DS Primary Resources · Phonics · Phonics Screening · Uncategorized

The Aliens Are Returning! Is Your Class Ready?


The phonics screening check is designed to confirm whether pupils have learnt phonic decoding to an appropriate standard. It will identify pupils who need extra help to improve their decoding skills.

The week commencing Monday 13th June 2016 will see teachers in maintained schools assessing Year 1* children on their phonic decoding skills. The check consists of 20 real words and 20 pseudo-words that a pupil reads aloud to the teacher.


In my school these ‘pseudo-words’ are referred to as ‘alien words‘ (much more child-friendly!) and sometimes they are known as ‘nonsense words’. These are words that are made up of different graphemes that children are expected to recognise at this age; they have no meaning. It is important that children understand that some of the words they will be asked to read are pseudo-words, as some may attempt to say a word that is similar and they are more familiar with.

Preparing for the screening

This will be my second year administering the screening to pupils. We achieved very good results last year and with a more rigorous approach this year I am hoping to see an improvement.

My school follows the Read, Write Inc. programme for teaching phonics. This is introduced in Reception and continued into Year 1. There are some children that continue to follow the programme in Year 2.

Preparation for the screening has been embedded into the teaching of daily phonics since the children were in Reception. As new sounds are introduced in a session, children are given a few alien words to read containing this new grapheme as well as consolidating those learnt previously (See ‘Reading an Alien Word’ below).

In Year 1 most of the children began by revising the SET 2 sounds. Some children needed to revise the SET 1 sounds.  Depending on whether children were learning the SET 1 or 2 sounds, I created a booklet which I sent home to parents so these could be reviewed. The booklet was made up of pages from the RWI teaching guide (the pages that can be photocopied). I found this really useful in helping the children to embed the sounds (and associated pictures / phrases) into their long term memory.

Where are we now?

The majority of pupils have been taught the complete set of sounds in the Read Write Inc. scheme, as well as additional, less regular sounds that have been picked up through daily reading and writing. So with these children we are now doing lots of consolidation activities to really embed those sounds. We are also practising reading alien and real words daily.

phonics screening prep advert


Phonics Screening Revision Activity

I have created a resource (now recommended by TES!) to meet this need for consolidation and revision leading up to the screening. It consists of a teacher (A4) and pupil copy (9 per A4) of 8 words. The pseudo-words are clearly identified with a picture of an alien next to it (as they are in the official screening).


There are currently 44 sets of words (teacher and pupil copies) and I am adding to these regularly.

This is a short activity that the children enjoy. They are asked to look at the words, identify the special friends (I get them to put sound buttons on) and then write how many special friends there are altogether. There is an alien at the bottom because I often ask children to think of their own alien name. Sometimes I will ask them to include a digraph of my choosing. They love to create, share and read others’ alien words. At the end of the week I send these home and parents are encouraged to look at these with their children.

Not all of the pupils in Year 1 are ready for this. They need more time to learn the sounds that will be assessed in the check. These children receive additional phonics booster sessions in focus groups to catch up. Not all children will meet the expected standard, and I explain this to parents. I feel that a rigorous approach to the teaching of reading is important, but not to the point where children are not confident or secure in the basics of reading. Whilst it is hoped that all children will pass the test, its purpose is to identify the children that need the additional support, which will continue to be given in Year 2.

phonics 23
Children who need additional support are taught words related to new graphemes and these are sent home. This is something that I have put together for this purpose.

RWI Set 2 & 3 words

Reading an Alien Word

I regularly reinforce that an alien word is a made up word. When we say it, it is not supposed to make sense. I feel it important to make this concrete as children are taught to think carefully about words that they read in books to check that they do make sense.

  1. I ask the children to remind me what we do first when presented with an alien word
  2. Spot the special friend (children look at the word to see if they can spot any digraphs, split-digraphs and trigraphs that they recognise).
  3. FRED TALK the word. This is a RWI term but means sound out the word.
  4. Say the word

I find this approach gets the children used to looking very carefully at words. In the screening no prompts are allowed by adults. I can tell you from my experience how powerless you feel when children attempt the screening confidently, reading pseudo-words particularly and missing key sounds that they know.

*Year 2 pupils also take part in this screening if they failed to meet the required standard in Year 1.

Don’t Panic!

I have to remind myself of this. There is a pressure for schools to achieve targets in reading. With rigorous teaching and engagement of the children, I know the majority will do well. If they don’t meet the standard, they are not ready! I know that these children will continue to receive additional support in Year 2.

My first post!

This has been my first blog post. I really hope that at least one person finds this useful. I would really appreciate any feedback and tips! I would also like some like-minded teachers to follow. Hopefully this will not be my only post!

Has this been useful?

What are you doing to get your class ready?


Sources / Resources


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