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

The purpose and place of phonics instruction

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.

The purpose of phonics instruction (instruction that builds students’ knowledge of letter–sound relationships) is to support students’ reading and writing. Phonics instruction is not an end in itself.

When phonics instruction is linked to children’s reading and writing, they are more likely to become strategic and independent in their use of phonics than when phonics instruction is drilled and practised in isolation. Phonics knowledge is critical but not sufficient to support growing independence in reading.

International Reading Association, 1997

There is no need to teach students every combination of letters and sounds that they are likely to come across. As students become more aware of the sounds and patterns of language through many reading and writing experiences, they learn to transfer their understandings to further reading and writing. They become ready to learn some spelling rules and to recognise that there are some words in English that do not seem to conform to any rules! Some students will relish exploring the intricacies of English, while others may find its irregularities confusing and need very clear and focused teaching in meaningful reading and writing contexts.

Note that students who speak languages other than English may have to contend with differences between the sound systems of English and those of their first language. For example, in Māori and many Pasifika languages, there is no difference between the sounds represented by “b” and “p” or “d” and “t”. (For further information, see Learning through Talk, page 21.)

Updated on: 29 Mar 2021