Phonemes and Graphemes

When first learning about teaching phonics it can be challenging to wrap your head around how it all works.  For teachers who are used to teaching with letter names, it can be tricky to know what a ‘sound’ is and what it isn’t.  So, here are some fundamentals of sounds and letters to help get you on track.

Firstly, it is important to call things by their right names and to teach these names to students. Hover your mouse over each box to learn the definitions.

A noise in the environment
A sound we say when we speak
A letter or letters used to represent a phoneme
One of the 26 symbols that make up the symbols of written English

There are 44 phonemes in Australian English – 24 consonant phonemes and 20 vowel phonemes. 


This is quite different from letters of which there are 26.

In order to represent the 44 phonemes of Australian English we use a range of graphemes (letters or letter combinations).  Children need to know 150 – 200 of these graphemes in order to read a reasonably complex text and these need to be taught explicitly and systematically.

A single letter used to represent a phoneme. E.g. a
Two letters used to represent a phoneme. E.g. sh, ow, kn
Three letters used to represent a phoneme. E.g., igh, tch, are
Four letters used to represent a phoneme. E.g. ough, eigh

Teaching children to map phonemes to graphemes is an important skill for both reading and spelling.

Once you understand about phonemes and graphemes, you can start to teach your students how to map phonemes themselves.  The following clip demonstrates how phonemes and graphemes work together.

Quiz time!

So what could this look like in your classroom?

This mapping of phonemes to graphemes should form a part of  your daily phonics lessons, regardless of your student’s age. If your students do not have knowledge of the 44 phonemes and their multiple representations, then this work needs to form part of your daily classroom work. It will provide the foundation your students need to be strong readers and spellers.

N.B. Blends such as bl, tr, nt and pt are not phonemes. They are consonant clusters that are simply two phonemes next to each other.

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2 thoughts on “Phonemes and Graphemes”

  1. This is such clear and concise information Jocelyn- thank you! I have only been shifting my practice to align with the science of reading over the past 3 months or so, and I am blown away by the power of phoneme manipulation work.

    1. Hi Sarah Anne. Thanks for reading! I am so pleased that this has been affirming for you! If there are any other topics that you would like to see covered in the blog, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. All the best for your evidence based journey. Your students are very lucky!

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