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 ThSpeech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach


Ironically, the SSP Approach is not a 'systematic synthetic phonics' programme, but could be considered an 'extended' systematic synthetic phonics programme that addresses the limitations. The limitations of synthetic phonics are considered in this informative youtube clip by Dr Valerie Muter, for the British Dyslexia Association and Positive Dyslexia

To show support for dyslexic learners, who may find synthetic phonics as the main approach to learning phonics restrictive, please sign the petition from the British Dyslexia Association here 



This approach is called 'The Speech Sound Pics' Approach (SSP) because children think about taking pictures of speech sounds, and map those speech sounds to the 'Sound Pics' (graphemes) in order to 'talk on paper'. It is a very 'child friendly' and engaging way to address the issues outlined above.

Although the initial stages are very much about exploring speech and phonemic awareness - so that we identify and overcome issues early - we take a 'speech to print' AND  'print to speech' approach - depending on the activities (target learning goals) and child (what are their needs, to master these skills?)   

Literacy starts with spoken language and the introduction to mapping speech sounds to 'pictures of speech sounds' and listening for those sounds (phonemes) to map them correctly - using a universal spelling code, that may not marry up with how they speak! This is why the 'kick-start' phase is taught systematically and explicitly. 
As you can see in the Kick-start phase for schools, we start with a group of 6 speech sounds and their main correspondence, so that they can read and write whole words within a couple of weeks. We add in a few high frequency words so that they can read and write sentences. 

At a certain point of their own kick-start phase we have found that children can more easily explore less commonly used correspondences (maps) and they explore the Spelling Clouds using activities like the Speech Six Spelling Routine (20 minutes a day - words are linked with the children and their interests, current topics etc)

From the beginning children understand that they are exploring their 'Code Level' words (words that only consist of their target graphemes) however the high frequency words are also mapped, and may have 1 'sound pic' that is not included within the 4 code levels - but are needed as used for frequently. 
We have to make sure that this is introduced in ways that make sense to each individual child, as memorising words is not a good long term strategy (the brain can only memorise a limited number by shape) This process also helps children get really excited about finding patterns when they are exploring words- word mapping is an active process, and fun! They are pattern finders. Speech Sound Pic Detectives! The goal is that they quickly shift into the Implicit Learning phase 

We need to make sure that no child slips through the gaps during this 'kick-start phase.
Unfortunately a lot of children do not even experience the explicit kick-start phase - and why Miss Emma is offering free support and a Word Recognition Program for parents and carers to use at home.


This is why the 'kick-start' phase, taught systematically and explicitly, is so important. Although some do not need this for long - if at all! - when classroom teaching the routines and continual monitoring of  of the 'orthographic awareness' phase prevents issues. As specialist teachers and speech and language therapists, working together, we are very aware of the 20 - 30% of children who are so easily failed, and that all children need to be engaged, and motivated within their own learning journey. Even if a child demonstrates mastery are they excited and intrinsically motivated to keep learning? The goal is that they grow into engaged readers.      

Code Mapping (orthographic mapping)

Children take pictures of speech sounds, with their 
Magic Speech Sound Cameras. What might the 'Sound Pics'
look like, in written words? 

Let's Code Map! Mapping Speech Sounds with Sound Pics.

Orthographic mapping is a skill that develops from phonemic awareness and grapheme-phoneme / phoneme-grapheme mapping ie orthographic knowledge. For some children this develops easily, with relatively little explicit instruction. 
There is little value to teachers like us - working with children who do not find this easy - by showing those children doing our activities! Miss Emma will work with children who are struggling, for free, if their journey can be shared to help others. 


Within the SSP Approach children call this GPC and PGC mapping 'Code Mapping'. We even have a unique tool for this!
The tool shows the Universal Spelling code - going from left to right. See ICRWY Lessons app for parents!
Now unblocked for schools. 

Orthographic recall is required in order for the child to demonstrate spelling abilities.

In order to be good Code Mappers, three skills need to be developed:

  1. Automatic phoneme to grapheme association

  2. Proficient phonemic awareness (ability to isolate, segment, blend and manipulate phonemes) 

  3. Word study (process of connecting phonemes in spoken words to the written form of the word)

  4. Word study anchors words in permanent memory

Graphophonological-semantic cognitive flexibility (GSF) is a bridging process that involves the ability to simultaneously consider and actively switch between the letter–sound (graphophonological) and meaning (semantic) features of printed words. Numerous studies have shown that GSF predicts variance in reading ability above and beyond various assessments of word recognition and language comprehension in children and adults (e.g., Cartwright, Lee, et al., 2020; Knudsen, López, & Archibald, 2018).

Children need to hear the speech sounds when they say words - but also hear them when others say the words (because they may be different, depending on accents) This is why we use Duck Hands, and use the Speech Sound Monsters to show what we hear.
Discussions around this are priceless. 

We are exploring the issue of spoken language and how it connects with written English.

Code Mapping shows the graphemes but not the sound value to someone trying to decode the unfamiliar word. Traditional phonics can also lead to frequent situations where children (and adults!) are 'blinded by the letters' and may use GSF* when decoding, but struggle to spell words 

The SSP Phase 2 Routine_2020.jpg

The Phase 2 Routine


Oral Language
Phonemic Awareness
Systematic Phonics

Fast Paced
Fully Differentiated


Orthographic learning is assisted with Code Mapping
The Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach is an approach to teaching reading and spelling in a 1:1, small group or whole class setting; created by a teacher with a Masters Degree in Special Educational Needs, and a passion for teaching children in the way they learn best. Nothing she was given to use with her students was engaging all learners, or allowing for full differentiation. She also recognised that each child needed to work at the PACE that was optimal for their needs; to allow for reinforcement, consolidation and the learning of new skills and concepts. Many of her techniques came about after working with disengaged, delinquent, functionally illiterate teenagers; many living in care and permanently excluded from mainstream school because of challenging behaviours. She became determined to not only help all instructional casualties but to prevent these issues in the first place, through early intervention. She is undertaking a doctorate; with a focus on this element of literacy teaching.   
Although SSP is a synthetic phonics programme in the sense that we teach what the UK government recommends should be taught in a synthetic phonics programme, it is primarily an 'Orthographic Learning'' program.

Ultimately however, when all SSP activities are utilised, it is an approach to teaching every student to read, write and spell with independence and confidence, and to love learning. We focus on HOW to teach children to read, write and spell using an evidence based approach; which means that within our approach to teaching reading we include oral language, phonemic awareness, systematically taught phonics, fluency, vocabulary knowledge and comprehension! But we do it in ways that facilitate implicit learning.  

When teaching students (of any age) to read and spell, we are helping them, fundamentally, to map phonemes to graphemes, and vice versa. This is called 'Code Mapping', an SSP patented technique. We use the universally accepted IPA 'code' to represent the phonemes in words, even if the student then 'translates' the word as they use different phonemes. So even very young children become interested in our 'alternative phonetic symbols - the IPA is used by speech pathologists and teachers of children who speak English as a Second language) When teaching older children we now use this system as it offers a quicker bridge - a bridge between spoken and written language. The two are often very different.  
SSP Teacher testimonials
Changing the way students are taught to read, write and spell !

Teaching students and as if all have poor phonemic awareness 

The Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach includes Speech Sound Monsters. The characters link to a phoneme, not a letter that may represent that phoneme in some words. (This is an important distinction) They offer a direct link to the speech sound when embedded. 

So SSP teaches everything the UK government recommends, following the Rose Report, and so much more ; words can be Code Mapped to show the phoneme to grapheme mapping (segmentation) and ALSO show the substitute IPA symbol (the monster). It is incredible powerful.
It is used as much to teach teachers about the alphabetic doe, as it is to engage and excited students. Teachers learn how to teach reading and spelling alongside their students.  They help us more easily align their learning with the Active View of Reading as a model for readers.

The Speech Sound Monsters help us to make English orthography more transparent 

SSP offers teachers a highly structured, multi-sensory, scaffolded approach to explicitly and systematically teach students to read and spell. The Speech Sound Pics Approach '30 Minute Phonics' program, Snap and Crack (Cracking Comprehension) and Speedy Six Spelling and Speedy Sight Word Programs can all be implemented in the grade and multi-year level classroom with a minimum of planning, preparation and expense. 

Students move through the ‘stepping stones’ required to learn to read and spell quickly and easily, using unique activities and strategies. For example ‘spaced repetition’ is used to teach the 90+ high frequency graphemes and 400+ high frequency words, using the resources. The teacher is a guide who walks around the learning area to monitor engagement and progress; this is ‘explicit learning’, rather than the more traditional approach using a ‘step by step’ program that is facilitated by a teacher at the front of the class. While any program teaching oral language, phonemic awareness, phonics (taught systematically) fluency, vocabulary knowledge and fluency, are likely to yield better learning outcomes for the highest number of students than those taking more of a ‘whole word’ approach, our attention is to the pace and differentiation of learning, and application in real reading and writing activities.  Miss Emma is sharing her ‘approach’ to teaching, that centres around the concept of ‘less teaching, more learning for all’.

Within all SSP activities students learn to isolate phonemes, segment, blend and manipulate, and map them with graphemes within a range of reading, writing and spelling activities. Students experience 'explicit learning' opportunities as student led;  the resources enable them to problem solve and use an'inquiry learning' approach. They are able to make best use of incidental learning opportunities, and learn to read and spell within meaningful context.  We are giving them the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle and allowing them to put them together, acting as silent guides during some activities (the 30 Minute Phonics Program) and are then far more involved during activities that require students to apply and extend knowledge, and to develop verbal intelligence. 

The 30 Minute Daily Phonics Routine includes student videos for tablets and whiteboard, and an A3 'Coding Poster'. These enable students to learn the 4 Code Levels at their pace. It is a fast paced method incorporating 'spaced repetition'; these are elements that students can learn with relatively little help from others, which frees up the adults in the room to observe, support and extend individual students in the way that most class teachers cannot. When a relief teacher comes in he or she can generally just observe ! Many teachers use a buzzer to let students know when to finish one activity, rub off their board, and get ready for the next.  

30 Minutes of Daily Phonics Routine is only part of SSP Phase 2 - Activities, with the focus on phonemic awareness, phonics and fluency.

(Phase 1 is undertaken first, and can last 1 - 20 hours depending on the level of phonemic awareness of each student)
We take an 'Explicit Learning' approach in the beginning stages
Dornyei's (2009) distinction: Explicit learning refers to the learner's conscious and deliberate attempt to master some material or solve a problem.


When students are working at the SSP Blue Code Level they can read real and nonsense words from the UK Phonics test, and achieve the pass rate. By the end of SSP Yellow they can start non 'decodable' readers eg PM 10. Try the One Two, Three and Away! readers

By the end of SSP Blue they can read a 'level 20' or thereabouts, unseen, if using this phonics teaching approach with the other SSP activities.  This is because they are already recognising phoneme to grapheme links in words, and can read (with automaticity) the huge number of high frequency words contained within these books. We have been working on fluency, vocabulary and comprehension during 'Snap and Crack' and during 'Writing for a Purpose' activities. Reading and Spelling are taught simultaneously. They can also spell the high frequency words (Duck Level words) within their independent writing. 

We have been collecting data from SSP teachers across Australia for about 5 years, and the correlation between 'Code Level' and 'PM  Levels' are clear. The rate at which students reach these levels is determined by a number of factors, including how much teacher experience using this approach, whether blocked from using all activities, whether told to 'benchmark' before they are ready (which can mean the teacher is encouraged to 'teach to the test' and use the 'sight word' approach (memorising whole words, not paying attention to the mapping of phonemes to graphemes) as around 85% of the books in levels 1 - 10 are these 'high frequency words' children will need to have mastered around 100 words. We have a video to enable them to do this quickly, and PM Level 1 - 10 HFW booklet to send home. But if asked to 'benchmark' early some may want to ask children to just memorise the whole words, and not know how to spell them. They will also be aware that the best way to 'benchmark' during the beginning reader stage, if the children cannot decode the words, is to guess from 'first sound' and illustrations, miss out words, guess from the context etc. Buy holding off, the children learn using 'the super six' skills, and actually READ the Level 10+ readers using the strategies we know are more likely to help children to read independently as quickly as possible.







But if asked to 'benchmark' early some may want to ask children to just memorise the whole words, and not know how to spell them. They will also be aware that the best way to 'benchmark' during the beginning reader stage, if the children cannot decode the words, is to guess from 'first sound' and illustrations, miss out words, guess from the context etc. By holding off, the children learn using 'the super six' skills, and actually READ the Level 10+ readers using the strategies we know are more likely to help children to read independently as quickly as possible.


The 30 Minutes of Daily Phonics can be used as a stand-alone program, to teach high frequency graphemes, but we recommend using all of our activities so that students are able to learn to read and spell using a consistent approach, with all using the same 'language'.
There are many skills needed if students are to move from the 'learning to read' - kick-start stage - and into the 'reading to learn' - implicit learning - stage as quickly and easily as possible.
We know that 95% of children can read and spell - but let's not drag it out and put them off becoming READERS, who read for pleasure, because of the instructional approach.

This is why we use so much tech, spaced repetition, short and fun activities! And why we focus on reading and writing so early - integrating and applying skills introduced in the kick-start phase. Orthographic learning is key - leading to Orthographic Mapping.  

Miss Emma also offers teachers 1:1 sessions, to help with specific children. They send writing samples and do activities she suggests - and these are analysed together. As far as we know this is unique to the Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach. Analysing orthographic knowledge within real reading and writing activities is key.  


The Reading Whisperer - Director, The Reading Hut
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