Teaching using SSP
- The Organisation of Learning 

Getting Started - Phase 1 and the
Transition to Phase 2

The Phonemic Awareness (pre-phonics) Focus

Weeks 1 to 3 

Introduction of The Story and SSP characters, Speech Sound Monsters.
Letter (a - z lower case) and Number Formation Whiteboard Lessons
Introduction to Duck Hands, Lines and Numbers
Introduction to the Monster Routine using Phonemes (no graphemes)
Phase 1 video lessons - The GCL Rap as Visual Prompts, Speech Sound Monsters.
2 Minute Monster Video daily. 

Can they blend green level phonemes into words, and segment GCL words into phonemes using Duck Hands? Track this progress from day 1.
If so they are already ready for Phase 2 (add in the graphemes) 

Kylie spoke about this during a Facebook Live session and we have shared a segment (see right) 

Introduce the first 'pictures' of the speech sounds, that the monsters say; start with s a t. By end of week 2 all 6 graphemes have been introduced (s a t p i n) and by week 3 children are reading and writing sentences using s a t p i n and Duck Level 1 words. 

Why such a focus on phonemic awareness?

Even before a student learns to read, we can predict with a high level of accuracy whether that student will be a good reader or a poor reader by the end of third grade and beyond (Good, Simmons, and Kame'enui, 2001; Torgesen, 1998, 2004)

English uses an alphabetic writing system in which the letters, singly and in combination, represent single speech sounds. People who can take apart words into sounds, recognize their identity and put them together again have the foundation skill for using the alphabetic principle (Liberman, Shankweiler, & Liberman, 1989; Troia, 2004). Without phoneme awareness, students may be mystified by the print system and how it represents the spoken word.

Students who lack phoneme awareness may not even know what is meant by the term 'speech sound'

The ability to hear and manipulate phonemes plays a causal role in the acquisition of beginning reading skills (Smith, Simmons, & Kame'enui, 1998)

Children lacking phonemic awareness skills cannot:

  • group words with similar and dissimilar sounds (mat, mug, sun)

  • blend and split syllables (f oot)

  • blend sounds into words (m_a_n)

  • segment a word as a sequence of sounds (e.g., fish is made up of three phonemes, /f/ , /i/, /sh/)

  • detect and manipulate sounds within words (change r in run to s).

(Kame'enui, et. al., 1997)
These are skills needed to read and spell.

Phonemic awareness has been shown to be a very powerful predictor of later reading achievement. In fact, it [phonemic awareness] is a better predictor than more global measures such as IQ or general language proficiency. (Griffith and Olson, 1992)

The two best predictors of early reading success are alphabet recognition and phonemic awareness. (Adams, 1990)

Please watch Why Phonemic Proficiency Is Necessary for All Readers (Kilpatrick)

The transition to the Phase 2 Routine.

Why map phonemes to graphemes?

The aim of phonics instruction is to help children acquire alphabetic knowledge and use it to read and spell words.

According to the National Literacy Trust... 

Phonics is a way of teaching children how to read and write. It helps children hear, identify and use different sounds that distinguish one word from another in the English language.

Written language can be compared to a code, so knowing the sounds of individual letters and how those letters sound when they’re combined will help children decode words as they read.

Understanding phonics will also help children know which letters to use when they are writing words.

Phonics involves matching the sounds of spoken English with individual letters or groups of letters. For example, the sound k can be spelled as c, k, ck or ch.

Teaching children to blend the sounds of letters together helps them decode unfamiliar or unknown words by sounding them out. For example, when a child is taught the sounds for the letters t, p, a and s, they can start to build up the words: “tap”, “taps”, “pat”, “pats” and “sat”.



There have been many debates about how children should learn to read; those between proponents of phonics instruction and proponents of whole-language instruction have sometimes been so heated that they have been called the “reading wars.” In reality these 'wars' are often arguments between politicians, researchers and policy makers. In actual classrooms most teachers tend to use a combination of strategies. 

But as different as the 'camps' were both used the same metaphorical (and rhetorical) baseball bat with which to thrash their opponents. The “r” word and “research says” were and have been the lingua franca of both sides in those “wars”.

That was why the federal government stepped into the fray back in the 1990s. Congress asked that a panel be appointed, not to make recommendations on how to teach reading, but to determine just what it was that the research actually had to say about the teaching of reading.

That’s what the National Reading Panel (NRP) was all about. By law the panel could only make determinations of fact.

Basically, the result of their analyses was the conclusion that explicit teaching of phonemic awareness, phonics, oral reading fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension offered learning advantages to kids. The reason the panel could determine those particular facts — and not some others — was the decision-making rules that the panel set for themselves.

The panel decided it would only conclude that an instructional approach worked if it were tried out and, as a result, kids did better in some way. That’s why the panel limited its review to experimental studies; that is, studies that test the effectiveness of particular interventions or instructional efforts in real instructional situations. Of course, that meant ignoring lots of studies. 


But let's look at what was recommended, because 'most of the studies of phonological awareness, phonics, vocabulary, oral reading fluency, and reading comprehension strategies completed since NRP have tended to confirm the generalizability of the findings to an expanded range of students (e.g., younger kids, older kids, second language learners).

Download NPR Doc - Phonics

As Castles and colleagues discuss, extensive research has shown that systematic phonics instruction as currently practiced leads to better word-level skills than does whole-language instruction. But is phonics instruction ideal as currently practiced? Advocates of phonics instruction have been somewhat reluctant to discuss this point because such discussions might be seen as weakening their position. Many do, however, represent the findings of the NPR to support their favoured systematic phonics approach. It only takes a few minutes to google 'systematic phonics' and see listings that have included 'synthetic' and claim to offer the most effective approach. On the basis of which research?  


'Some self-proclaimed phonics authority attributes findings to the NRP that we didn’t actually find (usually because they didn’t actually read it). The one this week has been one of the more frequent misclaims. He claimed that the NRP found synthetic phonics instruction to be more effective than analytic phonics instruction.

Synthetic phonics instruction focuses on teaching each individual letter sound and having kids try to sound each letter or letter combination (like th, sh) one at a time and then try to blend those back into word pronunciations.

By contrast, analytic approaches focus attention on larger spelling generalizations (like rimes: ab, ad, ag, ack, am, an) and word analogies (if game is pronounced with a long a then came must be pronounced with a long a).

What did the National Reading Panel conclude about synthetic and analytic phonics instruction? That they both conferred a learning advantage on young readers. The average effect size was somewhat higher for synthetic than analytic approaches, but not significantly so (it was so small a difference that one can’t say one is really higher than the other). In other words, synthetic and analytic phonics are equally good.' Shanahan

There are numerous issues to consider regarding HOW to teach children to map phonemes to graphemes.

We found this really useful. Should we teach children to map using a Speech to Print or Print to Speech approach?


“One of the most fundamental flaws found in almost all phonics programs, including traditional ones, is that they teach the code backwards.  That is, they go from letter to sound instead of from sound to letter.”

Louisa Moats, 1998

From 'Why phonics teaching must change' 

Decoding and Encoding

There are two ways to provide systematic instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics: decoding (reading words) and encoding (constructing words). Each approach involves a very different sequence of brain activation. To read an unfamiliar word, such as cat, a reader would go through the following sequence using decoding (moving from print to speech):

  1. Look at the first letter, c. What sound does it make? Do the same with a and t.

  2. Blend the sounds together. Does it sound like a familiar word?

  3. If the learner successfully pronounces cat, he or she will, finally, recognize its meaning. (Oh! That word is cat.)


In contrast, to write cat using encoding (speech to print), a beginning reader goes through this sequence:

  1. Access the word's meaning (activating speech and comprehension).

  2. Pronounce the word and segment the sounds (analyzing articulation).

  3. Remember which letter stands for the sound /c/ ? (and /a/ and /t/).

  4. Assemble c, a, and t into cat.

  5. Read what is written.


Several points about decoding make it a less-than-ideal place to begin reading instruction:

  • Visual processing is activated first. A reader relies on analyzing and recognizing patterns, contours, shapes, and configurations (typically right-hemisphere processes). The reader achieves pronunciation and meaning only after successful visual analysis.

  • Retrieval of knowledge about the alphabet code involves letter-to-sound associations. This process involves visually deconstructing a word that has already been written by someone else; often these words use more advanced rules of spelling or break the rules. When a student is trying to learn the alphabetic principle, it's confusing to encounter exceptions.

  • Instructional activities tend to be divorced from meaningful experiences with text. Exercises often involve visually analyzing lists of unrelated words or sentences, such as counting phonemes, underlining blends and digraphs, or copying sentences from the board. Such activities do not elicit the joy of personal construction. They reinforce dependency on the teacher rather than independent learning.


For the following reasons, encoding instruction is a more powerful place to start:

  • Pronunciation and meaning are immediately activated because the reader must pronounce the word he or she wants to build, either silently or aloud (which typically involves left-hemisphere processing).

  • The reader segments phonemes primarily by using the motor system of speech, with its superior capability for sequencing and memory.

  • Retrieval of knowledge about the alphabetic code involves articulated sound-to-letter associations.

  • Activities involve meaningful interactions with text—primarily assembling letter tiles or using a keyboard, magic slate, or pencil to write dictated words or sentences. The teacher guides instruction of encodable consonant–vowel–consonant words in a systematic way so students gradually build up a repertoire of the 40 letters and digraphs that represent the basic phonemes in English. Neural networks for these 40 paired associations will thus be laid down consistently without the confusion of dealing with more complex spelling patterns. Writing becomes an efficient route to early reading rather than a separate subject.

  • These activities are empowering. Mastering the code enables a student to write any word. Even if the student does not spell a word perfectly, someone can usually read it. Successful communication makes clear to the student how words get on paper and what reading and writing are all about.


Students are generally eager to read what they have written. Encoding and decoding are both important, and students will have a better chance of developing decoding skills without frustration if they start by reading "decodable" (regularly spelled) words that they themselves have written. If letters are scrambled or missing, the teacher should give a minilesson about correcting the initial encoding.

Dealing successfully with written language as a writer or reader—the task of literacy—requires automatic skill with the alphabetic code. Practice with encoding enhances facility with decoding; they are two halves of the same learning task.


We take a Speech to Print (encoding to decoding) approach.

These are the kind of activities children will do before the full Phase 2 routine. 

Imagine if pre-school centres would include Phase 1 and the transition to Phase 2 to their EY program? Miss Emma is currently in the UK making this a reality.  

We then move to the Phase 2 Routine, and this may look very different from the way you have seen phonics taught before as there is less teaching and more learning.

Spaced repetition is used to teach high-frequency graphemes so that children can work at their own pace. They will all do the same activities but at their own level.

There are 4 Code Levels and 7 High-Frequency Word Levels.

Speedy Paired Decoding
10 mins

Coding Poster Video
5  7 mins

Coding Poster
12 - 15 mins


New! Resources for reading groups (guided reading) that align with reading levels but that also align with SoR! These are digital files and videos and accessed by subscribers in the member's area.

Many schools have to test their students with regards to recognising a set of high-frequency graphemes (eg the UK Year 1 Phonics Test)  AND 'benchmark' reading levels (eg PM Benchmarking) 
You can see more info for parents about Passing the Tests here. 

So the Coding Poster now has PM Level 1 - 10 high-frequency words on it, the children can use the PM level 1 - 10 'speedy sight words' video, and there are resources to print and use within reading groups.


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There is a whole literacy block routine. Please join as a member for full training. 

Learn how to use Snap and Crack (comprehension) Rapid Wiring and Writing for a Purpose,
Speedy Sight Words, Speech Sound Detective etc.

It is important to understand that the Code Levels are used to ensure that children learn the basic skills, and map around 100 high-frequency graphemes to the phonemes. There are 26 letters, but we actually expose students to around 350 through various activities.  


' Traditional phonics programs have been used to explicitly teach alphabetic coding skills to beginning readers. However, these programs generally suffer from two major shortcomings. First, they tend to be strongly teacher-centred and have curricula that are rigid, fixed, and lock-step, with the same skill-and-drill lesson given to every child in the same sequence. Such an approach to teaching beginning reading conflicts with the basic principles of differentiated instruction because it fails to recognize that the individual literary learning needs of children vary greatly depending on their specific levels of development across the set of reading component skills shown in Figure 1. (See doc link below)
Second, most phonics programs incorrectly assume that children can only acquire knowledge of letter-sound patterns through direct instruction in which the teaching of letter-sound correspondences is explicit and systematic. The difficulty with this assumption, however, is that there are simply too many letter-sound relationships in English orthography for children to acquire by direct instruction, probably between 300 and 400 (Gough & Hillinger, 1980). Much, if not most, of what children learning to read in English come to know about its written orthography is acquired through implicit learning, especially knowledge of context sensitive letter-sound correspondences that depend on position-specific constraints or the presence of other letters (Bryant, 2002; Tunmer & Nicholson, 2011; Venezky, 1999). In contrast, letter-sound correspondences acquired by direct phonics instruction are fewer in number and are largely context free, involving one-to-one correspondences between single letters or digraphs and single phonemes.'

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For example, think about the letter 't'. What does this letter represent? Which speech sound/s?

Just as speech sounds (phonemes) can be represented by different Sound Pics (graphemes) the Speech Sound Monsters clearly show when the Sound Pics represent different speech sounds!

Look at the letter t. It represents 3 different speech sounds in the gallery and video above - look at the words and think about each phoneme. SSP students will be exposed to all spelling choices, not just the 't' that represents the first speech sound in the word 'tip' that is taught explicitly within the Green Code Level. 

Letters don't 'make sounds', they represent sounds; WHICH speech sounds depend on the word!

So if a child hears 't makes /tuh/, t for tree' etc it can be misleading. t represents /ch/ and /sh/ in these words. So SSP children know ‘t’ represents the phoneme ‘tuh’ in our Green Code Level, our first Code Level but it will always depend on the word. We work with ‘tuh’ as it’s so common, but our Sound Wall (spelling clouds) allow children to explore this whenever they want! When we are exploring words eg when writing, we can’t limit them to just words with high frequency graphemes! We do this within decodable readers to practice blending HF graphemes, but ‘real’ books will have the whole code. It’s vital that we expose children to it.

If children have PM and F&P books they are seeing the whole code. But most kids aren’t given opportunities to understand that whole code. Removing those ‘readers’ to replace with decodable readers won’t remove the issues children face when reading. They need all the info, so HOW we guide them to that matters.
We are showing parents and teachers how to ensure that the highest number of kids can read ‘real’ books. We want them to choose what they want to read. So we create solutions for teachers, and resources that allow children to understand the written code. We don’t have time to explicitly teach all 350 or so spelling choices. But that’s ok, because brains are amazing when you give them access to info. So please don’t limit kids by choosing limiting programs. And removing PM readers is also limiting them. It’s all about ‘best fit’ for the child, depending on their understanding of the code!

When children explore words using Code Mapping to segment words down to the phoneme level AND Monster Mapping they reach the stage of Orthographic Mapping far earlier as they are AWARE of how speech sounds are represented on paper, and how letters are used to represent these speech sounds,

Traditional phonics programs are slow-paced and do not facilitate differentiated learning OR expose children to the WHOLE CODE. Unfortunately, many teachers and parents are not aware of this, and think they can teach the whole code explicitly, or that children will just 'pick it up' - even if they don't give opportunities and strategies to help them do so. This is often because of the phonics training they receive, and the phonics programs they chose (or are chosen for them)

If you are a parent ask your teacher how your child learns that t can represent /ch/ and /sh/ etc. Because if taught using phonics the theory is that phonemes map to graphemes in ALL words. Every word (but two) can be ‘sounded out’ ie is decodable.

We must start not only empowering teachers with knowledge of the science of reading (SoR) but also help them to APPLY it.

That's what I do every single day, and I LOVE it.

Join me? Follow facebook.com/speechsoundpics

Miss Emma X