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Phoneme Articulation  and Phonemic Awareness Mastery
- BEFORE Learning about Letters!

Phonemic Awareness (PA) has received immense publicity in reading education circles and even in public debate on the teaching of reading, especially in the US and the UK. Research indicates that about 20-30% of children struggle with phonemic awareness and need explicit instruction to develop these skills.

Of course, even when children have good phonemic awareness and can learn phonics, more is needed to become a 'reader'. In addition to learning the specific symbol-sound mappings of the orthography being learned, the learner must "get inside words," go below the level of meaning, and understand their sound structure. This phonological analysis, or "meta-linguistic" awareness, is an essential prerequisite for literacy learning. It enables the learner to exploit the combinatorial nature of writing, decipher novel letter strings, match spellings with pronunciations, and begin building the orthographic lexicon by chunking sub-lexical symbols into higher-order meaning units—key to rapid, automatic word recognition.

Any difficulties that a novice reader may have in processing speech sounds or in processing the nuances of phonology (e.g., speech sound disorder, dyslexia) will almost invariably impair learning to read. The evidence is clear and extends beyond phonemic awareness to early pre-literate spoken language competencies in processing the sounds of speech, both receptive and expressive. Phonology, therefore, is a major source of variability in reading ability and a core deficit among struggling readers, whether dyslexic or not. However, to give the most children the best chance of becoming readers, we must ensure that they start school with good phonemic awareness.


National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD):

According to the NICHD, about 20-30% of children face difficulties in learning to read due to deficits in phonemic awareness, which necessitates explicit instruction.

National Reading Panel: The National Reading Panel's report highlights that explicit instruction in phonemic awareness is essential for children who do not develop these skills naturally.

Rose, J. Independent Review of the Primary Curriculum (England). 2009. Available online: 


Research on Dyslexia and Reading Difficulties:

Studies on dyslexia, which affects about 10-15% of the population, often emphasise the importance of phonemic awareness instruction for children who do not naturally acquire these skills.

These findings support the notion that a significant minority of children, approximately 20-30%, require explicit instruction to develop phonemic awareness, which is critical for their reading development.

After learning to isolate, segment and blend speech sounds using 'Duck Hands' and through a focus on our unique 'Speech Sound Mapping' approach using PAM children can:

Identify the phoneme these 'Phonemies' make
Confidently  'follow the monster sounds to say the word ie blend the Phonemies into 'Visual Prompt' words
Can build the Visual Prompt words in Phonemies on the Speech Sound Lines.

Avery will demonstrate below!

This can take less than an hour, a few days or a few weeks. Allow 6 weeks so you don't feel rushed
(10 - 15 minutes per day) Use the Teacher Handbook.

Why do we also screen for phoneme articulation, if phonemic awareness is the focus?

For decades practitioners have noted subtle sub-clinical “signs” of spoken-language abnormalities in speech processing among dyslexic learners. These signs are not obvious because these children are, to a large extent, competent speakers of their native tongue. However, because phonology is so crucial for learning to read, they only become “visible” in literate societies. We are interested in early screening for phonemic awareness but also paying attention to other skills even before they map those phonemes to graphemes. At present we only know what we know. We want to know more. 

You will need:
Getting Started Bundle 
Spelling Piano app for tablets / ICRWY Lessons app (all devices)

Why should 'teachers' be
Speech Sound Mapping Therapy - Emma Hartnell-Baker

The 'learning to read for pleasure' journey starts with PAM, with a focus on reducing cognitive load ie phonemes first (before graphemes) For some children only a few hours are needed, some (like Alf) need a lot more.  

To bypass the lack of teacher training and awareness around phonemic awareness (and why this specific aspect of phonological awareness matters) and the IPA, I am developing a range of tech solutions that children can quickly use independently after working through PAM. Parents and Early Years teachers can follow the PAM handbook and join a support group. They will be able to go from 'speech to print' and also from 'print to speech' and have fun mapping words without constraints. Phonemic awareness is key.
The graphemes don't really matter at first, even though we embed the monsters within them (so that when they are ready, they start to take notice)


I will be designing teacher training courses so that teachers and tutors can deliver PAM here in the UK, whihc is part of the Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach. It would be easier in Australia as there are so many amazing and highly skilled Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach teachers, but 'Speech Sound Monsters' are a totally new concept to UK teachers as they link with IPA phonetic symbols rather than graphemes. At this point, due to DfE recommendations around how phonics be taught, I am not launching the SSP approach here for KS1 classrooms because it is not 'synthetic phonics'. 

For a 1:1 Speech Sound Therapy learning package, delivered by myself over 4 weeks with EHC-funded students, this equates to at least 20 hours of my time and includes the resources used. My doctoral work centres around 'Orthographic Interference': most skilled readers (who may be teaching phonics) cannot accurately map an alarming number of everyday words that children use in KS1. This skill is vital if they are to help children develop phonemic and orthographic awareness and transition towards orthographic mapping. My doctoral work also focuses on 'Screen and Intervene' strategies for teachers tasked with teaching phonics.

To train teachers to deliver PAM, I ideally need them to learn alongside me and also understand the latest research relating to why so many children struggle to learn to read. I am looking for some very special people to help me support more school-aged children. This is why early screening of 3-year-olds matters so much: we can avoid the issues so many children in England currently face. 

The journey towards 'orthographic mapping' (reading without conscious effort) is different for each child because we are building on their schema. It starts with Phonemic Awareness Mastery and transitions to Orthographic Awareness and the development of Orthographic Knowledge.

Avery (just turned 3) would understand the content in the clip shown below, but not necessarily an 8-year-old who has been learning with print-to-speech (synthetic) phonics. After phonemic awareness 'Discovery Screening', children work through their own Phonemic Awareness Mastery Program, which transitions to include Sound Pics (graphemes). I design this program based on each child’s needs. Clips like this (below) are also used to train adults. Even though they may seem as if designed for children, I prefers to train in this way as it is easier for adults to apply new learning directly to their child or student. I gives 'the grown-ups' what they need when they need it, just as I want parents to learn to do with their child.

Many children simply need the Phonemic Awareness Program (PAM) and will then be able to learn to read with a traditional phonics approach. Phonemic awareness—the ability to identify, segment, and blend speech sounds—is the magic ingredient. The learning journey is designed around the child, and their age (and any learning differences) impacts this design. It is easier to start when children are babies as there is no 'rush' to phonics or to read fluently.

This is, in part, why we are seeking grant funding to roll out phonemic awareness Discovery Screening sessions with 3-year-olds, whom we again check at 4 before they start school. By identifying at-risk children, we can give parents (and their EY teachers/childminders) the information and support they need as we predict they will have difficulties learning to read when they start school and are going to have to learn with synthetic phonics (if they attend a government-maintained school). As 1 in 4 children start Reception without phonemic awareness, and 1 in 4 leave primary school unable to read at minimum levels, this early prediction of difficulties is vital. 

Young children with EHC plans can request Phonemic Awareness Screening to identify a range of related factors and a Phonemic Awareness Mastery program if there are identified risks, ideally delivered by a Speech Sound Mapping Therapist. All children later diagnosed with dyslexia have poor phonemic awareness. Identifying this deficit early and sending them to school with phonemic awareness changes lives for children who learn differently. This is also applicable to autistic children, as they will gravitate towards 'Miss Emma' in Speech Sound Cloud Land and the Phonemies (called Speech Sound Monsters as 'Phonemies can be hard to pronounce) and those with ADHD as it is fast-paced and multisensory. The Speech Sound Monsters are also used across Australia by speech therapists as standalone therapy for children with speech delays and verbal dyspraxia. The monsters are alternatives to phonetic symbols.

Children in Dorset with EHC Funding

At the Reading Hut we recommend Discovery Screening for any children with EHCP funding who are struggling to learn to read with synthetic phonics (e.g., Alf). They are allocated funding, and this offers an exceptionally high value rate of return.

Within the 3 x 50-minute Speech Sound Mapping therapy sessions (in one week), I get to know them, screen for existing phonemic awareness, teach them some activities (e.g., Duck Hands, the sounds each monster makes, and how to 'follow the monster sounds to say the word'), and then write a risk report. The costs should be covered by funding, and not the parents. Parents can purchase the PAM at Home program, or ask that their nursery or school order it, and we have made this accessible, price wise. PAM Basic is sold as a pack and includes a teacher guide. The new 'Phonemies' support group will enable those supporting a child, and using the kit, to ask questions at any time! I will also be running parent and teacher workshops and can be booked for in-service training around PAM within any setting (including Reception - mainstream - week 1) The PAM program is the intro to concepts that will be covered when children learn phonics, but presented in a way all will understand, and facilitate phonemic awareness.    

If warranted, i.e., identified as high risk, the child with EHC funding (currently only available to those in Dorset) who has undertaken Discovery Screening continues for a further 3 weeks—with an anticipated 3 sessions per week—to work through the Phonemic Awareness Mastery Program. It is VITAL that this learning block is within a short time frame, to optimise learning and build confidence, and because the bond between the Speech Sound Mapping therapist and pupil becomes integral to its success. They are 'learning to learn' about the connection between spoken and written English. 

The sessions are recorded, for that child's educational purposes only, and referred to within the final report (and are intended to offer 'getting started' training). I can continue to support the child, or parents/teachers can take over and book catch-up sessions as needed. The next steps - following PAM - are available, and aligned with the success of the Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach in Australia. The I Can Read Without You (ICRWY) lessons app has 300+ step-by-step linguistic phonics lessons and includes everything in a synthetic phonics program but with more scaffolding and a greater emphasis on discovering connections from a 'speech to print' approach (synthetic phonics tends to focus on print to speech). The suite of 150 '1,2,3 and Away!' books are included; orthographically mapped.  

However, the goal of working through the Phonemic Awareness Mastery (PAM) Program with a Speech Sound Mapping Therapist is to enable children at risk of reading difficulties to learn with synthetic phonics in UK schools if needed. Most teachers have no choice at this time. Phonemic awareness - taught explicitly in this way - lifts the learning block that was preventing them from understanding it. At least 1 in 4 children will need this extra support. The dream is that schools become interested, even if the DfE mandates synthetic phonics. Schools with high numbers of children who start with speech and language difficulties will love this approach! Parents and teachers can add in 'Duck Hands, Lines and Numbers' to their existing program.  

The children—all children—love the Speech Sound Monsters. As unfamiliar to UK teachers they may initially scream 'cognitive overload!' - in the same way that children feel when faced with an opaque orthography. But once you understand the Speech Sound Monsters (Phonemies) simply represent speech sounds (phonemes) and allow children to FIRST figure out the word and THEN map the graphemes to those sounds, you will see that they REDUCE the load. As in Australia, the goal will be that parents can find other Speech Sound Mapping therapist and connect: building a network of specialists will also help to create more neuro-affirming spaces. SAI Spaces will be designed for that purpose. We do not wait for children to find learning to read and spell difficulty, as taught with one-size-fits-all programs that tend to be designed by and for neurotypical teachers and students. Now, as a society, we are more aware of learning differences we face the reality that the education system may not be 'fit for purpose', if equality, diversity and inclusion is valued.

This is Alf, a kind and funny 8-year-old autistic boy who was not learning to read with synthetic phonics, despite having lovely teachers who work tirelessly to support him. When teachers of children with learning differences know more, they can do more. His parents had reached out to me to see if I had an ideas that would specifically help their boy. They then wanted that to be included in his EHC plan. Educational Psychologists will understand the value of this 'speech sound mapping therapy' and the importance of re-engagement with phonemes at a starting point they understand. It's all about their schema and learning sweet spot! I am humbled to have been given the opportunity to support him. This clip is of a visit to his school, where I wanted his learning support teachers to see how we would work together. It was only the second time I have met him, and it was so much fun! Our neuro-minds connected:-)     

Had I met Alf at 3, he would have been reading before starting school. That early investment in my time and skill—unlocking the reading code—is priceless on so many levels.

What price would you put on saving Alf the mental anguish of going through primary school unable to read and spell? Would you support Discovery Screening Sessions for all 3-year-olds? Free to parents and carers? Let's make it happen.


Wooden Picket Fence

Navigating this 'opaque orthography' can be especially difficult for children with speech and language challenges or who are neurodivergent. MySpeekie, funded by Innovate UK, offers an exciting opportunity to extend this groundbreaking technology to reach even more children before they face learning difficulties in school. I’m seeking funding to offer ‘Discovery Screening’ sessions for all three-year-olds, similar to vision and hearing checks. We assess their risk factors before they start being taught letter names or with 'text-to-speech' phonics programs and again at four, before starting school. I describe it as an 'immunisation against illiteracy.' Our focus is on phoneme articulation and phonemic awareness, not the content previously covered in Letters and Sounds Phase 1 or larger speech sound units such as syllables or onset and rime (for discussion, see Brady 2000, Reading Rockets 2023). The Phonemic Awareness Mastery (PAM) Program is ideal for those children who we predict will face reading difficulties. 

We send them to school with a passion for exploring words, and the phonemic awareness that will reduce their risk. Before the pandemic, the DfE reported that one in four children were starting school without phonemic awareness—it will be much worse now. And, of course, we all know that at least one in four leave primary school unable to read at minimum levels, even though many who did ‘pass’ the tests had parents who paid for outside tutoring. The number of children reading for pleasure is at its lowest level in almost two decades. This is the by-product of a generation of children who are not excited by the connection between speech, spelling, and meaning, often because the way it is taught is confusing to them. The earlier we predict which children are most at risk—and not only address those risks but also show children how much fun they can have exploring words mathematically—the better.

I’ve had over a decade of supporting school-wide literacy improvement, and ‘mapping words for pleasure’ was how, as a team, we turned things around. But the journey is not easy—and not for the reasons you’d think. Far too many get in the way of change. Our primary focus is that children feel excited about spoken and written English and that they know how absolutely awesome they are as individuals. To do that we cannot let them unnecessarily face learning difficulties. 

"The most common source of reading difficulties is poor phonemic awareness."
David A. Kilpatrick, Ph.D.

 It’s the core issue faced by students diagnosed as dyslexic. We MUST do more to ensure children go to school with good phonemic awareness.

I can accurately predict which children are more likely to be failed, and as children instantly connect with me, I can figure out what they need and how to ensure that they thrive. Ideally, we find them at age three and surround their people with the support needed to immunise them against reading difficulties by sending them to school with good phonemic awareness (Avery, a just-turned-three-year-old, is happily blending the monster sounds/phonemies, so even before he starts learning graphemes, we know he won’t be failed).

He can do what’s needed to be able to learn phonics. Ironically, if taught with a DfE validated phonics program, he may never learn to accurately decode seven of these words. Do you know which ones? It won’t matter. He just turned three and completed the Phonemic Awareness Mastery (PAM) program at two. So, before he turns four and starts school, he’ll already be an avid reader. By 'following the monster sounds,' he knows the words and can then understand which graphemes map to those phonemes in that word. It is a unique way to expose children to an opaque orthography, and they can explore 'monster mapped' books with little to no help. Many children do not have parents at home who can read, so this is incredibly empowering. We level the playing field considerably.  

Inclusion is not just my career; it’s my passion. As a neurodivergent woman and mother, I am determined to root out the children most likely to face difficulties within an education system that does not recognise the complexities of written English,  the importance of phonemic awareness and exposure to the whole code, or the challenges so many face when the approach is not neuro-affirming. Who better to tackle the literacy crisis faced by so many neurodivergent children than a neurodivergent 'speech sound mapping' therapist with a proven track record of connecting with every child? That connection, combined with an understanding of why children face difficulties learning to communicate (even without spoken words) read and spell, is a powerful and highly valuable combination. And now, with the support and funding from Innovate UK, I have designed a unique device that makes the links between spoken and written English not only easy for very young children to understand, as they are VISIBLE, but it also ACCELERATES phonemic awareness and better supports their learning journey towards having their own voice, exploring the sounds and spelling of words and the joy of independent reading. When they can say 'I Can Read Without You' children face empowerment and FREEDOM.  

The Different Reading Framework from The Reading Hut - Phonemies - Phonemic Awareness Mastery
The Different Reading Framework
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