What is Jolly Phonics?

What is Jolly Phonics?

Jolly Phonics is a reading programme based on systematic synthetic phonics approach and developed by Sue Lloyd and Sara Wernham, who were practising classroom teachers at Woods Loke Primary School in Lowestoft, England and is published by Jolly Learning, UK that is owned by Christopher Jolly. Jolly Phonics is a multi-sensory, fun and child centred approach which caters for children with varying capabilities.

It has scientific research based evidence to support its method and has been adopted throughout the world.

The focus of the programme is on the teaching of the English alphabetic code; this includes teaching the ways in which the code knowledge is put into practice. The phonics teaching is not intended to take up all the time allocated for English lessons. This means that teachers are free to teach the other aspects of literacy, such as comprehension and poetry, in the remaining time.

There are five key skills of Jolly Phonics:

1. Learning the Letter Sounds

The main 42 sounds of English are taught – one sound every day and in the Jolly Phonics order

  1. s a t i p n
  2. ck e h r m d
  3. g o u l f b
  4. ai j oa ie ee or
  5. z w ng v oo oo
  6. y x ch sh th th
  7. qu ou oi ue er ar

A multisensory method is used to introduce the children to the letter sounds. There is a storyline, action and ‘Sound Sheet’ for each sound. By doing an action associated with the sound, e.g., rub tummy and say “mmmmm” for the /m/ sound, the children remember it more easily.

Each child has their own ‘Sound Book’. Every day the letter sound taught is stuck into the book and taken home. Parents are asked to help their children learn the sounds, either by going through the Sound Book, or by cutting up the letters and playing a game of ‘Pairs’ with their child. In order to blend efficiently it is important to know the letter sounds fluently. Every day flash cards of the sounds that have been taught should be held up for the children to call out the sounds as they do the actions.

Some sounds, digraphs, are represented by two letters. The children need to recognize digraphs in words, e.g., the ‘ng’ in ‘strong’. The digraphs ‘oo’ and ‘th’ each have two sounds, e.g., ‘book’ and ‘moon’, ‘thin’ and ‘that’. In Jolly Phonics they are initially written in two sizes to help the children understand that there are two sounds.

2. Learning Letter Formation

As the letter sounds are introduced, the children are shown exactly how to form each letter correctly. Initially, the children form the letters in the air, at the same time as the teacher. By regularly feeling the formation of each letter, and then writing it, most children should form their letters correctly after the first twelve weeks or so.

It is also important to teach the children to hold their pencil correctly, in the tripod grip.

Feeling letter formation in the Finger Phonics books or tracing over dotted letters gives good practice.

The Jolly Phonics material uses the Sassoon Infant typeface with joining tails. This makes it easier for the children to transfer to joined-up (cursive) writing when the time comes.

3. Blending

As well as learning the sounds, the children need to be taught how to blend them together to hear a word. This teaching starts on the first day. The aim is to enable the children to hear the word when the teacher says the sounds, e.g., “Listen carefully, what word am I saying … ‘d-o-g’?” A few children will hear ‘dog’. Try a few more words, e.g., ‘s-u-n’, ‘b-oy’, ‘m-ou-se’.

Once the children can hear the word when an adult says the sounds, they are ready to try and blend words for themselves. Initially, being able to blend letter sounds fluently is the essential skill for reading and should always be the first strategy for working out unknown words. Children must also be able to recognize consonant blends and digraphs in words such as ‘fl-a-g’ and ‘sh-o-p’.

After the letter sounds have been taught and the children can read simple, regular words, they start taking home the ‘Word Boxes’ for extra practice. The Word Boxes start with simple words made from the first group of letter sounds. Invariably, the children who are the fastest at learning to blend sounds become the more fluent readers.

At first, one way of spelling each vowel sound is taught, e.g., ‘ai’ as in ‘rain’. The children should have practice blending these spellings in words before the alternatives are introduced, e.g., ‘ay’ as in ‘play’ and ‘a-e’ as in ‘lane’.

Once the children have worked their way through the Word Boxes, and learned some irregular common keywords, they should be given storybooks to read for themselves.

Explain to parents that their child may not bring home a storybook until they have mastered the skill of blending. Parents should then encourage their children to talk about what they have read.

4. Identifying Sounds In Words

It is essential that children can hear the individual sounds in words, especially for writing. Initially, the children are asked to listen carefully and say if they can hear a given sound in words. Start with words that have three sounds in them, for example, “Is there a ‘s’ in ‘sun’ … ‘mouse’ … ‘dog’?”; “If there is a ‘s’ where does it come – the beginning, middle or end?”. Then the children are encouraged to say the sounds they hear. Practice by saying a word like ‘hat’. The children should respond by saying ‘h-a-t’. As they say each sound they hold up a finger … ‘h-a-t’ three fingers, three sounds; ‘sh-i-p’ three fingers, three sounds, etc. Progress to more complicated words such as those with initial and final consonant blends.

The teacher writes the letters on the board as the children say them. Then the children look at the word, say the sounds and blend them to read the word. This gives a good understanding of how reading and writing work. A few examples every day helps to develop this skill.

Once a child can hear the sounds in words, and knows one way of writing each sound, they can write independently. Initially, the children will not spell accurately but their work can be read, for example, ‘I went hors riedin that wos fun’. Most children by the end of their first year, should be able to write their own news and simple stories independently. It will be exactly what they want to say as they are not restricted by writing only the words they have learned by heart. Accurate spelling develops gradually from reading books, knowing the alternative vowel sounds and following a spelling scheme.

5. Tricky Words

After their first month at school, when the majority of the children know about 18 letter sounds and have been blending regular words as a group activity, they can begin to learn the tricky words. Tricky words are words that cannot always be worked out by blending. These can be introduced gradually using the Jolly Phonics Tricky Word Cards. Look at what is ‘tricky’ in each word, e.g., ‘was’ has an /o/ sound in the middle instead of an /a/ sound. Try and teach 2–3 a week, continually revising for reading and spelling.

Three spelling techniques are:

  • Look (identify the irregularity and say the letter names), Cover, Write and Check.
  • Say It As It Sounds, e.g., pronounce ‘mother’ with a short /o/ sound so that it rhymes with ‘bother’.
  • Mnemonics, e.g., ‘people eat omelettes people like eggs’ to spell the word ‘people’.

Jolly Phonics has been widely researched and proven to be effective. Here are some quotes from three of the research projects that were undertaken on synthetic phonics including Jolly Phonics. One in England, one in Scotland and one in Canada. A synthetic phonics approach is one that emphasises both the teaching of letter-sounds in isolation and how to blend them together to read a word. This approach is at the centre of Jolly Phonics teaching.

The Research

“The Jolly Phonics children’s reading skills were 12 months above the level expected for their age”

“The synthetic phonics classes outperformed the whole language classes on 16 out of 19 reading and spelling measures”

“The results demonstrated that Jolly Phonics produced effects that were long-lasting”

International Research
Clackmannanshire Research
A seven year study

  • Reading 3.6 years ahead of their chronological age
  • Spelling 1.9 years ahead of their chronological age
  • Comprehension 3.5 months ahead
  • Boys reading 9.5 months ahead of girls
  • Boys spelling 8.6 months ahead of girls