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Functional Skills – Phonics at Entry Levels

As I travel around the FE world I’m hearing that people have looked at the Post-16 Phonics Toolkit but haven’t necessarily read it. If that’s you, here’s a quick tour based around the chapter people are most concerned about.

Chapter 11 is called “Turning the FSE word lists into a learning tool”

It encourages FS teachers not to teach lists but to develop vocabulary for both reading and spelling. The chapter is a bit of a beast, but these six essential points should make sense if you’ve attended Post-16 Phonics training, a That Spelling Thing workshop or have worked your way through the toolkit.

The full toolkit (137 pages) can be downloaded from the ETF Excellence Gateway but we’re going to talk it through in smaller chunks with links to one or two chapters in each section of this post.

Chapter 11 can be downloaded here. All chapter links open as pdfs.

Click on photos for larger images.

1. The essence of chapter 11 is that it’s not about teaching lists!

Don’t teach lists. Instead develop a conversation around reading and spelling using the terms,




spelling voice

Get comfortable using this language yourself and ask your learners to use it too.

2. Basic Code Plus

Whatever their starting point, let your learners know how much they already know by making sure they feel comfortable using Basic Code & Plus. See the chart on page 55. If your learners are comfortable with reading and spelling words built with these graphemes, they’ll have mastered a lot of the words on the lists.

Read chapter 6.


3. Graphemes for Reading


Look at Table 5 in chapter 11 to see all the graphemes beyond Basic Code Plus that learners will be expected to be able to read. This is laid out much more clearly than in FS subject content document and probably more clearly than in your awarding body’s document so have a good look. If a learner knows what to say when they see <dge> and is confident with the basic code then they can read:

edge, judge, wedge, grudge, begrudge, ledge, badge, stodge, fridge, hedge, bridge, nudge, dredge, drudge, porridge, etc.

Make the most of this tool for quickly expanding a reading vocabulary, especially for learners who are confident speakers of the language. ESOL learners might need to move much more slowly as they learn all of pronunciation, meaning and knowledge about the English code.




4. Group spelling lists by target grapheme not alphabetical order

Tables 6, 7 and 8 show the individual words learners are expected to spell with each Entry Level shown between the bold green vertical lines. The words in green will be covered by Basic Code Plus so don’t teach them specifically, just let your learners know they have the most obvious spelling and practice them in writing sentences and text.

The bold words won’t require new teaching if the grapheme was learnt at a previous level.The target grapheme is in red.

This is where you want your learners comfortable with the “spelling conversation” we talk about in Post-16 Phonics training and That Spelling Thing. It’s better to ask, “How do you spell the /u/ sound in ‘brother’?” than to ask how to spell ‘brother’. That’s because they know the other graphemes from Basic code Plus and just need to remember the less common one.

For the <o> spelling, ask them to find an “anchor word” from the list – the one they can spell without much thought. It helps them remember the others by association.

At Entry 2, the <o> spelling of short /u/ shows up again so those words are in bold because they could easily have been mastered in Entry 1.

At least one awarding body has presented these lists alphabetically which creates a much bigger burden on a learner’s memory. Try to group them by target graphemes, use the conversation of “how do you spell the _____ in _____?” and practice them in reading and writing, not just recalling words.

If possible record 5 words at a time for spelling practice so they’re always working from hearing the word to writing it. ESOL learners might prefer your voice but native English speakers or confident ESOL speakers might like to make their own.

In That Spelling Thing terms, have them focus on the “tricky bit” for them and not worry about all the other graphemes which come to them naturally.

If you continue with this “spelling conversation” method then you free up time for exploring spelling, talking about morpholoyg and etymology if it’s helpful for memory. You don’t flog a list but expand knowledge about words and how their spelling reflects both their sounds and their history. Learners stop thinking, “I can’t spell beautiful” and start thinking, “I’ve got to remember the <eau> in beautiful”.

Read chapters 7 and 8.

5. Look at the case studies in chapter 3.

They’ll show you a variety of ways to expand vocabulary in words, sentences and text with phonics and morphology too.

Read chapter 3.











6. “Starting from these principles it is possible to incorporate the FSE wordlists into a meaningful curriculum without resorting to rote memorisation and drill.” (Chp11.1)

Post-16 Phonics is about conquering shame and allowing learners to re-imagine themselves in the world of education. Any structure or sequence is solely for the the purpose of giving confidence to people who’ve had a difficult time learning to reading and write. It’s respectful of prior knowledge and part of a rich and diverse world of written language.

If you haven’t already, have a quick read of chapter 1.

We’ve only talked about a few chapters so download the whole toolkit and dive in to what interests you! It’s a rich resource.


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