Reading Stars and Phonics


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What is phonics?

Phonics is a way of teaching children (and adults!) to read and pronounce words by learning to recognise letters on the page and to be able to read them aloud, or sound them out. It works on the basis that children can read words by looking at how they are built up from individual letters and sounds.

You can find out more about phonics generally, and synthetic phonics in particular, elsewhere on our site.


Phonics in Ransom Reading Stars

The Ransom Reading Stars programme includes a range of phonics titles designed to be used in support of a structured synthetic phonics teaching programme.

Ransom Reading Stars follows the UK government’s Letters and Sounds programme. This programme has the advantage of being free to download (most other programmes must be purchased, and some are quite expensive). It is also well designed, and the approach taken in Letters and Sounds means that it can easily be adapted to work alongside other synthetic phonics programmes.

There are four levels of phonics readers in Reading Stars, (called Phonics 1 to Phonics 4). These cover the four phases of Letters and Sounds – Phases 2 to 5.


‘Letters and Sounds’

The UK government’s Letters and Sounds has been widely adopted as a benchmark synthetic phonics programme, and many publishers have produced reading schemes to support it.

The phonics readers in Ransom Reading Stars have been designed to support Letters and Sounds, but in fact the Reading Stars phonics readers can be used to support any synthetic phonics programme. The ony real differences between the programmes are the order in which letters are taught (although this does not vary much) and the way in which letters and sounds are taught.

For supporting phonics readers, neither of these have much impact, if any.


Reading Stars Phonics Level 1

The Phonics 1 books in Ransom Reading Stars cover all letters, sounds and high frequency (HF) words met in Phase 2 of Letters and Sounds.

The main focus at this level is on learning the first 19 letters/sounds, a few high frequency words (see below) and introducing consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) and vowel-consonant (VC) words.


Reading Stars Phonics Level 2

The Phonics 2 books in Ransom Reading Stars cover all letters, sounds and high frequency words met in Phase 3 of Letters and Sounds.

The main focus at this level is on learning another 25 graphemes (many of them two-letter graphemes, such as ‘ch’ and ‘ar’) and developing children's blending skills. Further HF words are also taught.


Reading Stars Phonics Level 3

The Phonics 3 books in Ransom Reading Stars cover all letters, sounds and high frequency words met in Phase 4 of Letters and Sounds.

The main focus at this level is on blending, focusing on words containing adjacent consonants and polysyllabic words. Further HF words are also taught.


Reading Stars Phonics Level 4

The Phonics 4 books in Ransom Reading Stars cover all letters, sounds and high frequency words met in Phase 5 of Letters and Sounds.

“The purpose of this phase is for children to broaden their knowledge of graphemes and phonemes for use in reading and spelling. They will learn new graphemes and alternative pronunciations for these and graphemes they already know, where relevant. Some of the alternatives will already have been encountered in the high-frequency words that have been taught.”

You can see a complete list of phonics titles currently available, by phonics level, on this page. The lowest title at each level is shown first, with the titles listed in increasing order of difficulty, moving gradually up to the highest title at that level. (This list is for Reading Stars titles only, and excludes Reading Stars Plus and Neutron Stars titles.)


What is high frequency vocabulary? Does Reading Stars introduce high frequency vocabulary?

As part of the old National Curriculum, children were required to learn the 100 words used most frequently in English (the ‘100 high frequency words’). This list now forms part of the Letters and Sounds programme, and children are required to learn these words as they move through the phases of Letters and Sounds. (There is also a second list of the next 200 common words in order of frequency.)

In Letters and Sounds the 100 high frequency words are introduced gradually, with a few being introduced in each phase. It’s important to realise that these HF words need to be learned in addition to the phonics learning at that level. Some of the commonest words in English (e.g. ‘the’, ‘to’, ‘a’, ‘said’, etc.) are simply not decodable, and there is no alternative but to learn them.

The phonics readers in Reading Stars all use high frequency vocabulary from that level, so children are given good practice in recognising and reading these words.


Does Reading Stars introduce tricky words?

In some reading programmes, phonics texts are provided that include words that are ‘out of level’; these are words that are not decodable at the level of the text and are not within the list of applicable high frequency words either. This is usually done in order to create stronger, more readable stories/texts.

Of course the children will have difficulty reading these words, since they will feature letters/sounds they have not (by definition) yet met. These out of level words are usually introduced first, at the beginning of the book, before the child begins reading.

The Reading Stars phonics readers do not introduce any out of level words. All words met in a Reading Stars phonics reader for a particular level are either fully decodable at that level, or are from the list of high frequency words to be learned at that level.

In other words, readers will meet no unfamiliar words.


Does Reading Stars cover all Phases in Letters and Sounds?

The Letters and Sounds programme includes six levels, or ‘Phases’. The first phase, Phase One, focuses on oral and aural skills (e.g. listening walks, etc.) and does not require children to engage with written texts.

Phases Two to Five, as described above, cover the core learning in synthetic phonics. These phases are all covered by Ransom Reading Stars. The levels match to the phases as follows:

Letters and Sounds Phase Reading Stars Level
Phase 1 -
Phase 2 Level 1
Phase 3 Level 2
Phase 4 Level 3
Phase 5 Level 4
Phase 6 -

Phase 6 of Letters and Sounds is at quite a high level, and focuses very much on developing children’s broader reading skills. There is less structure at this level and the need for phonics readers to support Phase 6 is not so great. By this stage it is expected that children will have moved on to a broader Book-banded programme.


Does Reading Stars mix phonics readers with Book-banded readers?

The Book-banded readers in Ransom Reading Stars inevitably include texts that are, at least in part, phonetically decodable.

For more on Reading Stars and Book Bands, see elsewhere on our site.

For children who are being taught using a structured synthetic phonics programme, it is essential that when they come to read a book, they are able to read every single word in the book. This gives the child confidence and reinforces what they have learned so far. It is essential not to undermine that.

In other words, each phonics reader should include only those letters and sounds (and high frequency words) that the child will have encountered up to that level. Including anything else means presenting the reader with letters and sounds that they cannot ‘read’.

This is the approach that the phonics readers in Reading Stars follow. A child who is secure at Phase 3 of Letters and Sounds, for example, will be able to read every word in a Reading Stars text that supports that level. You can be confident that the reader will meet no unfamiliar words.


We don't use 'Letters and Sounds'. Can we still use Ransom Reading Stars books?

Yes, absolutely. The Reading Stars phonics readers can be used to support any synthetic phonics programme. The ony real differences between the programmes are the order in which letters are taught (although this does not vary much) and the way in which letters and sounds are taught.