Language Foundations Continuum for Reading and Writing

Grades 1–4: Overall Expectation B2

Phonics: Grapheme-Phoneme Correspondence



Grapheme-phoneme correspondence (GPC) refers to the association between a grapheme (a letter or cluster of letters) and its corresponding phoneme, and vice versa. It may also be called letter-sound correspondenceUnderstanding this relationship enables students to read by relating graphemes to phonemes and blending phonemes together to sound out words, and to spell by breaking words into phonemes and representing each phoneme with a corresponding grapheme, with automaticity. Learning these skills occurs largely in the context of learning about decoding and spelling of written words.


A child’s understanding of phonics usually develops progressively in response to systematic and explicit instruction. Students are taught grapheme-phoneme correspondences, and how to use these relationships to read and spell words. Without this code-based instruction, the majority of students will struggle with reading and/or spelling.

Phonics instruction has its greatest impact on beginning readers in Kindergarten and Grade 1 and should be implemented in those grades (National Reading Panel, 2000). For students who struggle with reading accuracy, including those with dyslexia, intervention must focus on phonics to support improved word reading.

Knowledge and Skills: Grapheme-Phoneme Correspondence

Kindergarten/Grade 1

Understanding the relationship between simple and high-frequency graphemes (letters or combinations of letters) and the phonemes (units of sound) they represent

Grade 1

Understanding the relationship between simple, high-frequency, and complex graphemes (letters or combinations of letters) and the phonemes (units of sound) they represent 

Grade 2



Grade 3



Grade 4



Looks Like

Kindergarten / Grade 1

  • producing the most common grapheme for each consonant sound, and the most common phoneme for each consonant grapheme, including:
  • single consonants <s> as in sat, has
  • <ch>, <ck>, <sh>
  • <th> as in thick
  • <wh>
  • producing the most common grapheme for each short vowel sound and the most common phoneme for each vowel grapheme:
  • short vowels: /a/, /i/, /o/, /u/, /e/

Grade 1

  • applying previously learned GPC concepts
  • identifying: 
  • <–all>, <–oll>, <–ull>
  • consonant patterns: <ph>, <nk>
  • soft <c> and soft <g> variation
  • VCe patterns
  • VCe exceptions
  • long vowel sounds in VCC words: <–ild>, <–old>, <–ind>, <–olt>, <–ost>
  • long vowel <y> = /ī/; <i> = /ī/;<e> = /ē/
  • <–le> words (e.g., bundle)
  • r-controlled vowels
  • long vowel teams: <ai>, <ay> = /ā/; <ee>, <ea>, <ey> = /ē/; <oa>, <ow>, <oe> = /ō/; <ie>, <igh> = /ī/; <oo>, <u> = /oo/; <oo> = /ū/; <ew>, <ui>, <ue> = /ū/
  • <au>, <aw>, <augh> = /o/
  • <ea> = /ē/, /ā/, /e/
  • <air>, <are>, <ear> = /air/
  • diphthongs: <oi>, <oy> = /oi/; <ou>, <ow> = /ow/
  • silent letters: <kn> = /n/; <wr> = /r/; <mb> = /m/

Why is this important?

Phonics lays the foundation for reading comprehension. By learning phonics, students develop the ability to decode words. Decoding allows students to read words, sentences, and eventually, texts accurately.

The human brain is not wired to read. Intentional, structured phonics instruction can help to prevent reading failure for early readers, remediate older, struggling readers, and improve reading and spelling proficiency for all (Tolman et al., 2020).

Weak phonics instruction in early grades can impact students’ reading ability as they move through the grades. Initially, students may appear to be strong readers when reading simple text with pictures, however their reading ability is likely to decline in later grades as texts become more complex (Moats, 2020).

It is important to remember that phonics instruction is one part of comprehensive reading instruction (National Reading Panel, 2000), but not the entirety of a language program.


Phonics lessons should be systematically and explicitly taught, following a scope and sequence that builds from more simple to more complex concepts. Explicit instruction is characterized by direct modelling, guided practice, and purposeful individual practice. 

Lessons might include the following steps:

  1. State the purpose and goal of the lesson.
  2. Develop or practice phonemic awareness (include letters and focus on phoneme-level work)
  3. Review previous learning (e.g., by re-reading words and text).
  4. Introduce the new concept in isolation.
  5. Provide guided practice with blending words
  6. Provide extended opportunities to practice (e.g., word chains)
  7. Practice dictation of words and sentences with the target pattern.
  8. Read (and reread) decodable text that contain a high proportion of words containing previously taught grapheme-phoneme correspondences. 

(adapted from Honig et al., 2018)

Assessment for Learning

“The primary purpose of assessment is to improve student learning.”
Growing Success, 2010, p. 28

Assessment of phonics is a powerful way for educators to support improved student outcomes. A variety of sources of insight into students’ grapheme-phoneme knowledge and understanding, including early reading screening, diagnostic assessments, and progress monitoring, can be used as assessment for learning to drive evidence-based explicit and systematic instruction.

Since phonics is critical knowledge that predicts future reading skills, assessing students’ knowledge and understanding can be done through early reading screening. Many evidence-based screening tools include phonics subtests for young students, including correct letter sounds scores on nonsense word fluency measures.

For older, struggling readers, diagnostic assessments can be used to identify which specific grapheme-phoneme correspondences can be taught. This is an important component, often necessary to meet the needs of students who struggle with reading, including those with dyslexia.

For students who are at-risk, progress monitoring with phonics, such as nonsense word fluency, is a powerful way to ensure that instruction or intervention is best meeting the needs of students.

In writing, educators may consider using a spelling inventory as assessment for learning. These tools can typically be administered to the whole class with a list of words. Students’ spelling is scored with a scoresheet that allows for a close examination of their understanding of sounds, spelling patterns, and morphology.