Jolly Phonics

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Jolly Phonics is a systematic synthetic phonics programme designed to teach children to read and write. Children learn the 42 letter sounds of the English language, rather than the alphabet. They are then taken through the stages of blending and segmenting words to develop reading and writing skills.

There are two main approaches to teaching phonics: analytic and synthetic. Both approaches require the learner to develop the ability to hear and discriminate sounds in spoken words. Jolly Phonics is a scheme which comes under the Synthetic phonics method.

The Jolly Phonics characters Inky Mouse, Snake and Bee are used throughout the materials. They often reflect the different speeds at which children learn to read and write. Inky Mouse and her friend Phonic the computer teach Snake and Bee the letter sounds and reading techniques. Snake picks up the literacy skills quickly, while Bee has more difficulty, but eventually understands.


Jolly Phonics is a commercial programme developed by UK primary/elementary teachers Sue Lloyd and Sara Wernham, and published by Jolly Learning Ltd.

Lloyd first developed the programme in order to support a small group of children in their school who were unable to progress in reading using the whole language ‘Look and Say’ approach popular in the 1970s. In 1977, as part of a research project [1] these children were taught to listen carefully to the sounds in the words and identify them, while being taught the letter sounds separately. As a result, these students who were previously demonstrating difficulty in reading and writing had significant improvements in abilities. By the end of the year, their teachers’ believed these children were now a year ahead of where they would have been without the change in methods. This was confirmed by a standardized reading test.

After many years of teaching these methods, Sue Lloyd met Christopher Jolly (managing director of Jolly Learning Ltd.) at a conference in 1989. After a few years of research and trials, Chris encouraged Lloyd and Wernham to compile The Phonics Handbook,[2] which was published in 1992. Since then, the range of products has been developed, and Jolly Phonics has now been used in over 100 countries, with some countries such as Trinidad, The Gambia and the Seychelles adopting it as government policy.

Jolly Learning has also collaborated with NGOs and charities such as Absolute Return for Kids[3] to deliver Jolly Phonics resources for literacy programmes carried out in government schools in India [4] and Nigeria.[5][6]

When the TV Series was released on VHS, Episode 2: A Fright in the Woods had Bee temporarily change voices to a much lower-toned, understandably voice, similar to Inky's, however, it changed back after a few minutes. When the DVD was released, all the voices had been changed, for reasons unknown(why).


The Jolly Phonics program teaches five basic skills for reading and writing. The five basic skills are all taught at the same time throughout the programme.

Learning the Letter Sounds[edit]

The 42 main sounds of English are introduced first. Children learn each letter by its sound, not its name (for instance ‘a’ is learnt as it is heard in ‘ant’, not ‘ai’ as in ‘aim’). The sounds are not introduced alphabetically, but are in seven carefully selected groups. The first group (s, a, t, i, p, n) can be combined to create the largest number of simple three-letter words. Letters that are easily confused, like "b" and "d", are presented in separate groups.

The seven groups of letter sounds are:

  1. s, a, t, i, p, n
  2. c k, e, h, r, m, d
  3. g, o, u, l, f, b
  4. ai, j, oa, ie, ee, or
  5. z, w, ng, v, oo, oo
  6. y, x, ch, sh, th, th
  7. qu, ou, oi, ue, er, ar

Some sounds are written with two letters such as 'ee', and 'or' - these are known as digraphs. In the case of 'oo' and 'th', these can make two different sounds, for example, 'book' vs. 'moon' or 'that' vs. 'thin'. In Jolly Phonics these digraphs are represented in two forms to distinguish between the two sounds.

Each letter sound has a corresponding action. By performing an action for each sound, students are using kinesthetic, auditory, visual and speech methods to help them remember the letter(s) representing each sound. It is suggested that one group of seven letter sounds is introduced a week.

Learning Letter Formation[edit]

Children are taught how to form each letter in the correct way. They first use their finger to imitate how the teacher forms the letter in the air or on the board. They then move on to form letters using a pencil, held in the Jolly Phonics “froggy legs” grip between thumb and first finger.

The letter 'c' is introduced early on, as it forms the basic shape of other letters such as 'g' and 'd'. Lower-case formation is concentrated on initially, then the formation of capital letters is taught.

In the UK, the pre-cursive script version of the Jolly Phonics programme is generally used, as "exit" strokes on the letters are believed to help fluency of writing, encourage better spelling and easier progression into joined-up writing. However the Jolly Phonics programme has also been developed in print script, which is preferred in the US and other areas of the world.


This is the process of saying the individual letter sounds in a word, then running them together to make a word e.g. sounding out 'd-o-g' makes dog, which is automatic for literate adults but difficult for young children, as they might not know the sounds well enough and can lose track of the word if the letter sounds are not emphasized correctly.

Jolly Phonics suggests several methods for easier blending, such as saying the sounds quickly to hear the word and saying the first sound slightly louder.

There are two main types of blends: consonant blends, and digraphs. In consonant blends, two sounds can be heard, e.g., 's' and 'n' in snug or 'n' and 't' in tent, whereas in a digraph two letters are seen but only one sound is heard, e.g., the 'sh' in ship.

Identifying Sounds in Words[edit]

This basic skill focuses on students hearing and identifying the sounds in a word to spell it correctly. Jolly Phonics suggests several methods for identifying sounds in words, such as beginning with simple three-letter C-V-C (consonant, vowel, consonant) words like cat, and say the word while tapping out the sounds and using rhyming games and poems to attune the ear to sounds.

Spelling the Tricky Words[edit]

Some words in English have irregular spelling and cannot be read by blending, e.g. 'said', 'was' and 'one'. These irregular words are called "Tricky Words" in the Jolly Phonics programme, and have to be memorized separately to increased reading fluency. This is begun once the students are able to recognize the 42 sounds and blend them into simple words.

Jolly Phonics suggests several methods for learning tricky word spellings, such as saying the word as it sounds, and using the Look, Cover, Write, Check method. Using cursive (joined-up) writing has also been suggested to aid spelling of memorized words.


When students have learnt the Jolly Phonics letter sounds, they can start writing independently, although their spelling will be phonetic.

Alternative Spelling[edit]

Once students have learned the 42 letter sounds they need to be made aware of alternative ways that some vowel sounds can be written. Initially in Jolly Phonics, only one way of writing each sound is taught, then the main alternative spellings are covered. For example 'ai' as in 'rain' is initially taught, and once this has been mastered, the alternatives 'ay' as in 'day' and 'a-e' as in 'came' are taught.

Letter Names[edit]

When the first three groups of Jolly Phonics letter sounds have been taught, children can be told that letters have names as well as sounds. This is when the alphabet is introduced and the link is made between letter sounds and letter names.

Parental Involvement[edit]

The Jolly Phonics programme encourages parental support because of the beneficial effect of praise and encouragement to all children whilst learning. It advises parents to be guided by the pace at which their child wants to go, and to practice letter sounds and literacy skills with them. Extra practice at home and interaction with their parents will lead to greater fluency in the child’s reading and help them manage at school. The Jolly Phonics programme recognizes that many parents do not know how to help their children whilst learning how to read and write, and offers suggestions and guidance to provide parents with the tools to help them.

Classroom implementation[edit]

The Jolly Phonics program can be implemented into the early primary classroom with minimal resources or training. The Phonics Handbook is a comprehensive resource covering all areas of the programme and photocopiable practice sheets for each of the letter sounds. In addition to the Handbook, are a variety of other resources to support and engage students. Children in their first year at school (aged 4–5) are often able to learn the letter sounds at the suggested teaching rate of 5 sounds per week, although some teachers prefer to teach the sounds at a slower pace.


Jolly Phonics has attracted much controversy over the years. At one point, it was being used in 68% of UK primary schools when government policy advocated the opposite method of 'whole word' learning, indicating that support to retain (which?) previous policy had been lost. A research project in Clackmannanshire also demonstrated a large difference in pupils' learning (how?).[7]

Critics have argued that not all children benefit from the synthetic phonics method.[8] Some people's views (whose?) are that more time should be spent teaching children how to write whole words and say the alphabet in the traditional manner instead of breaking words down into letter sounds then blending them to read.

One of the major concerns regarding synthetic phonics is that it is taught in isolation and is boring for students [needs citation]. However, within effective literacy instruction, neither of these assumptions is true. Phonics instruction is part of a balanced literacy approach (which is very different from whole language) and should never be taught exclusive of meaningful connections to text.[9] In addition, many teachers find that the interactive premise behind Jolly Phonics makes it fun for kids.

Jolly Grammar[edit]

The Jolly Grammar programme was developed to follow Jolly Phonics. It offers a comprehensive spelling and grammar for students who have completed the Jolly Phonics programme successfully.[10]

Jolly Grammar teaches the structured side of literacy and covers spelling rules, punctuation, parts of speech, dictionary use and tenses. Parts of speech are taught using actions and colours to help children with parsing (identifying parts of speech). For example, the colour for verbs is red and the action is to clench fists and move arms backwards and forwards as if running. These methods help students remember grammar rules. Jolly Grammar developed from the belief that it is helpful for children to be taught the structured side of language separately from the more creative side of writing.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Johnston, Dr Rhona S. & Joyce Watson. Literacy & Learning Magazine, Autumn 1997
  2. ^ Lloyd, Sue, 1992. The Jolly Phonics Handbook. Jolly Learning Ltd. Essex, United Kingdom
  3. ^ ARK ASPIRE literacy programme 2009/10
  4. ^ Jolly Phonics literacy initiative in Hyderabad
  5. ^ Stepping Stones Nigeria Read and Write Now pilot study
  6. ^ Stepping Stones Nigeria literacy initiative in Akwa-Ibom
  7. ^ Johnson, Rhona & Joyce Watson. 'The effect of synthetic phonics teaching on reading and spelling attainment'. The Scottish Executive (2005)
  8. ^
  9. ^ Bowey, Judith A. (2006). Need for systematic synthetic phonics teaching within the early reading curriculum. Australian Psychologist, 41(2), 79-84
  10. ^ Ehri, L., Nunes, S. R., Willows, D. M., Schuster, B. V., Yaghoubzadeh, Z., & Shanahan, T. (2001). Phonemic awareness instruction helps students learn to read: Evidence from the National Reading Panel's meta-analysis. Reading Research Quarterly, 36, 250-287

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