Phonics Teaching Sequence

 Please see a focus on
e 30 Minute Phonics Learning Routine HERE
I Can Read Without You (ICRWY) Project

New! Just follow the ICRWY Project lessons online and learn about the Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach with the children. Our ICRWY kids are even illustrating the project decodable readers. More info here soon. This online version means that parents can more easily see the steps to reading and spelling and understand how to support them at home. 

Use the SSP Monster Mapping app and follow the lessons. You will see which resources are needed (if any)
There is a school version - 1 login on all devices - and the ICRWY Project Lessons will be added there when complete. 
Follow the uploads in the SSP Monster Mapping app for parents, which is AU$20 (approx GB10) 

Parents and teachers can use the lessons as day to day training - they watch each lesson before the children to prepare
- eg printing off the relevant photocopiable resources from the Monster Mapping Handbook. 


Every child works at their Code Level during the Phonics Learning Routine. 

Grapheme Learning Sequence

SSP Code Mapping - Phonics Teaching Sequence

Phase 1                                  Phase 2                                                    Phase 3       


The Four SSP Code Levels show graphemes in words because graphemes don't represent anything until they are in a word!

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Core Phonics

Alongside the Code Levels children explore the phoneme to grapheme mapping of high frequency words. They can do this at home using the SSP Monster Mapping app for Parents and the SSP Spelling Piano.
Fabulous for homeschooling or supporting remote learning during a pandemic.  
The SSP Monster Mapping app for Schools is now available! 



 Research in psychological science answered many of the questions relating to how children learn to read, and yet the field has been plagued by decades of “reading wars” (see Kim, 2008). By the beginning of the 21st century, scientific research on reading gained traction. In 2000 a report from the National Reading panel was issued after reviewing the evidence on teaching reading. The same essential elements, phonemic awareness, fluency, phonics, vocabulary knowledge, and comprehension, were identified within National reports a few years later in the United Kingdom (Rose Review, 2007) and Australia (Rowe, 2005). Many educators have used the 'Science of Reading' as the source for reading instruction and instructional programs, i.e., how to teach these essential elements because the focus of reading research has tended to focus on linguistic and intellectual procedures essential to the growth of reading capability instead of on instruction approaches (Adams, 1990; Gough et al., 1992). It is important to differentiate between learner experiences and processes and teacher instruction and methods.
Scientists have, for decades, urged policymakers, stakeholder, and practitioners to make changes 'To avoid reading failure, instructors must comprehend and act on scientific indication’ and (presumably when using a commercial program) ask themselves, ‘Does the plan widely cover each of the skills that are consisting on evidence that pupil requires to read competently? Has the approach or program been verified systematically to work with children like mine? How can I be sure?’ ( There is a relation between educational research, policy and practice and many suggest evidence-based policy and practice should drive reform in education and training systems. On the one hand, we have research-based knowledge that is published in scientific journals. On the other hand, we have pedagogical knowledge which is used by classroom teachers in their day-to-day teaching (Mclntyre, 2005). Bates (2002) argues that tension exists between researchers and practitioners, as the practitioner asks for new solutions to operational problems while the researcher seeks new knowledge.
As a practitioner and now also a researcher. I find that I am often conflicted!
I tend to agree with Shanahan in his recent blog regarding teachers as action researchers, and figuring out 'variations' in practice. That is what I have been doing, and sharing. I collect data and am always looking at ways to improve that data. But as Shanahan points out, we have to take steps to not only find solutions, to bridge the gap between research and practice, we also need to understand our limitations. Children are the ones who may thrive, or suffer, as a result.     

‘Variations in practices can help us to determine which choices are best – as long as we’re aware that we’re improvising and pay attention. What kills me is that so often authorities in their fervor to advance an approach (or to defend a wobbly decision) claim it to be research-based, when it was really more a child of logic, a hunch, or susceptibility to a really great sales pitch.

I lose patience with those “thought leaders” who proffer their darling approach under the guise of research. These days that happens a lot. There is ton of research showing the benefits of explicit phonics instruction. When someone is arguing that phonics is beneficial, and they cite research studies and government reports I’m on board. But once they’ve made that argument and have convinced an audience that systematic daily instruction in decoding in grades K-2 is the way to go, they don’t know when to stop. They keep going without any acknowledgement that the claims that follow lack the same evidential pedigree…. with assertions about what they may sincerely believe in but about which they should be confessing a lack of certainty: the value of tracing in the teaching of decoding skills, advanced phonemic awareness instruction, decodable text, the most effective sequencing of skills, sound walls, and so on.’


            It has been observed that substantial research is conducted to define 'the science of reading' but there is much less agreement between researchers about how these skills must be taught, which is a crucial target of educators preparation (Solari et al., 2020, Seidenberg et al., 2020; Kearns, 2020). A quick look at the numerous ‘Science of Reading’ groups on Facebook and heated debates regarding this process, however, shows that while much of the research is accepted, and particularly with regards to teaching phonics and a focus on orthographic mapping, there are discrepancies regarding these learning phases, and also how best to organise learning within a classroom setting to accommodate the needs of all learners. 'For reading scientists, the evidence that the phonological pathway is used in reading and is especially important in beginning reading is about as close to conclusive as research on complex human behavior can get” (Seidenberg, 2017, p. 124) Therefore, teachers within the early grades are directed to targeted student mastery of phoneme cognizance (Gillon, 2018).  However, a commonly adopted view about the development of phonemic awareness has been that young students go through stages; from syllables awareness to awareness of the rimes and onsets within syllables, to consequently achieve awareness of the smallest sound units known as phonemes (Goswami and Bryant, 1990; Treiman and Zukowski, 1991). This has been taken as the course of phonological awareness development, leading to the practice of teaching phonological awareness in that sequence. This teaching sequence is well established and widely promoted even by education departments, and popular websites‘ Phonological skill improves in a foreseeable progression. This is a fundamental idea as it provides the source for sequencing teaching responsibilities from easy to more complex ( Brady (2020) point out the difficulties when the research is interpreted in this manner ‘If a district persists in focusing primarily on larger syllable, rhyme, or onset-rime structures in the kindergarten year, it will slow students’ development of reading skills.’ If the cognitive and linguistic processes are a source of contention or confusion, how can difficulties not arise when planning the instruction?


       In addition to conflicts between the learning processes and, therefore, what to teach, traditional phonics programs tend to be intensely teacher-centred and lessons given to every child in the same sequence and at the same pace. Conversely, the trouble with this ‘one size fits all’ approach is that there are too many letter-sound connections in English orthography for the student to learn within a Key Stage One program using direct instruction, possibly between 300 and 400 (Gough and Hillinger, 1980). It can take a long time for children to reach the stage of exploring the less frequently used graphemes because the process involved in classroom teaching of the target graphemes (as tested within the UK Phonics Screener) takes up so much time.

Our focus, therefore, is as much on HOW to organise the learning, as WHAT the children need to learn, and WHEN. Miss Emma is passionate about facilitating ‘the self-teaching hypothesis’ which proposes that phonological recoding functions as a self-teaching mechanism enabling the learner to independently acquire an autonomous orthographic lexicon (Share, 1995) The focus is on the learning process, and much of this includes supporting teachers through the use of innovative resources to facilitate differentiation and to use 'spaced repetition to learn much of the work Miss Emma refers to as the 'building blocks' of phonics. Learning spaces will often look very different to what is generally expected when visiting lower primary classrooms. The space will even be re-organised for specific activities! As a former behaviour management advisor, Miss Emma is only too aware of the impact space has on learners, in addition to the way that learning is organised.  

Differentiated teaching and personalized learning has real potential to free teachers to focus on rich content and improve the individual experience of each student, ensuring that those who struggle with concepts get help and those who are ready to accelerate can do so. Our apps allow teachers (and parents) to monitor student progress and empower the teacher to better understand each learner’s capabilities and to give each child what they need when they need it. Watch the engagement of these 4 and 5 year olds as they demonstrate phonemic awareness skills, grapheme recognition and formation, blending and code level sentence reading skills - all using 1 A3 work poster (The Coding Poster) The Coding Poster is made of plastic laminate and is written on every day. No more worksheets or paper books, to learn the 100 or so high-frequency graphemes included in the Year 1 phonics screener. 


Use the 30 Minute Core Phonics Learning Routine, and add in as many of the additional resources and activities we supply as your timetable permits! We structure it as such as that children get the differentiated instruction needed to learn the core phonics skills (to use and apply the 100 or so commonly used graphemes) within the 30 minute learning blocks, but are forever hopeful that you have 90 minutes per day to include all activities that will enable over 80% of children to be out of the 'learning to read' stage before the end of year 1 ie no longer need the 30 minute block. If so, please do book us for that training!


I will personally offer bespoke training and create specific learning sessions for your team, according to their needs. This is to ensure that the phonics learning routine is more effectively delivered. Some teachers are highly experienced, and already use the IPA; they map phonemes to graphemes with confidence and understand the issues children may face eg with regards to accents, phonemic awareness deficits, language barriers etc Others are at a different stage. Training should meet the needs of all learners, just as the Speech Sound Pics (SSP) 'Code Mapping' approach is designed to cater for the cognitive and linguistic learning needs of their students.  

'In order to achieve the best outcomes teachers need to not only learn how to organise activities and resources, for example, to deliver the 30 Minute Core Phonics Learning Routine but WHY. Training is just the beginning. Teachers then share their own journey, and others support them. The focus is on learning journeys; that of educators, not just the children. It is an ongoing journey, as we can always become better teachers. Change is often slow and messy, but if we all keep moving forwards, together, we truly can eradicate illiteracy' 

Miss Emma 


The Learning Journey

Teachers tell us that they were on a learning journey when they started to use the Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Code Mapping approach to teaching reading and spelling. Training is essential, as you go through the core activities yourself, as the learner. Training is hands-on and may not be as easy as the children make it look! We use 'Duck Hands, Lines and Numbers' to segment words in order to organise the phoneme to grapheme mapping and refer to the IPA. This can be a totally new experience!  Although Phase 1 generally last only a week, it is jam packed full of activities to 'wire the brain for reading and spelling' Get the first few weeks right, and you significantly decrease the number of children unable to read independently before the end of year 1.   

Duck Hands, Lines and Numbers, and the Monster Routine in Week 1 of Reception, will significantly improve phonemic awareness skills. 
This will help them to learn phonics more easily. 

The organisation of the Core Phonics Learning Routine is key to the success of this approach. Every child works through the 4 Code Levels at their pace. A child may be working with s a t p i n  next to another child who started their foundation year already reading, and is working at SSP Blue. They may not even need any explicit phonics instruction and be ready to start at Phase 3 in week 1 of their first term! Our pre-school pilot children are starting school already able to pass the UK phonics screener. They would be bored silly if having to sit through whole-class phonics instruction.  

DfE Validation Criteria- Criteria 4
- be designed for daily teaching sessions and teach the main grapheme-phoneme correspondences of English (the alphabetic principle) in a clearly defined, incremental sequence.

When using the Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach teachers DO provide a clearly defined, incremental sequence for the phoneme to grapheme correspondences which illustrates an overview of the teaching order but does NOT plot this throughout the year. We don't know how much time and support each child will need as they move through that LEARNING sequence.  The speed of the 'learning' cannot be 'plotted' throughout the year, only monitored and recorded, to see 'how far travelled'. The teacher uses this to ascertain how best to support each unique child, every day. 

Again, this learning sequence is not age or grade-level specific. As you see from the 'I Can Read Without You' (ICRWY) Project 3 and 4-year-olds can be working at the Blue Code level (or beyond) before they even start school. 

Here is a 3-year-old reading non-fiction with expression. 

UK Schools should know that this approach is in line with the DFE guidelines regarding Systematic Synthetic Phonics, however, I may have a different opinion with regards to the effective, and inclusive, APPLICATION (the HOW) - probably because my main focus is on the learning experience, and supporting the teacher and aides.
'Less teaching, more learning'. Or have members on the validation panel misunderstood the HOW as so different? The HOW is why we are getting such great outcomes.  


eg Criteria 4 - be designed for daily teaching sessions and teach the main grapheme-phoneme correspondences of English (the alphabetic principle) in a clearly defined, incremental sequence.



This is the clearly defined, incremental teaching sequence of the main phoneme to grapheme correspondences children work through when teachers are using the Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach.
We do take a speech to print (phoneme to grapheme) approach ie spelling to reading. This is not new - Maria Montessori chose this for her very young children too. 

So you will not hear us ask children 'what sound does this letter make'.


From feedback given by the validation panel the DfE seem to want children to be taught by the teacher in the 'traditional sense, leading lessons from the front. It's important to clarify what, therefore, differentiates the Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach from the DfE's apparent definition of a 'systematic synthetic phonics' program. I must say, for transparency, that I disagree that 'synthetic' phonics is the most effective and quickest way to meet the needs of the highest number of children, regardless of first language, language skills or socio-economic area, and have been fairly vocal about this for over a decade. I am a huge supporter of systematically taught phonics, with a focus on developing high-level phonemic awareness and language skills, and I worried that schools all across the UK, and now in much of Australia, are being directed to systematically teaching the 'synthetic phonics' method, using a commercially bought program, at great expense, step by step, as the teacher handbook tells them to (Scott, 2010).  This 'step by step' is what we do within the Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach however what is different is the differentiation. They move through those steps at their pace. Some move up those steps slowly and need more time to practise and consolidate skills, others skip up them - missing out steps as they don't need them!

The Department has recently asked programme developers to submit their programme to be 'validated' - and will only provide money when those programmes are used.

However, despite my reservations regarding 'synthetic' phonics the criteria was encouraging and everything requested is used within The Speech Sound Pics Approach. Slam dunk.
SSP teachers actually wrote to me and said 'this was written for the Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach - we do all of that - but much more! SSP teachers teach children to map phonemes to graphemes more rigorously, cover more content (so that children can reach the Orthographic Mapping phase before the end of Year 1) and every activity is fully differentiated. Children get what they need when they need it, so there are no 'catch ups' as we take a preventative approach. Children who need extra support get that from day 1. We identify those 'at risk' in weeks 1 - 4 (see the Orange Level) So perhaps the DfE, when looking over the programme, misunderstood it. The data submitted would have hopefully made some of them stop and think however. If they weren't seeing what they needed, how are these schools getting such great literacy outcomes?


Certain individuals and groups have been lobbying for the UK Phonics test to be used in Australia. They want synthetic phonics programmes used there. However many already are. Jolly Phonics was marketed to death by certain companies who sell the resources and deliver training. Interestingly, they seem to be shifting away from that synthetic phonics programme and towards 'linguistic phonics' - which is what the Speech Sound Pics (SSP) is really (if it needs a phonics 'type' label) 

Many schools who took part in the Australian Phonics Test pilot only dramatically improved literacy outcomes when they went against this 'directive' and dropped those synthetic phonics programmes. Schools in South Australia who took part in the UK Phonics Screener had, as far as I can see, ALL been using synthetic phonics programmes. Interestingly the data does not show which phonics programmes they were actually using, and the media releases implied the children were being failed because phonics programmes weren't being used. Phonics is a mandatory part of the Australian Curriculum. 

When tested in the pilot the average number of correctly read words was 11 out of 40 and 22 out of 40 for Year 1 students. That is frightening. Only 15% of Year 1 children managed to read 32+ out of 40. So the results from this South Australian school should have really caught the attention of the press, yes? Call me cynical, but perhaps this lack of public praise for successful schools was because those leading the push for the phonics test want schools to do well because of using (their) synthetic phonics programmes? They do not want other school leaders to hear that schools teaching phonics differently achieved better outcomes. Within media releases Jennifer Buckingham (Director of Strategy - MultiLit - a commercial synthetic phonics programme being marketed across Australia) claimed that 
'Teachers and leaders in the trial reported all students responded positively, including struggling readers, and they were engaged and interested. There were no reports of anxiety or stress for students. Teachers “universally” commented that students “loved the one-to-one time with the teacher”.
And yet in the UK articles are written about how to combat the stress faced by students undertaking the phonics test. 

Phonics screening check: 5 ways to reduce the stress

While the phonics screening check may be unwelcome, we still need to ensure our pupils are ready, says Katie Jenkins

When do we start listening to school leaders and teachers rather than just the ones who promote our own message? Why not instead focus on those are actually getting great outcomes? Perhaps they aren't even using a commercial programme - then what? And when do we start comparing phonics approaches and programmes? Is anyone comparing Systematic Synthetic Phonics programmes? Those recently listed by the DfE are incredibly different in many ways, and yet also similar in ways that may not align with what we know about differentiated instruction. Have they been validated because of HOW they deliver the 'criteria', or because of proven outcomes? And what if the programmes do tick the lists for the panel - what if schools do not get incredible outcomes or even improvements?  Do we need formal research studies to get to the bottom of this? But what if the studies are unable to control all the variables?
If it is  "very well received" by the vast majority of teachers, teaching assistants, and librarians who perceived positive impacts on pupil reading ability, reading stamina, and attitudes.' what does that tell us? Can we dig deeper?
And, bottom line, just how well are our UK children reading after 10 years of the synthetic phonics approach?   

I openly questioned the Jolly Phonics Teacher’s Handbook ten years ago for a wide range of reasons, including that all children were to be taught the same thing and the same time (a grapheme per day!) and teachers told to instruct the students that some words in the spelling list do not conform to the phoneme being taught and that the teacher must try to explain these ‘tricky words’ at a later stage. Actually, these words are not tricky at all if teachers are using the Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach - and why children are able to read and spell hundreds of these words before the end of their first year. As far as I can see 50% of English words would be considered ‘tricky’ to those using Jolly Phonics. I have questioned numerous elements of synthetic phonics programmes over the years. 

The push for 'synthetic phonics' is not because it has been proven to be the best way of teaching children to read, rather that governments and publishers are telling schools and teachers to do so (see the Primary National Strategy, 2006). And yet the much-publicised 7 year longitudinal study of Jolly Phonics in Scotland (2015) showed that 14% of children taught using synthetic phonics were 2 or more years behind in reading comprehension at the end of the primary grades. Around 20% of children had been 'under achieving' since the first year of the study, when taught using synthetic phonics. These statistics seemed to have been conveniently ignored. And yet we see those same statistics (over 20% failing to read after two full years in school) after 10 years of synthetic phonics within the UK. I had thought that the validation and dropping of Letters and Sounds (flawed from the start in many ways) meant that changes were taking place. Looking at the process and current list, I admit I am disappointed. Who was on the panel? I asked but was not given an answer. I'd like to actually speak to them - they are determining which programmes should be listed, and therefore be promoted and funded? It's important that a real dialogue takes place at least. Was anyone on the panel linked with commercial programme developers, were there any conflicts of interest? I hope not. 
Was anyone on the panel interested in why, if they were not ready to validate the approach without changes, so many school leaders sent them data and passionate testimonials? I had included the Science of Reading research on all pages. 

As Eaton (2016) says professional development courses, funded by commercial companies, sponsored literature, and school subsidies contribute to the increased pressure of high-stakes testing and accountability, and everyone jumps on board (Burkard, 1999). This also means that the actual Science of Reading (SoR) evidence is overlooked, in the push to keep those folks happy. With respect, how on earth has Letterland been included in the recent list of 'validated systematic synthetic phonics' programmes? I discussed this in another recent blog post which was initially about correcting spelling errors! I'd prefer that we don't encourage them in the first place (it's demotivating, Nick Gibbs) 
Within the Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach children move through the 4 Code Levels at their pace. This is considered a strength by the thousands of teachers teaching in this way. Spaced repetition is utilised, to ensure full differentiation, and therefore SSP teachers cannot plot the teaching order throughout the year. They have no crystal ball - children will take the time they need. Some children are able to move through really quickly, and some need more time. The teacher is there to guide each child, offering them what they need when they need it.   

And this, too, seemed to be an issue for the panel. 

Criteria 12 – be built around direct teaching sessions, with extensive teacher-child interaction and involve a multi-sensory approach.  The programme should include guidance on how direct teaching sessions can be adapted for online delivery (live or recorded) (see notes 4 and 5).

According to feedback 'there is a lack of formal sequenced teaching, where pupils work independently of teachers online or using code posters. Thus, teachers are expected to intervene if needed or assess / observe.'

Yes! Isn't that awesome. A lack of 'formal' teaching. Children are doing the same activity but at their Code Level. They watch THEIR Code Level phonics lesson, and then the teacher can see what they can DO. He or she jumps in when necessary, but often isn't needed. The teacher can also use this for ongoing assessment - the skills and concepts for each Code Level are clear (and were presented) There is a formal LEARNING sequence.  

To overcome that, and be considered a synthetic phonics programme would I really need to ditch the differentiated approach and 

  • Produce guidance regarding a formal teaching sequence with direct teacher input?

     Would I need to produce a handbook that plots the lessons the teacher will deliver throughout the year. Like Jolly Phonics? The whole point of the Coding Poster Video and Coding Poster activity (that takes about 15 minute per day total) is that children are able to recognise, blend and USE these target graphemes - learning at their pace. A child may be working with graphemes s a t p i n (recognising them, writing them, using them to practise segmentation, blending and manipulation skills) while others around them are working at their own Code Level, and with DIFFERENT graphemes. The teacher can take out children to focus on a concept eg the split vowel digraph (Sound Pic Sandwich) or the 'l or n swallowing the schwa in words like kettle and kitten. Or take out a group who need extra phonemic awareness work to move off the Green or Purple Code Levels (phonemic awareness will determine the speed at which they move through the Code Levels)  
    And schools using The Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach were able to send home Coding Posters, and parents used the SSP Monster Mapping app for parents- the children continued at home as they would in the classroom - even without the teacher there. All they needed was a buzzer or timer to let them know when to stop and start each activity.      

I am regularly talking about children leading their own learning (being intrinsically motivated to keep moving through the Code Levels) and there being ‘less teaching, more learning’. It is important to understand that this does not mean there no no clearly defined, incremental sequence. Far from it - the children fully understand the sequence. They thrive on it! No child is held back waiting to be taught what is on the 'planning', or forced to move on because a lesson has been 'taught'. The SSP Approach is unique, and perhaps not fully understand by those who haven't witnessed the impact this has on each individual. Teachers talk about this, and many are now in the Orthographic Mapping support group. We all want children to move into that OM phase as quickly as possible, and why we have the group. Come join us and connect with other like-minded parents and teachers! Or at least come to hear a perspective that might be different and thought-provoking. I back up everything I say as I am a highly effective teacher of reading and spelling. I'm happy to support a reception or year 1 teacher in a struggling UK school, as part of a research project, as long as is it filmed and available for public dissection. Teachers like this about my work - I get into classrooms and want to be filmed because it means teachers they get to pick apart absolutely everything I say and do. I refuse to allow any child to slip through the cracks and be failed. The teachers who work with me want that too. 
Watching me in action is why so many started to use the Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach in the first place. 



The Speech Sound Pics Approach is an approach to teaching the alphabetic code to each and every child as if they were the only child in the class. So if asked to identify the point at which pupils would have covered all content required for the Phonics Screener Check I'm NOT SORRY that can't. That describes what the teacher has done, not what the children 'know'. When will they know what is needed to pass the phonics screener? That depends on the LEARNING of each child. The teacher may have covered the handbook content, in front of children who may or may not have needed or understood it - teaching has to equate with what they are learning. Within The Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach our focus on is what each child is learning, and that is WHY dedicated, passionate teachers are drawn to this style of teaching as well. We do not want to follow scripts, submit lesson plans months in advance, or teach children in the same way at the same time. 'SoR' research supports us in that respect!

This wonderful school shared some of the Code Mapping® work their reception children had been doing that morning, and anyone who understands differentiation can see that each child was doing the SAME ACTIVITY but at THEIR Code Level. The child who needs more time consolidating and reinforcing the concepts covered within the Green Code Level. SSP teachers will also see the headphones. The children had been watching THEIR CODE LEVEL video lesson. 


Criteria 3 – enable children to start learning phonic knowledge and skills early in Reception and provide a structured route for most children to meet or exceed the expected standard in the Year One (Y1) Phonics Screening Check and all National Curriculum expectations for word reading through decoding by the end of KS1.

Speech Sound Pics (SSP) approach teachers provide a route for all but children with an intellectual impairment to EXCEED the expected standard far earlier than the end of year 1. This approach of mapping phonemes to grapheme (speech to print) also means that children understand how to map HUNDREDS if not thousands more words. They read AND SPELL words containing Code Level graphemes and have explored (of course) suffixes as part of the activities, within the reception year (words containing  –s, -es, -ing, -ed, er, -est etc. Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach teachers ensure that no child is 'demotivated' - which happens when every child is taught in the same way at the same time. Nick Gibb has it the wrong way round. Teachers and students do NOT need more systematic synthetic phonics programmes, they need differentiated and inspirational teaching that means children are DOING more and teachers are talking and teaching less.

20 - 30% of children are being failed in the UK, USA and Australia for a variety of reasons including not having the phonemic awareness skills to learn phonics, and as they are being taught by teachers forced to 'plot out' the teaching without knowing what each needs THAT WEEK, let alone the following term, and where teaching is limited to the graphemes covered within the phonics screening check. I have found that children are being failed because teachers are not being trained to understand what each need. If you look at the 'Criteria' list where is the focus on phonemic awareness? Or is there an assumption that it just happens because phonics is being taught? (scary)

In this article the claim is that "These (struggling) schools also find it more difficult to make sure that books are well matched to pupils' phonics knowledge and that staff gain sufficient expertise in the teaching of phonics.' This is something I found, and why I created the Decodable (Code Level) Readers Guide. I have organised the books from a wide range of publishers, that align with the systematic phonics teaching order. I WANT schools to have a wide range, and NOT have to use a phonics programme that is linked with one book scheme that schools can purchase. Schools will already have books. By learning to analyse the phoneme to grapheme correspondences teachers can put them in the right Code Level. In order to be considered a systematic synthetic phonics programme the DfE seems to want programmes to have their own readers, which severely limits content - children will like different books, and the wider the range the more opportunities they have to blend those target graphemes!

The DfE also insist that systematic synthetic phonics programmes ensure that when providing guidance and support for reading unknown words that the programme promotes the use of phonics as the ONLY route, before any subsequent comprehension strategies are applied. I find that rather confusing. Do they mean they want children to try to decode words before guessing at them (three cueing strategies)? Well yes, of course. But if they don't know those graphemes (very likely if being taught using a traditional phonics program) then what are they to do? It is human nature to want to try to figure it out. I wrote about this in a blog - and what I am saying is not new, or controversial (surely?)
Comprehension can only occur if the children can figure out (most of) the words; they can actually comprehend the text even when they can't decode all of the words! It's what we do when we come across an unfamiliar word in text - our eyes may pause on it for a split second (which doesn't happen with texts we read without conscious thought (the phase called 'Orthographic Mapping') Unless we have to read it aloud, and therefore need to not only deduce the meaning but know how to pronounce it, we will often miss it out - we may not need it to understand the sentence.
'..the most important part of reading for children is the fact that they make meaning from the text. The following two sentences illustrate this point; ‘The bandage was wound around the wound.’ ‘The insurance policy was invalid for the invalid and the infirm.’ We can read these two sentences because our brains make meaning from the text, rather than decode the words using phonics. Tompkins says that we look at the words around a word to make meaning of it (Tompkins, 2006). In early readers, we see that they will use the picture on a page to make meaning of a word they do not yet know, or they will use words surrounding it to aid their reading.'
But if the idea is that we want children to be able to decode words, and understand the phoneme to grapheme mapping...well of course. However, our teachers don't have the attitude that teachers will read books aloud to pupils who cannot yet read them and do not expect struggling readers to read books that include words they cannot read. I strongly disagree with this - I train teachers and children to use strategies that enable children to work with books that include words they cannot yet decode. I get the sense that there is an idea that there is phonics or 'whole language' (three cueing) - and I am here to tell you that this is simply not the case - and if folks think that, then far too many children will still be in the 'learning to read' phase at the end of year 1.

Not only have I trained teachers to use my strategies, I've also Code Mapped and Monster Mapped texts with those words the children cannot yet read ... so that they don't need anyone to read the texts (or words) to them. Again the focus is on the children LEARNING more, and the teacher needed less. This does not seem to align with the current DfE approach to teaching phonics, and I hope that will shift, as I cannot see how children will learn effectively from home eg during a pandemic - when the teacher is not there. Or did the DfE misunderstand what we do? Our children can get on with learning the Code pretty much without the teacher being there. I am sure this concept seems really scary to many - but it 'works'.
Ask teachers already doing it!   

I have to add this in as well as found it bemusing. 

I work with children who struggle to look at something on the class white board, and then mirror that on their whiteboard on the table (which are apparently not to be used?) 


I, therefore, create resources for children to use on devices directly in front of them, as well as on the whiteboard. This frees up the teacher to walk around the room and closely observe each child. I also create resources that help the child remember the formation - as shown here with a class learning to form number 1 - 10 in the first 3 weeks of reception.  

The advice from the DfE was that the teacher should be demonstrating directly from the front of the class. These poor synthetic phonics teachers seem to need to be everywhere - almost superhuman. Within The Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach I want to EASE their load AND give each child what they need, by utilising technology.  

Changes needed to be validated...  

  • Provide guidance on upper case letter formation, which does not use materials or terminology linked to another SSP to ensure schools can demonstrate fidelity to one programme. Remove references to RWI.


This child needed to see the formation directly in front of them. It's what they needed, so that's what they got:-)   


They also practise during the Coding Poster Activity  


Children practise formation within meaningful context.
Upper and lower case.

I love the RWI letter formation phrases and sold a ton of the packs to Australian schools as a result. Why not support another programme developer? Why create something to replace something I love? 
The DfE do not appear to want schools to do that however- they seem to be pushing for schools to use one programme resources. I'm not sure that is wise. As long as the recommended resources enable teachers to teach effectively, why not? 

This is me in 2012 using the RWI phrases to teach little ones to form letters correctly. I'm an early years teacher. Why would I NOT use something fabulous? Just to make myself more money? That's not what The Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach is all about. So no, I won't remove references to RWI in order to successfully submit in the future. Or stop recommending Pocket Rockets! 

SSP_Letter_Formation_Sound_SheetsApril2018 (1)-page-021.jpg

Parents can support their child at home - this youtube clip has
65K views! And lots of SSP parents bought the pack and are using the phrases. We love them.

This one has 36k

What's not to love?!  

Parents want to have clips and resources to support their child at home - this 'Sounds of English' clip of the Spelling Clouds (old version) has 45K views!

I create resources so that parents can get involved. 

This seems to be their approach with regards to 'decodable readers' too. As outlined earlier, I don't understand why I wouldn't scrutinise the decodable readers out there to check their grapheme teaching order and then recommend them? 
If I like a resource I will promote it. I can't NOT do that in order to successfully be added as a synthetic phonics programme. 
There are some amazing resources out there. Why leave it to teachers to have to wade through them all and align with the SSP grapheme teaching order? Or did the DfE misunderstand what the guide is? Did they think it was just a catalogue of decodable reader schemes? 

Final note re DfE recommendations...regarding decodable readers and high-frequency words. This is perhaps the most telling 'feedback' of all with regards to what they want - more so than what they want a programme to include. I like the criteria! It's why I sent the panel my programme! And it's why so many school leaders submitted their data and feedback. I'm not sure this was actually looked at. THANK YOU to those school leaders however.    

 Criteria 10 - ensure that children are taught to decode and spell common exception words (sometimes called ‘tricky’ words), appropriate to their level of progress in the programme (see note 2)


  • Pupils and schools choose which words to access as they wish from a selection of code mapped words   

    YES. They might choose to embrace Oxford, Fry, Dolch etc. 'Decodable readers' will not have done so.
    Teachers cannot limit the children to high frequency words in the decodable reader scheme.

    The reality is also that many schools have to 'benchmark' and those PM or F&P test kits and 'book levels' have their own high frequency word order. So I analysed PM Levels 1 - 15 and put the words in that order, so that children could at least stand a chance when benchmarked. Sure, I also campagined against 'reading levels' and 'benchmarking' but at the same time I needed teachers to have solutions. .  

    They need to read OTHER texts, and they need to be able to WRITE THOSE WORDS. Are they going to be told they can't write about their weekend because they haven't be taught all the words they want to use yet? 


  • Choice is the issue, although these are aligned to the different code levels they are not aligned to the sequences of decodable readers as there is not a named programme of decodable readers

    No, there is not a named programme of decodable readers - there is a guide of over 500 grapheme teaching order aligned handbook. I was the first to do this for schools. I continue to invite those selling decoable readers to let me know the grapheme teaching order so that I can add them in. Why not encourage schools to get a wider range? Why NOT collaborate?


  • Provide more guidance for teaching common exception words, and how these align with decodable readers.

    That's the point really - children learn to read and spell hundreds of high-frequency words even when the teacher isn't there, and especially if they want to be able to write independently.
    This seems to be the common thread - wanting the teacher to do everything, and restricting what the children have access to. I don't understand it - have these 'advisors' not BEEN teachers? The resources also enable children to learn more at home, using the SSP Monster Mapping app.

Children learn to read and spell HUNDREDS of high frequency words in reception (or pre-school)

They can work through the 400+ Duck Level words at home. 

They can then use these words when writing, and explore the spelling patterns. The Speech Sound Monsters really help with that.  

  • Allocating specific HFWs to each week will enable teachers to ensure that decodable books only include the words already taught. Without this it is impossible for books to be aligned accurately to the progression in which words are encountered.  Reduce the flexibility schools have in choosing which words to introduce and when.


Gosh no. Children can work through the words at their pace. The Speech Sound Pics (SSP) is about INCREASING flexibility for teachers. There is less 'teaching' the whole class, and more learning by individuals.    

If that is what a systematic synthetic phonics programme really is, I can't change what works in order to pass that particular 'validation test'. I have to put the teaching and learning needs of schools and families first. And if this is the DfE's idea of quality phonics instruction then they are right - the Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach is not a synthetic phonics programme. Their SSP is most definitely not my SSP. 

I have also seen the recommendations regarding teaching reading in which they state that in reading corners, "the books themselves are the most important aspect" and that it should be "the words of the stories and not the props that transport children to different worlds". 

The guidance in Appendix 3 includes suggestions that the teacher "sit in a low chair, so that all children can see the book easily" and adopt  "a neutral voice" for the narrator of the story.

It adds: "Remember, the voices have to be maintained for the whole story. If there are too many, it can be difficult for the children to identify them."

Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!! One of my fondest memories growing up was visiting my mum in her reception classroom. There was a 'corner' that changed regularly from being a shop, library, post office, restaurant...imaginative play was an essential part of the daily activities, as was playing with, writing about and reading about The Village with Three Corners. Everything was created to make learning differentiated, fun, meaningful and so that children were happy, independent and articulate learners. A whole wall was dedicated to collages and paintings about the 1,2,3 and Away! characters- Roger Red-Hat, Billy Blue-Hat, Jennifer Yellow-Hat...and yes, phonics was also included, mandated or not. I became a teacher with that vision - as early years professionals we thought for ourselves, collaborated, and were TRYING to have fun with the children. There was time for singing, building, cutting and sticking ...and if it snowed we stopped what we were doing and went out to play! We then wrote about it, learned the science behind 'why was it snowing today', we made snowmen collages out of cotton wool... This approach to 'synthetic phonics' seems to be removing much of this. The DfE seems not to understand why so many of us went into teaching in the first place, and why so many seem to be leaving it. I'd like to be a part of changing that, and this is one of the reasons I am doing a doctorate.  

When I graduated I used the reading scheme (and taught phonics) despite the government mandating then that we simply 'immerse the children in literacy'. Apparently, all they needed was to be read to and surrounded by 'real books'. As a stubborn 22-year-old who had watched the very best teachers in action instil a love of reading and the ability TO read, I chose to ignore the mandate - and my children were avid readers by the end of the year. The children in the other classroom? Take a guess. I have always ignored things I don't believe will meet the needs of all of my students - and outcomes have always demonstrated that I was right to trust my gut. I rejected or challenged things that were popular - Reading Recovery (let's not fail them in the first place) reading levels, sight words...even though, at the time, I was ridiculed and told to 'look at the research'. It is becoming harder and harder for great teachers to do anything without justifying or 'proving' themselves - and even when we do there is always another reason why we are told to conform, and to do as we are told. I can teach any child to read and spell quickly and easily - and I share that. If that means I am banished from a school because I challenged the school leader, blocked from SoR groups for challenging an interpretation of the science, bullied and mocked (my Speech Sound Monsters are apparently 'ridiculous' said one self-proclaimed expert the other week, refusing to allow any discussion among teachers about 'phonetic symbols for kids') then so be it. I will not be everyone's cup of tea. The only acceptance I truly care about is from the children learning to read. However, with regards to the DfE, have they simply misunderstood the Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach as so different with regards to a focus on the LEARNING sequence?  


I do love my cups of tea, my brightly coloured nails, paintings of the seaside ...I am who I am, and ultimately am here for the kids, I'm here for the teachers who want my support and ideas, and I'm here for the families who see their unhappy child being failed every day and do not know what to do about it. And guess what...I am bringing back The Village With Three Corners!! I now own the rights. Imagine if I had included that in the information sent to the validation panel! Now that really would take some explaining:-) 


In case you hadn't seen the government Letters and Sounds programme will not be on the list of validated synthetic phonics programmes. 

'Letters and Sounds' phonics 'doesn't provide the support needed' In answer to the question: "What's changed – is there something wrong with 'Letters and Sounds' 2007?", the DfE said the handbook "isn't a full SSP programme because it doesn't provide the support, guidance, resources or training needed".

"It relies on schools building a programme of resources around the handbook and, in many cases, updating the progression to bring it in line with current best practice," it added.

Well yes, of course. And there are issues with it - which weren't mentioned. I outlined those issues years ago. But why not have a consistent grapheme teaching order and let teachers support each other around that? 

So many which TEACHERS such as myself may well have the answers!

You know where I am :-)

Miss Emma
BEd Hons. MA Special Educational Needs. Doctoral Student, University of Reading (Yes, really)  

If, like me, you don't think the DfE is recommending the very best approach to ensuring that the highest number of children LEARN to read and spell, earlier, because so focussed on what the TEACHERS are doing, then please do get in touch.
I'll support and mentor you for free. We can make the learning visible to all. It's time teachers led the way. We are stronger together. 
Miss Emma X



Illiteracy is still a huge problem in the UK and Australia, and when Covid restrictions are lifted I will again be dividing my time between the two countries, while also trying to connect with people around the world who have a shared vision- everyone reading for pleasure (not a level) Could you help? Get in touch