John Walker

Director of Sounds-Write, Sounds-Write
Speaking at


Principles of phonic instruction: research-based strategies that all teachers should know

In his seminal 2010 report, Principles of instruction, Barack Rosenshine introduced ten research-based strategies that all teachers should know, and suggestions about how they could be used in classroom practice. These principles are informed by research in cognitive science and take into account cognitive load theory. They include, amongst others: the importance of presenting new knowledge in small steps, followed by plenty of rehearsal through worked examples; formative assessment to check continuously knowledge and understanding; scaffolding for more challenging tasks; and, constant recycling and connecting of new material to prior learning. In this talk, I consider how Rosenshine’s principles are relevant in the teaching of reading and writing to young children in the classroom.


John Walker is the co-developer of the Sounds-Write phonics programme. In a previous life, he taught in primary and secondary schools for twenty years and is now a teacher trainer and phonics advocate. He is also an avid blogger at


Phonics: some myths and misconceptions.

‘English is not a phonetic language’. ‘Phonics has no relevance after the early years’. ‘Letter names, ‘silent letters’ and ‘magic’ letters’ help children learn to read’. These are some of the myths that the whole language advocates use to try and undermine phonics.

In this talk I’m going to debunk these myths by looking at how the writing system represents the sounds of English. When fully understood, the relationship between speaking and writing makes the teaching of reading and spelling straightforward.

What does research in cognitive architecture have to offer phonics instruction?

Nobody seriously denies that phonics is the best way to teach young children to read and write. The issue facing us now is to decide which phonics approaches work best.
In this talk, I explore how research on the development of the world’s writing systems and on human cognitive architecture can best inform our practice as teachers of literacy. Some of the key questions we need to address are: how important it is that we use a sound-to-print approach to the teaching of phonics that makes immediate sense to four-year-old children starting school; how much and what kind of instruction and practice these children need; how do we get knowledge of the code from working memory into long-term memory, and, what the role of feedback is in the process?
I will argue that teaching what is intrinsic to the task of learning to read and write presupposes developing a mode of instruction that strips away anything extraneous which may cause delay or confusion in the minds of young children. Such an approach would teach only the code knowledge and the fundamental skills, as well as teaching an understanding of how the English alphabet code works.