Early Reading

Early Reading at Hillside

Early reading at Hillside Primary School is centred on the exploration of quality texts which engage and inspire our children. Reading for pleasure is at the heart of all that we do at Hillside and this begins as soon as the children enter the EYFS. We recognise that the early years of a child’s life are crucial and the experiences that we offer the children in the EYFS and KS1 are fundamental in laying the foundations for future reading success. Our EYFS curriculum mirrors that of the rest of the school and all learning is focused upon a high quality text that is chosen to support wider learning. Within the EYFS, continuous provision will build upon the experiences and content of the chosen text and this fully immerses the children in their learning ensuring all areas of learning are purposeful and relevant.

Reading interest is sparked in our children from day one and we ignite this through the use of class libraries, mystery readers, daily reading, initiatives to encourage regular reading and celebrations of authors to name a few.


Daily discreet phonics lessons are taught with the philosophy that no child is left behind. We believe in swift intervention during the lesson, with some children receiving more one to one time with the class teacher when other children are applying independently. In some circumstances, children will need additional support within a small group or individual intervention on the same day and this ensures that children are ready to move on to the next stage of their learning during the following day rather than them developing gaps within their learning. In some circumstances, there will be a small group of children (usually no more than two or three children) that will require small group phonics teaching. This will be delivered by an experienced member of staff using the same scheme, resources, mnemonics and teaching cycle to ensure consistency. At Hillside, we use the Twinkl Phonics Scheme in school which is a fun and interactive way to support children in learning how to read and write. To promote high quality phonic teaching at Hillside we use a variety of strategies and resources including:

  • Quality daily phonics lessons that last between 20-25 minutes.
  • Careful differentiation within the whole class session for all ability groups, addressing the needs of children with special educational needs, including more able children, based on ongoing formative assessment and teacher judgement.
  • Well planned interactive lessons, delivered at a brisk pace, that keep children engaged and focused.
  • Opportunities to reinforce and apply acquired phonic knowledge and skills across the curriculum.
  • Additional decodable reading books for children to apply their phonic knowledge in phases 2-5 continuing in to the reading scheme in KS2 to ensure children have grasped the basis of reading.
  • A CPD programme that ensures all staff’s phonic knowledge is secure and they are fully trained in the Twinkl phonics way of teaching and have full fidelity to the scheme.

The Importance of Phonics

Teaching children to read is an essential part of their learning. Reading is a skill that helps to develop vocabulary and improve understanding of words. Phonics plays a major role in this process. In synthetic phonics lessons at Hillside, children learn the relationship between letters and sounds. Our teaching helps them to recognise the sounds each letter makes and how putting them together enables them to read. It also helps with spelling as they learn how to break up words into sounds in order to spell them. The idea that surrounds synthetic phonics is that once they are comfortable with the letters and sounds that make up words, children should even be able to read ‘nonsense’ words that don’t actually exist in the English language. This links to the phonics screening check that takes place in Year 1. The phonics screening check is an informal test that our children complete. During the test, which is designed to test their ability to decode words using their phonics knowledge, children will be required to read a mixture of forty real and nonsense words. It’s a crucial assessment as it shows how well their reading and phonics skills are developing.

The Rationale of Our Phonics Curriculum

'Letters and Sounds' is a phonics resource which was produced in 2007 by the Department for Education and Skills. The materials helped to promote speaking and listening, as well as developing children's phonic knowledge and skills. It taught phonics synthetically and systematically. It was a useful resource for the order of  teaching phonics; however, it did not provide detailed planning and resources for all the sounds.

At Hillside, we chose the Twinkl Phonics teaching package as it was the programme that aligned closest to Letters and Sounds. The staff at Hillside trialed the programme initially for over twelve months and found it an effective package of resources, planning and assessment. It provided apt adaptation and catch up resources for those that needed it and it enabled the stretch and challenge that our more able children seek.

Like Letters and Sounds, Twinkl Phonics is a synthetic phonics-teaching package and covers all of the statutory requirements outlined in the 2014 National Curriculum for phonics.  Within phonics teaching, there is a very clear structure to lessons, shared language, actions and mnemonics. There is a consistent approach to the resources and characters that are used within school and this enables our children to have a constant approach as they move through each level and each year group. The impact of the programme is clearly seen in the attitudes of our children, the results they achieve in the phonics screen and at the end of each lesson comes with a story. This makes a fantastic hook. The children are always engaged and it makes it fun to teach too!

The Structure of Phonics at Hillside

Younger children enjoy consistency of approach in their phonics lessons and to know what is coming next. Therefore, similar activities are used in class with a very clear lesson structure and resources. This helps to build their confidence with phonics learning. As the children progress through the phonics levels, more variety is carefully introduced. This helps them to see phonics as part of the wider curriculum and understand that the skills taught in phonics lessons can be applied in all aspects of learning. However, for all children, it is important that the structure and routine of phonics lessons covers the four cornerstones of phonics every day:

The Four Cornerstones of Phonics

There are four key elements that children need to master in order to read and write fluently:

  • Rapid recall of GPCs
  • Rapid recall of tricky/common exception words
  • Efficient blending skills
  • Efficient segmenting skills The four skills represent the cornerstones of phonics and must be practised every day to ensure children make the expected progress.

Within each classroom, you will find the following:

Twinkl Phonics Progression

Twinkl Phonics features six levels as part of its teaching sequence. The following table demonstrates the recommended teaching weeks and age range of each level. Teachers work hard to remain within the time scales of these levels; however, we recognise each cohort is different and some may need to work through at a slower or faster pace to suit their needs.

Please see the whole school overview and phonics progression map for more detail of what is taught and when.

The Structure of Phonics Lessons

Within each phonics lessons, staff teach using a five part model that begins with a revisit and review of previously taught sounds followed by the teaching of a new sound, opportunities to practise using their new taught sound, a chance to apply their understanding and finally an assessment section to check understanding and readiness to move on during the next day.

Assessing Phonics

Formative assessments ensure learners have a broad understanding of a range of sounds and phonic concepts. . The children are assessed on the sounds they can read and write and reading the common exception words that are based on their phonics stage. Common exception words are also a focus and staff check children can read and spell these tricky words. These assessments not only tell us what children can do or what they know, they also outline those sounds and concepts some learners may need to revisit or practise further. At Hillside, the Twinkl assessment packs are used to identify the sounds and tricky words the children are confident/not confident with. Only the assessment resources in these packs will be used from level 1 to level 6.

Children are expected to sit a phonics screening assessment in Year 1 that tests their knowledge of phonics sounds. The children that do not pass the phonics screening check are given appropriate support and materials to ensure they catch up. To support these children we ensure they continue to receive daily phonics at the relevant phase and daily reading in either shared reading, one to one reading or guided groups. These children also become a focus within lessons and they are encouraged to read a range of books that are tailored to support their learning of phonics sounds whilst being written in a context that is suitable for their age. This continues into KS2 if the children are still not secure in their phonics sounds.

Involving Parents

Parents and carers are invaluable allies in helping to support children’s learning, especially if they understand and use the same techniques at home. We share mnemonics and letter formation rhymes with parents which help them to feel involved and equipped to use the same language at home as is used in school. Within Levels 2-6, each lesson pack contains a parent information sheet, we photograph these information sheets and include on Dojo. This not only allows parents to be aware of the sounds and words their child is learning that week but also strengthens parent partnership and involvement with the school’s approach.

Fully Decodable Texts

In order to apply their decoding and comprehension reading skills, it is important that children have plenty of opportunities to read texts that are fully decodable at the phonics level they are working. Children should be reading take-home books at 90% fluency and should not be reading texts that are too easy or beyond their phonics level or understanding. Decodable texts should only contain the sounds and tricky (common exception) words that the children know, to allow them to read with fluency and confidence while applying their developing skills effectively. At Hillside, we use a mix of the Rhino Readers reading scheme, songbird phonics and phonics texts to help parents to support their child effectively, making the most of the reading experience.


The phonics scheme utilised supports the teaching of spelling for words with the sound that is being taught. Within class, staff will explicitly teach, practise and apply the children’s new spelling rule and parents and carers are encouraged to support this at home. Each Friday, a phonic bookmark is sent home with ta selection of words that include the sounds that have been taught along with common exception words. These are reviewed in class during a review session and in a way that the children do not feel they are being formally assessed.

Spelling Shed is also used in school and at home to provide an online platform to play games involving the children’s spellings and this will support the children in converting them to their long term memory along with other strategies. These strategies include practising their spellings through their handwriting, practising them in their early start book each week and reading decodable books involving the taught sounds.

Our School Library

Reading for pleasure and enjoyment is a key element of our reading programme throughout school. The library contains a wealth of reading materials from Non- Fiction to Fiction and the children have expansive mini libraries within classrooms and access to these areas in always encouraged to allow children to handle and share books. The children have weekly library sessions where they spend time selecting and reading books they wish to take home and share.

Parental Support

The school recognises and values the significant role of parents in further developing reading skills and they are encouraged to share books and read daily with their child. We support parents in developing their child’s reading skills at home and send regular information home on how to develop reading habits and the types of questions that children need to answer depending on their reading level. Parents are regularly invited into school to enjoy shared reading sessions with their children, these events are always well attended and provide another opportunity to share stories.

Using Texts in our Curriculum

Quality texts are used as hooks into learning across the curriculum. A rich diet of books from modern classics to contemporary fiction along with high interest non-fiction texts are used to engage our EYFS and KS1 children into new areas of learning. Reading is a core skill that allows children access to all areas of the enriched curriculum, and is in fact an essential and rewarding life skill. Books are placed at the heart of every topic, and reading is integral to everyday school life.

Shared Reading Sessions

In Nursery, pupils take home a book from our Library to share with Parents. During the summer term, some children will have a picture book to take home to support early language acquisition. When the children are ready, they will also have a banded book to further practise the use of the phonics sounds being taught.

In EYFS, regular Guided Reading sessions take place. Guided reading is an instructional approach that involves an adult working with a small group of children who demonstrate similar reading behaviors and can read similar levels of texts. During this session children apply their phonics, use the pictures, segment and blend words, practise reading tricky words and develop their strategies to read unknown words. In addition, they learn to ask and answer questions about the book to develop their comprehension of the text. Guided reading continues into year 1 during the autumn term to aid transition and the children will then move to whole class reading by Christmas.

From Reception to Year 2, a book banded phonic book is sent home. This encourages the children to practise phonic skills, at their level.


Library books are also sent home to allow children to share a range of text types and develop their reading for pleasure.

Volunteer Readers

Whilst the children are still learning the mechanics of reading, an adult in school will listen to them read. Due to the support from parents and people in the school community, our children have lots of opportunities to read to an adult. Those who need it will have daily reading and we have a group of reading ambassadors (Year 6 children) who have paired up with a younger child to support them with their reading.

Reading Ambassadors

At Hillside, we have a number of children who have volunteered to be a reading ambassador. A reading ambassador is when an older child (from year 5) pairs up with a younger child to support them with their reading. This allows the older child to be a positive role model for the younger child; to help model good reading; increase each other’s’ self-esteem and to develop a love of reading.  This partnership has been running for over five years in school and all children involved benefit. The year 5 read at least twice a week with their partner and this role has evolved during the current academic year with ambassadors reading to the whole class or practising spellings and common exception words with groups or individuals. The reading ambassadors also supervise the use of the reading and writing boxes at lunch times. Boxes of reading books, writing resources, white boards and even outdoor bean bags (to keep the children comfy) are used on the KS1 playground. The reading ambassadors help to organise the use of the boxes each day and all year groups enjoy an additional activity at lunch time that helps to support their reading and writing skills.

Mystery Reader

At Hillside, we encourage our parents and members of our community to come and share stories with our children; we do this through the mystery reader scheme. The aim of "Mystery Reader" is to show children that adults love reading too. We invite family members to come into their child’s class and to share a book that their own child particularly enjoys or one they enjoyed when they were growing up. This is kept ‘secret’ to the children and there is a buzz of excitement on a Thursday afternoon as the children guess who the mystery reader may be.

Children in EYFS and KS1 particularly love these visits and they are always well attended by parents and family members.

Author of the Term

The Author of the Term initiative begins at soon as children enter nursery and encourages children to read texts by the same author. Information about the chosen author and their achievements and is shared with the children as they read many of their texts over the half term. Author of the term displays are evident in each classroom from nursery to Year 6 and they are changed either half-termly or termly depending on the length of the texts and amount of texts the author has written. This initiative promotes a love of reading as children are exposed to up to thirty-five high quality authors in their school lifetime. The children learn about their life, inspirations and get lost in their stories. Parents are welcome to buy further texts by the authors promoted in class for home reading and we endeavour to stock as many of the Author of the Term texts in our library and book corners to encourage children to become familiar with similar genres and styles before moving on to the next author.

Better Reading

At Hillside, we are determined to support all children in their reading, and on occasions, some children may begin to make less progress than expected. In this case, we endeavour to support the child with reading both at school and at home. The ‘Better Reading Programme’ (BRP) is utilised to ensure children catch up rapidly. This programme entails children being allocated an adult reading partner and having reading support three times per week. Three different texts (a familiar text, a recently introduced text and a new text) are chosen and parental support is sought to ensure children are practising essential reading skills both at home and school. This programme has a considerable impact on the children that have taken part and their confidence increases due to the new skills they have gained over the ten-week course.

Book Week

At Hillside, we use World Book day to celebrate and promote our children’s love of reading. To make the most of this national celebration we celebrate for a whole week rather than a day. The main aim of the week is to encourage children to explore the pleasures of books and reading, to celebrate authors and illustrators and to use the books they read as inspiration for their own writing. The events that take place include a theatre performance from M&M Productions that forms the basis of the children’s learning during the week, examples in the past include: Treasure Island, Charlotte’s Web, Alice in Wonderland, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and most recently Oliver Twist . Other examples include shared reading sessions with families; book swap; book tasting; reading hunts and writing competitions in the style of the chosen text. The children always thoroughly enjoy the range of activities and the immersion in reading. Events like this inspire our children and encourages the lifelong love of reading that we are endeavouring to create.