Overview of Jolly Phonics

This section gives a flavour of the active and multi-sensory style used in the teaching of Jolly Phonics.

Overview of Jolly Phonics


The synthetic-phonics method of teaching has been covered on this website and the basic materials needed have also been provided. With this guidance most English-speaking adults would be able to teach a child to read and write using synthetic phonics. However, this website does not explain how to make the teaching interesting, multi-sensory, interactive and fun for the children at school, as well as for the teachers. For that information it is necessary to look at the different synthetic-phonics programmes that are available for purchase and choose materials and ideas that are appropriate for what is wanted.


Before choosing a programme head teachers and teachers would want to know as much as possible about what is available. Parents, too, may like to know about materials that are suitable for home support. As co-author of Jolly Phonics I am able, in this section, to provide the information about Jolly Phonics teaching, the materials and why we developed them.


One of the strengths of Jolly Phonics is that ordinary teachers, like Sara Wernham and myself, developed this method of teaching in the classroom and only used what worked well. We knew that it was very important to keep young children as active as possible, while they were taught the skills, and that they were more likely to learn them if the teaching was multi-sensory. The aim was to use the senses of sight, sound, touch and movement, as much as possible. This is why the programme is particularly suitable for young children. Here are a few examples of the multi-sensory activities linked to the main teaching skills:

  • Children love stories, so each letter sound is introduced through a story. The children are encouraged to listen carefully for the letter sound in the story. Then they are shown the letter or letters linked to the sound.For each letter sound there is an action. For example, for the /s/ sound the story is about a snake, so the action is the hand moving like a snake, the story for the /a/ sound is about ants going up a girl’s arm and her shrieking in alarm /a/ (the fingers represent the ants). For the /t/ sound the children are watching a tennis match and their heads go from side to side.
    Regular practice is needed to ensure that the children learn the letter sounds really well. As the flash cards of the letter sounds are held up, the children call out the sounds and do the appropriate actions. This turns the necessary practice into fun for the children, keeps them actively involved and helps them to remember the letter sounds.
  • There are also songs linked to the letter sounds. Here is a song for the /s/ sound (words in book shown). Not only are the songs fun for the children but they also revise the sounds linked to the letters, provide the pronunciation of the sounds and also supports language development, which is particularly helpful for the non-English speaking children.
  • When the children are first introduced to the letter, or letters, for each sound they are also shown how to form them correctly on the whiteboard/blackboard (demonstrated). This is a visual experience. We know teaching is more effective when several senses are used, so the children are also encouraged to form the letter in the air, following the teacher’s example, which needs to be in mirror writing (demonstrated). Other multi-sensory activities include feeling the shape in the Finger Phonics Books, making the letter with play dough or following the dots on the worksheets, and saying the sound at the same time (demonstrated). Lines are provided as a guide for the children and to encourage neat handwriting.
  • Learning to blend words is quite an active activity anyhow and uses mainly visual and auditory senses. The children look at the letters from left to right, say the sounds, blend them and say the word. Some of the materials, like these flash cards, have a dot under each letter sound. The children touch the dot and say the sounds.As a way of encouraging silent blending the children are encouraged to watch someone doing the actions for a word. They watch the actions, think of the sounds, blend the sounds in their heads and work out the word. Either the whole class calls out the word or the teacher asks an individual child. So the teacher, or a child, might go (actions for /s/, /a/, /t/ demonstrated) and the children work it out in their heads and, hopefully, come up with the word ‘sat’.
  • In the beginning, after the children have been taught a new letter sound, they are told a word and asked to say if they can hear that sound in the word. If they can, then they are asked whether it comes at the beginning, middle or end of the word. For example, is there a /s/ in ‘sun’? This continues for the words, ‘job’, ‘bus’ and ‘nest’. After a few days the children progress to listening for all the sounds in words, especially those words that have letter sounds that have already been taught. The children are encouraged to hold up a finger for each sound, ‘peg’ /p-e-g/. This keeps the children active while developing this essential auditory skill. The next step is to encourage the children to write letters for the sounds, and words, that are dictated. The words are written by listening for the sounds and writing letters for those sounds, in the same way as explained in Steps 1-3.


It is easy to keep young children’s attention when they are physically active and the sessions are short and fast paced. This is particularly necessary for young children learning to read and write, as there is a large body of phonic knowledge that needs to be learnt and practised until it is mastered, such as memorising at least 70 letter sounds, forming them correctly, developing fluency in the skills of blending for reading and segmenting words for writing and coping with awkward tricky words.


The children enjoy participating in all the activities. They are more than happy to do the essential repetition that is needed to secure all that phonic knowledge into their long-term memories until decoding and segmenting are automatic and unconsciously used. Then the children can concentrate on enjoying more reading and improving their comprehension.


In Conclusion


This introduction has given a flavour of the style of the multi-sensory teaching used in Jolly Phonics. There is an even more detailed online Jolly Phonics training course available, as mentioned in the ‘Overview’. Jolly Learning provides this course in association with the CPD College. The course can be taken in the comfort and convenience of your own home or classroom and provides an interactive way to study. Upon successful course completion a certificate and personal study record is sent to you. For more details go to the link provided below.