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Word Mapping with Miss Emma

We often hear adults (who can read) using phrases, when teaching phonics, like 'a for apple' - or 'a' says /a/
These are concepts the non-readers may find difficult to 

1/ that when we say words we isolate those speech sounds ( shown here as IPA phonetic symbols æ p l )

And of course if they have poor phonemic awareness and 
can't hear those 3 speech sounds the phrase 'first sound' or 'begins with' doesn't mean much!

2/ that the first sound (that many can't hear) in the word is mapped with the grapheme  /a/

3/ that letters don't 'make sounds' - they represent sounds on paper (and our accents change the correspondences)

Even if they understand this (or memorise it) English is an opaque / deep orthopgraphy. 
So the letter /a/ they they have been told 'says /a/' often doesn't!

The letter /a/ can represent about 9 speech sounds. 
And when spelling words with that 'sound' it might not be /a/ ...


So before buying a phonics program find out when (and how) they learn the others. 
Will it make sense to the child? To the neurodivergent learners in the class? Those who are dyslexic? 
if not, 20 - 35% of children will likely fail to learn basic phonics skills. 


A for Apple? S for Snake? F for Frog?
Talking phrankly about phonics ...:-)

Phonemic awareness refers to the specific ability to focus on and manipulate individual speech sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. Phonemes are the smallest units comprising spoken language. For example, the word 'hip' has three phonemes and 3 graphemes : /h/ /i/ /p/.  The word 'chip' also has three phonemes, even though there are 4 letters. ch/i/p 
There are only 26 letters of the alphabet but there are at least 44 phonemes in the English language, and those are mapped on paper with these 26 letters, in over 300 different combinations.  

A 'print to speech' approach is tricky as letters or strings of letters can represent multiple phonemes. Think of the letter 'a' - does it really 'say' a as in ant' or 'a' as in apple? Always?
So how reliable is 'sound it out' when a child comes to a word they are unfamiliar with? 

And what about when spelling words? Which 'sounds' should they use?
Theirs? Or the sounds mapped with the graphemes universally - a common language used to represent the written language. How would they know which to use, if they don't even know if their 'sounds' are the sounds mapped within written English. Phonics is not simple to teach, but we can make it far easier to learn. 

Being able to speak is something most humans learn to do fairly naturally. The same cannot be said for learning to read and spell. So a 'Speech to Print' approach is the one we take when Monster Mapping.  Students explore words, and see how phonemes and graphemes 'map'. (Code Mapping) They explore how we 'talk on paper'. Then they check the IPA, and consider etymology, morphology etc - WHY are those grapho-phonemic correspondences used in THAT word?.

a for apple? A for apple phonics - a discussion

Acquiring phonemic awareness is important because it is the foundation for spelling and word recognition skills. Phonemic awareness is one of the best predictors of how well children will learn to read during the first two years of school instruction.Predictive studies show that when children enter kindergarten with the ability to manipulate phonemes and identify letters, they progress at a faster pace in learning to read. It is VITAL that we take an early intervention approach.

Watch this 2 year old using her finger to segment the speech sounds in words (the SSP Spelling Piano app) Hear how quickly she identifies that there are 2 speech sounds in the word 'key'. This is SSP 'Phase 1'.  As she links the speech sounds with a Speech Sound Monster she can also 'read' even before looking at the graphemes that represent those speech sounds. She is understanding what reading and spelling IS even before learning how to represent those speech sounds. That she can do this shows she is not dyslexic and is unlikely to struggle to read and spell when she attends school.


Language matters. f/ea/t or f/ee/t? 

The monsters are a visual representation of something that children cannot see- they make a speech sound (phoneme) into something meaningful. They enable us to focus on phase 1 (phonemic awareness and oral language) and create an easier transition into phase 2, when the Speech Sound Monsters are mapped with graphemes, while learning phonics.
This approach also means the children UNDERSTAND the one phoneme can be represented in numerous ways, from day 1, and that one grapheme can represent numerous speech sounds ! Code Mapping and Monster Mapping is integral to our teacher training workshops, and help even the most experienced teachers find more effective ways to teach reading and spelling so that MORE students learn to read and spell EARLIER than ever before. They all come away saying 'it just makes sense!' They love it, and their students love it. Teaching children becomes so much fun, and the focus becomes on reading and writing for pleasure. 


The Speech Sound Monsters prevent children from associating a speech sound with one particular grapheme eg 's for snake' or 'a for apple'. This is a tricky thing to explain to parents as they see this on resources everywhere! They make sense to adults as THEY can make those connections. This 'blinds' them to the issues they can cause using these picture clues. When Monster Mapping, issues are removed. 

ant (1).webp

Phonics means, in basic terms, the mapping of speech sounds (phonemes) to graphemes. Every speech sound maps with a letter or string of letters. There cannot be a 'silent' letter. All but two words in the English language can be 'code mapped' ie they are decodable. This means only those two words need to be taught by 'sight'. Yes, they will recognise them quickly, but also spell and use them correctly in their writing. The Speech Sound Monsters are an amazing prompt for children, as they can work out all words if 'Monster Mapped'! As we show the Monsters on or above words  this can be called 'Visual' as well as 'Linguistic' phonics. But do not confuse this with phonics programs that use a picture clue linked with a specific graphic eg 'a' for apple' or 'a' for 'ant'.
Think of the 'a' in the word 'any, another, was, father...'    

The reason these 'generic' monsters were used, that link to a speech sound (and not one grapheme representation) is because I work with students with learning challenges. My Masters Degree is Special Educational Needs, with a focus on Dyslexia. When working with my students there can be huge issues teaching 'sounds' with a picture clue, especially if they do not speak English as a first language, if they are dyslexic or have poor working memory etc. They have to recall the right word, then think of what 'sound' is supposed to be associated with it, and then apply. But what if it doesn't apply? What if they see 's' and think of a snake and remember it says 'ssssss', and that the 'a' 'says' a as in ant or apple.
Will they work out that 'She put salt in her tea instead of sugar'


It's too much for children being taught to 'decode' using phonics, without the SSP activities that teach them how to map phonemes to graphemes using words they know. So when SSP students see the word 'Sugar' (and know what the word means) they are used to working out how the phonemes maps. So they will 'naturally' want to work out which of the 5 letters will go on the 4 speech sound lines! They are using 'Duck Hands, Lines and Numbers' throughout the day. They are able to take over their own teaching. So they will map.

When we ask teachers using other programs what their students do when they come to a word like 'sugar' and we are told that they 'won't learn that grapheme until lesson X' or that 'this is an irregular word and must be explicitly taught' or 'they split into syllables and look for the vowel sound' etc (how this will help them I am a little unsure)    


Think of the phonics program that shows a train for the /ch/ digraph. They see a 'train' and say 'ch ch ch ch or 'choo choo'? The connection, easily understood by adults, can be misunderstood by children who can't yet read and spell (and why learning phonics).



The letter t can also represent the speech sound! And the letter 't' can represent others. 


The pronunciation of /t/  in the word 'trick', the same letter used in the word 'train' sounds like 'ch'.

Children can also be confused about the term 'sounds' because the train makes a sound, but we want them to think of the first speech sound they use in the word eg the 't' in train. 
They are also, in the same program, asked to say 'nnnn' and look at an airplane. Does an airplane make this sound? And where does the 'n' come into it? 

You can see a picture of a snake by an s in so many phonics programs. The letter might be shaped like a snake, and the children asked to hisssss. But the focus should be on the SPEECH SOUND we use, and how it can be represented. The /s/ sound can be represented by many letters, not just the letter s? 

S for snake? Really?

Some children learn what they are told - eg a phrase to say when they see a letter ! I have seen children trying to work out the word 'cat' by actually saying 'Clever Cat, Annie Apple, Talking Tess'  The children have remembered the phrase for the letter, not understanding the piece of information that matters when decoding words. They aren't saying the phonemes, or blending them.


There are far too many opportunities for children to be confused, and this prevents learning and causes anxiety. They can also prevent parents and teachers from identifying underlying issues eg poor phonemic awareness skills.  

Children with poor phonemic awareness can't easily identity the speech sounds in words anyway. That's around 10 - 30% of the children in pre-school, regardless of intelligence, socio economic area, parental engagement or oral language skills. So if asked to look at a 'bee' and think of 'buh' they are always going to struggle, and have to memorise. They are learning to say a 'sound', that they can't hear, and then have to use that as a prompt for spelling. And they need to understand that it's not the sound a bee makes (zzz) - it's the  speech sound we produce when we say the whole word. And that's an issue as there are words they pronounce differently...and in this case as there is a letter of the alphabet called 'b' that sounds like the word! 

With some of these they have to think of the word and then the first 'sound'. Can you imagine the issue if the child thinks the 'rabbit' is a 'bunny' and they then choose the wrong sound. They have to spend a lot of time learning the word, and applying the sound.

They look at tennis racket, apple, pencil. They then have to think 'which sound for tennis racket...etc - then blend. And many of these use middle sounds. They see 'bird' and think of the 'er' sound. 'But a bird goes 'tweet tweet' Mummy?'

And suppose they don't actually USE that target phoneme when they say the word? When Aussie students say the word 'ant' they don't use the phoneme / æ  /

Keep it simple. Avoid using 'picture prompts' that mean students have to remember things, or have to go through lots of steps to arrive at the answer. Reduce the cognitive load! They see the monster, and know the speech sound. That's it. No more steps. They can then 'follow the monster sounds to say the word' (decoding) or identify the speech sounds they want to use, in order, and put the monsters on the speech sound lines (encoding/ spelling)

The Speech Sound Monsters are a break through in teaching ALL children to read and spell quickly and easily, and they love it ! 


Miss Emma X
Proudly Neurodivergent

Speech to Spelling ! SSP Approach
Speech Sound Pics !
Speech Sound Pics Approach
A for Apple? Phonics programs discussed.
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