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PE and Phonics – Can They Work Together?

The teaching of phonics has been in the news recently, with educational experts debating whether the teaching of synthetic phonics is really the most effective way of enabling students to read. There has been much discussion around the efficacy of the current method of teaching phonics, with experts believing it only prepares children for the screening test, as opposed to giving them an embedded understanding of phonemes and graphemes and their application to fluent reading. 

You may have your own opinion on the teaching of phonics or, if you are purely a PE specialist, you may never have even considered it! You may also be wondering why we are discussing a subject that seems irrelevant to PE. Well, with the Education Secretary Nadhum Zahawi stating the need for: “a wider range of approaches to teaching reading”, we want to show how PE can help. 

For a lot of children, PE is their favourite subject and most looked-forward-to session of the week. Despite this, it is often left as a stand alone lesson without any cross-curricular links or links to the wider school agenda. But, if we combine the love of the subject with the science proving that being physically active supports brain cognitive development, then it seems a no-brainer that phonics and PE should be linked.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that your PE lessons should include phonics and reading, although it certainly could if that’s something you’re passionate about. What it could mean is that your school phonics lessons include more physically active elements than is usual. The standard experience for phonics is children sitting in groups on the carpet, with no movement or opportunity to be active. If we allowed our children to move around during the session, even just through simple hand movements or gestures, their phonic acquisition would improve. 

Here are some ways simple movements can be incorporated into your school’s phonics lessons:

  1. Start each session with a physical warm-up, e.g. a shake-down or a song with linked movements (think ‘If You’re Happy And You Know It’).
  2. Link new sounds with a gesture or an action. This can be as easy as encouraging children to ‘write’ the grapheme in the air with their fingers.
  3. Introduce small-space games, particularly involving the children standing up (even if they can’t move around much in the space available). Here are some great ideas from Kagan.
  4. Finish the session with an active, whole-body celebration. This can be as elaborate as you wish, but we particularly like a firework explosion or a rocket blast off.

We have also created a fantastic free resource with ideas for incorporating phonics into your PE lessons. Download it here

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