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Concepts simplified by Miss Emma

Concepts Simplified

Miss Emma shares her unique approach to teaching 2,3 and 4 year olds to read and spell.

Reading Ready Brains - Shopping!
The Reading Hut

Introducing the concept of segmenting spoken words into the smallest sound units (phonemes) and blending them together into whole words. (first few days) 
Many children enter school with little or no phonemic awareness because it is not a cognitive capacity that is needed for either language learning or using language.
This is not something children would ever need other than to read and spell, and does not happen 'naturally' for most children. 
This is not 'phonics' - no letters are needed at first, while we ascertain which children can segment and blend quickly and easily.
Duck Hands, (speech sound) Lines and (speech sound) Numbers organise where the speech sounds will 'sit' when the word is on paper - from left to right. 
Children 'follow the monster sounds to say the word'
Even very young children understand that animals or creatures make specific sounds, and so this association is easy. Each monster says their own sound - it just happens to be an English Speech Sound. They learn the monster sounds really quickly - in their names, and also the satpin monsters.
Some can blend those sounds easily, some can't - we target those straight away - or doing this with graphemes will be really hard.   

Moving into systematic linguistic phonics (constrained skills) and (at the SAME time) an awareness that speech sounds can be mapped to multiple graphemes, and graphemes can be mapped to multiple phonemes. Speech to print AND Print to Speech. 

Early and important concept: graphemes to not 'make sounds' and we do not know the sound value UNTIL in a word.  

- for some this starts on day 2, some need a week or so before 'pictures of sounds' are introduced. We need to know if they can segment and blend first - which we would do with graphemes straight away, if English orthography was transparent.  

There is a Speech Sound Camera monster, that takes pictures of the speech sounds. The children think of speech sounds as floating in the air when produced, and we need to take photos of them, with the magic speech sound camera, to put them together and show written words. So we must record those Sound Pics from left to right - so the reader can accurately 'follow the monster sounds, to say the word' Why? Because we need a written code, to send and receive messages

SSP Speech Sound Camera

Even though they will have seen the Silly Schwa, been thinking about it in words explored for fun, and been using it by the Purple Code Level, we also cover it explicitly. Children are exposed to concepts over and over, as some take longer to grasp (have aha moments!) When part of a 'story' eg Miss Emma's adventures with her dogs, children are engaged and interested. They tend to master concepts more easily when they aren't taught as a traditional lesson - then ticked off the 'planning' document - they are revisited over and over again. 

Although the last sound is the schwa (ə), when Duck Handing their names in week 1they over-pronounce and use the 'blue cow' sound (ʌ)
In the first couple of weeks we therefore use the blue cow in place of the schwa as found this was easier for the younger children to understand - regardless of whether 'right'.

Think of the word 'another' ie ənʌðə
- the phonetic symbols show the universally accepted way to map the speech sounds, regardless of accents etc - but this concept is too difficult for most pre-school aged children.
If given the sounds  ʌnʌðʌ they can blend the sounds into the word easily - if they can blend phonemes. The focus is the learning - sometimes this can conflict with accuracy, but they then understand the concept more quickly (they realise - when they are ready - that it's ənʌðə )

They will see the Silly Schwa early - within Systematic Linguistic Phonics Instruction - in the Green Code Level. (Santa)

By exploring ANY words that are meaningful and interesting to the children FIRST - using the Speech Sound Monsters - the concept we know as an 'opaque' or 'deep' orthography is introduced to their very young brains, and we are also enhancing their vocabulary, and developing speaking and listening skills. We can do this effectively (not need to keep separate from phonics) because we are going 'speech to print' - from what they have already been doing since birth (language learning) and are as using Speech Sound Monsters ie using a concept already known (creatures/ animals make their own sounds)
Within UK 'synthetic phonics' programs there is a lot introduced on day 1 that relies on children understanding quite complex concepts, and that rely heavily on phonemic awareness (what does 'a for apple' mean?) Words are confined to the grapheme to phoneme correspondences being introduced. The old Phase 1 from Letters and Sounds - with a focus on 'sounds' has been scrapped, and the stance is that graphemes should be introduced immediately.  We find that this makes the process impossibly difficult for 20 - 30% of children, harder for 60%,and will frustrate the children who come to school ready to move off explicit instruction, with brains craving growth through for implicit learning - they will be bored, and lose interest.    

Watch children carefully. What engages them? Excites their brains? Why is Milly (toddler pilot -
so interested? When we give them the learning experiences that are right for THEM they soon shift into the 'implicit' phase so crucial to those learning to read. Anyone think she won't be reading before she is 4?  What happens when she starts school in 3 years?

Miss Emma's dogs feature in a lot of the lessons:-) Look out for Avery (again, the /e/ should really map with the schwa) who has not even turned 2 yet. He will be reading before he is 4 too. As the parents guide the children, and learn WITH them under Miss Emma's guidance in online Reading Ready Brains groups) they will knw how to support the Reception teachers, and ensure that their children are not having to learn 'satpin' with their peers. 

So children are more easily able to understand that spoken words are made up of speech sounds, that the pictures of these speech sounds are placed on paper in order (understanding Duck Hands, speech sound lines and numbers) and have been playing games with their names, and using words that are meaningful to them in weeks 1 and 2. They have been introduced to the initial concepts (around phonemic awareness) and the CONCEPT has been more important in weeks 1 and 2 than recognising a group of graphemes. If they recognise the Speech Sound Monsters they can figure out any words, that are Code Mapped and Monster Mapped, if they can blend (and even more easily if they know that word - as it's a real word that is meaningful to them)  

Seeing the segmented graphemes is useful in all sorts of ways! Even more so if they can also see the sound value ie see the Speech Sound Monsters. The Code Mapping shows which letters belong to which grapheme, and are mapped with that phoneme. Although aligned with the universal spelling code using the IPA the 'visual phonemes' encouraged discussions about accents even among 4 year olds! Listen to our Aussie kids pronounce 'pan' and  'ant' for example. They understand that Miss Emma (and the Speech Sound King) use this speech sound - even though they don't! If they say the word and say the sounds they wouldn't choose this monster. (it would likely be the 'air' monster chosen, or 'e')   


'ant' is at 1.30

Speech Sound King - SSP Approach with Miss Emma
Speech Sound King - SSP Approach with Miss Emma - ICRWY
Speech Sound King - SSP Approach with Miss Emma

'The Story' explains that concept, around which Speech Sound Monsters are chosen -  the concept that speech sounds can vary according to accents/ dialect - and also depending on the sentence itself - eg the /e/ in th/e changes - depending on the following word (say 'the caterpillar, the ant and the beetle' aloud) and whether saying 'can' as a single word, or during speech (ask someone to say 'I have a fast car and can over-take anyone' - the /a/ in the word 'can' likely changes to a schwa) 
These are tricky concepts that many adults aren't even aware of - let alone teaching. So these activities help the children learn them - no explicit or extra teaching required (for most)! The children soon understand there are two 'languages' - spoken and written. Although a simple concept is that we are 'talking on paper' it's important to recognise that the two are different - and even more so when you have a really strong accent, or the way you construct sentences differs considerably, from the written work students are supposed to produce - as graded according to a universally accepted written 'code'. Think of the experience of a student living and going to school in a deprived area of Kingston, Jamaica, as compared to a child learning to speak English in China from a private tutor who speaks like a member of the royal family. To learn to read and spell in English means understanding a language that can be very different to their experiences speaking the language. 
So Miss Emma addresses this by talking about the Speech Sound King and Speech Sound Monsters, who determine those correspondences (phonemes-to-grapheme and graphemes-to-phonemes) even though students - of course- 'translate' this into their own 'speaking voice'.  As far as we know, no-one else in the world is addressing these issues - and certainly not with such young children.
Vocabulary is really important - and taught separately to synthetic phonics in KS1 (UK) as the words are so limited, as they must align with taught grapheme to phoneme correspondences. By using 'Code Mapped' and 'Monster Mapped' words children can explore ALL words - even words they do not yet know. This is going to really help them as they develop their reading skills later on. 
How great (and unique) that they can understand the mapping (and also explore word origins and morphemes) at any stage.        

From Reading in the Brain - Stanislas Dehaene is entirely utopian to imagine a universal alphabet that could transcribe all of the world's languages. Such a spelling system does exist: it is called the International Phonetic Alphabet and it plays an important role in technical publications by phonologists and linguists. However this writing system is so complex it would be ineffective in everyday life.

p33 ... Although we cannot easily assign a single letter shape to each speech sound, we could perhaps try the opposite. Many spelling errors could be avoided if we systematically transcribed each sound with a fixed letter.

...'..the role of spelling is not just to provide a faithful transcription of English speech sounds would be bound to fail, because the role of spelling not just to provide a faithful transcription of speech sound...
Its goal is not to reproduce speech as we produce it, but rather to code it at a level abstract enough to allow the reader to quickly retrieve its meaning. 

(When we speak we alter the pronunciation of works as a function of the sounds that surround them - as seen on this page, this is addressed with 2,3 and 4 year olds! And why Miss Emma's approach to teach phonics is not 'synthetic' phonics)  

Speech Sound Monsters offer an alternative to phonetic symbols that 2,3 and 4 year olds understand.

The IPA may be impractical for every day life, but the Speech Sound Monsters offer a workable solution - for speech to print and also print to speech orthographic learning.

They allow for a multisensory and playful exploration of how speech sounds change - as those speech sounds are made visible. The mapping to Sound Pics (graphemes) becomes easier for young children to understand, and to independently explore.

They also facilitate morphological awareness.
When exploring the Speech Sounds used within pre-fixes and suffixes we can very naturally talk about the meaningful parts of words.
These technical terms might sound really advanced, but the concepts don't need to be - if simplified by an expert in how 2,3 and 4 year olds think! 


What does Miss Emma seek to ensure that even very young children understand?

(Note that while morphology focuses on words and grammar, phonology focuses on the sounds of words)

Morphology-Phonology: Some derivations involve speech sound changes (e.g. magic-magician).

Morphology-Orthography: Recognising orthographic patterns onto which meaning is mapped, also that some derivations involve spelling changes (e.g., five-fifth).

Phonology-Orthography: Speech Sounds map onto Sound Pics (alphabetic principle) in order to decode and encode/ spell.

Let's get back to Phase 1!

So within the first week or so the children are able to do the following, in Phase 1:

Duck Hand their own Code Mapped and Monster Mapped names and find the Monsters in the Spelling Piano app .

Match the first 6 Speech Sound Monsters to their (Speech) Sounds


Know the Visual Prompt words from the Monster Mapping Kit Handbook
(these are all built with these 6 speech sound monster sounds and match with the pictures

Monster Mapping Handbook Print File (1)_Page_11.jpg

Children blend the given sounds into the word and find it on the chart. They may be able to also Duck Hand the words at this stage, but this is a harder skill (just as encoding is harder than decoding)

Children who are ready (drawing bodies and not just sticks coming out of heads) are learning the letter and number formation phrases)
They will not be able to do this independently yet - we are only in week 2 (unless already been doing this)


The Speech Sound Puppets play an important role in Miss Emma's approach.
Within the first week the children are introduced to the Speech Sound Duck - to segment words into speech sounds, from left to right, but also the Naughty Speech Sound Frog - he messes things up all the time! Later on he will mess up the spelling, grammar, punctuation etc (and help with morphoneme mapping)


The Speech Sound Frog is used in week 1, to help children match their cards - and look for changes. We can also use the Naughty Frog to introduce Speech Sound manipulation (a higher level phonemic awareness skill) And children love them! - multi-sensory learning and engagement is always a priority!

When the children understand the concept of speech sounds, segmented left to right, they will understand the concept of 'pictures of speech sounds' ie the graphemes. However, because of the way we introduce concepts, they understand these Sound Pics - in the Green Code Level - are just ONE of the pictures for those 6 speech sounds.
The Spelling Clouds are on the walls from day 1.  

Children have already seen some Sound Pics - in their names, and the words already explored in week 1. 

The children go back to their favourites again and again. 

Facebook Live with Miss Emma - Intro

All of this is covered in the ICRWY Lessons app - Phase 1.
As the children move into Phase 2 concepts are introduced, eg the schwa being swallowed, the Sound Pic Sandwich etc

Speech Sound Monsters - Monster Mapping

Speech & Language Therapy purposefully and playfully combined with activities to facilitate Orthographic Awareness, Learning & Processing 

An approach specifically designed to PREVENT difficulties, and also offer early intervention
when learning difficulties and differences are identified. 

The Speech Sound Monsters offer non-speaking and minimally verbal children a different way to communicate. 

Children are soon trying to read everywhere!

This approach should be exciting to scientists, for numerous reasons. When we open The Early Reading Centre ( we will invite researchers to study our work with babies, toddler and pre-school aged children - both neurotypical and neurodivergent. 

Keep reading as a number of unique tried and tested solutions are presented on this page. Teachers are really enthusiastic about them! Unfortunately, even though we teach phonics systematically, we cannot launch this 'SSP' in the UK for KS1 as it is not 'synthetic phonics', and children do not follow a program in the same way, at the same time.  

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