounds, letters, and words when reading and writing.

Sounds and Words is a different online resource, for teachers of students in years 1–8. It has a wider focus than Sound Sense. It provides information about vocabulary and grammar as well as phonological awareness and also includes a summary of the resources available to teachers.

School entrants can speak a language and need to learn to read and write it. They need to work out how every aspect of their spoken language relates to messages in print.

Clay, 2013, page 116
Children sitting on the mat in class.

Oral language underpins all literacy learning. From their earliest interactions with others, children learn the importance of language for communication. As they become more proficient users of language, children come to understand that speech is made up of a sequence of sounds. Many children develop the ability to hear the different sounds within words easily with little direct teaching, but some need specific and focussed instruction.

As children’s proficiency in spoken English develops, they learn how to modify regular verbs to indicate actions occurring in the past (“he looked”) or in the present (“she looks” or “she is looking”). They come to understand that someone who teaches is a “teacher” and that when they are comparing things, they can use words such as “bigger” or “longer”. They also learn to add “s” to nouns to denote plurals.

A classroom environment that encourages an interest in and enjoyment of language supports all aspects of literacy learning. A classroom rich in poetry, songs, wordplays, drama, books, language games, and lively, purposeful talk builds students’ appreciation and awareness of language and establishes a meaningful context for instruction in the sound structure (phonology) of the English language. (Learning through Talk, pages 19 and 71, adapted).

Poetry and songs, jingles and rhymes, and inventing words in play are activities that break utterances and words into parts and make words from parts. Together with slow articulation of some words in writing and reading, these activities can result in significant gains …

Clay, 2014, page 54

Updated on: 29 Mar 2021