Phonics screening check: 5 ways to reduce the stress

While the phonics screening check may be unwelcome, we still need to ensure our pupils are ready, says Katie Jenkins

Katie Jenkins

phonics screening check

I’m sure nobody was jumping for joy when the government announced that the current Year 2 children will take their phonics screening check this year. 

On top of the current demands of the recovery curriculum and managing staff absence and children self-isolating, you may well be feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of trying to fit everything in.

What you need to know about phonics: an interview with Professor Ann Castles


But if it is going to happen, we need to be prepared.

Here is how I will be making sure my pupils are up to speed on phonics for their own benefit – and that should mean they are also ready for the test this autumn, making it a lot less stressful for everyone involved. 

1. Little and often

There are so many opportunities throughout the day to have a quick word-reading practice. 

Lining up for lunch? Why not try a quick-fire reading card game. Going out to play? Get pupils to read a word each and give it to the teacher before they go. Getting ready for home time? Play a quick reading game on the IWB.

The key is to be organised and have sets of words available so that you are always prepared whenever a spare minute arises.

2. Make it fun

Children (and adults!) love games. And it is so easy to make phonics fun by adapting well-known games. Some of my favourites are:

  • Musical statues: read a word card when the music stops.
  • Musical bumps: word cards scattered around to read when you bump to the floor.
  • Relay race: baskets of words to read in teams. The first team to empty their basket is the winner.  
  • Swap and trade: each child has a word card, find a partner, read and swap.

These games are not only fun, but they also take minimal time to prepare, which is always a bonus!

3. Prioritise

The phonics screening check is checking children's ability to blend to read words, not segment to spell them. 

So it won’t hurt to have more of a focus on word reading for the first half-term in your phonics lessons. There are still plenty of spelling and writing opportunities in English and across the curriculum.

Likewise, look carefully at the phonemes used in the tests. The Phase 5 words are focused on the further graphemes for reading. Make sure children are confident in this part of Phase 5 first before moving on to alternative spellings and pronunciations.  

4. Assessment

It can be difficult to pinpoint which specific phonemes individual children are struggling with during phonics sessions. For this, a small test is actually useful. 

Do a practice screening check with your children as soon as possible. This does not need to be in a formal way, but it will allow you to clearly identify specific phonemes children are unsure of and spot patterns or difficulties across your class (that good old "ure" sound!). This can then be used to inform your planning.

5. Consolidation is key

Children always love playing teacher, so why not set up a little teacher station with flashcards for them to teach each other?

Many board games can be adapted for phonics as well. Connect Four, Guess Who, Jenga and even Hungry Hippos can be used if you write the words you want your children to read on them.

Send home fun games or phonics websites so that children can practice at home as well.

If you have provision set up in your classroom, add word cards and games to as many areas as you can. If not, have lots of phonics reading games available for early finishers.

Katie Jenkins is a key stage 1 and phonics lead 

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Katie Jenkins

Key stage one teacher and key stage one and phonics lead

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