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PHONEMIES! - Speech Sound Monsters
The Speech Sound King - from Speech Sound Cloud Land
Phonemies - Phonemes Made Visible - Speech Sound Mapping
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Phonemies - Phonemes Made Visible - Phonetic Symbols for Children

Phonemies: Fun Phonetic Symbols for Clear Phoneme Articulation and Enhanced Phonemic Awareness


Advocating for the Use of Phonemies and Early Phonemic Awareness

In the context of early childhood education, the use of traditional phonics programs has come under scrutiny for their inability to embrace and support the diverse learning needs of all children. To create a more inclusive and effective learning environment, it is crucial to advocate for the use of Phonemies and the development of phonemic awareness in the early years. Here are the key arguments supporting this approach:

1. Challenges with Traditional Phonics Programs

Traditional phonics programs often follow a rigid, one-size-fits-all method of teaching reading. This standardised approach fails to accommodate the varied learning styles and backgrounds of children, particularly those who are neurodivergent. By not addressing individual differences, these programs can marginalise certain groups of students and impede their learning progress.

2. Building on Existing Schema

Effective phonics instruction must build on each child’s existing schema, which includes their pre-existing knowledge and experiences. Children come to the classroom with different levels of phonemic awareness and linguistic exposure. Recognising and leveraging these differences is essential for fostering an inclusive learning environment where all children can thrive.

3. Importance of Early Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness, the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words, is a foundational skill for reading. Poor phonemic awareness is the leading cause of reading difficulties. According to the Dfe (2018) 1 in 4 do not start KS1 with phonemic awareness. Developing this skill in early childhood is crucial, as it sets the stage for later reading success. Traditional phonics programs often overlook the need to develop phonemic awareness before introducing letter names and sounds, leading to potential difficulties for children who lack this foundational skill. They also ignore the whole code, and the discrepancies between spoken and written English - including accents - and expect a foundation of 100 or so explicitly taught and tested 'grapheme-to-phoneme correspondences (GPCs) to lead to skilled reading. The Universal Code includes over 350.

4. Engaging Young Learners

Traditional phonemic awareness activities, such as isolating, segmenting, and blending sounds, may not be inherently engaging for toddlers. Therefore, innovative methods are needed to captivate young children’s interest while developing their phonemic awareness. This is where Phonemies come into play. Please note that this word is difficult to pronounce and children call them 'Monsters' - they are Speech Sound Monsters. 

5. The Role of Phonemies

Phonemies are Speech Sound Characters that personify individual sounds, making them relatable and engaging for young children. By associating sounds with characters, Phonemies provide a fun and intuitive way for children to develop phonemic awareness. For example, just as a dog says "woof," Phonemies represent their respective sounds in an easily understood manner. This approach aligns with children's natural learning processes and existing schemas.

6. Simultaneous Learning with Phonemies

Phonemies enable children to develop and also use their phonemic awareness to figure out words and, at the same moment, understand the corresponding graphemes (letters or letter groups) when text is 'Monster Mapped'. This method integrates the recognition of sounds and the understanding of their written representations simultaneously, promoting a deeper and more intuitive grasp of language.

7. Benefits of Using Phonemies

By using Phonemies, children can achieve several key milestones:

  • Recognition of Sounds: Children learn to associate sounds with characters, making phonemic awareness activities more engaging.

  • Understanding and Connecting: They can simultaneously recognise words and understand their corresponding graphemes, bridging the gap between spoken and written language effectively.

  • Integrated Learning: This approach combines speech, spelling, and meaning in a cohesive learning process.

8. Positive Outcomes for Children

The use of Phonemies and early phonemic awareness activities offer several significant benefits:

  • Increased Engagement: Children are more likely to engage with learning activities that are fun and relatable.

  • Improved Reading Skills: A more integrated and engaging method can lead to better outcomes in reading proficiency.

  • Inclusivity: This method respects the diverse learning needs of all children, including those who are neurodivergent.


To protect children from the limitations of traditional phonics programs and to create a more inclusive, engaging, and effective learning environment, it is imperative to advocate for the use of Phonemies and the development of phonemic awareness in the early years. This approach builds on each child's existing knowledge and fosters early phonemic awareness in a way that is accessible and enjoyable for young learners, ultimately supporting their journey to become proficient and enthusiastic readers.

Phonemies: Enhancing Phoneme Articulation and Phonemic Awareness in Early Literacy


Phonemies are an innovative pedagogical tool designed to address the challenges of English orthography by making the sound value of graphemes explicit and reducing cognitive load during the reading process. Unlike traditional phonics approaches, Phonemies offer a more flexible and accurate representation of phonemes, supporting better phoneme articulation and phonemic awareness in children. Phonemies are IPA phonetic symbols for children!

The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is a standardised system of phonetic notation used by linguists and language educators to accurately and consistently represent the sounds of spoken languages. It employs unique symbols to denote each distinct sound, or phoneme, in any language. These symbols help in the precise transcription of speech sounds, facilitating the study and teaching of pronunciation, phonetics, and phonology.

Emma Hartnell-Baker developed "Phonemies," as child-centric 'speech sound' symbols designed to align with phonetic symbols of the IPA, specifically those used in British Received Pronunciation (RP). DfE validated synthetic phonics programs utilise this system. Phonemies are tailored to be accessible and engaging for very young children, aiding in clear phoneme articulation and enhancing phonemic awareness. This approach helps children develop essential phonetic skills in a manner that is both educational and enjoyable.

The complexity of English orthography often results in a high cognitive load for early readers. Traditional phonics approaches typically associate a single sound with a specific grapheme, such as an apple on an "a" or a snake on an "s." They start with the letters and attach a 'sound value'. However, this method can be short-sighted because a single phoneme can be represented by multiple graphemes and a single grapheme can represent multiple phonemes. For instance, the /s/ sound can be represented by 14 different graphemes, and the grapheme "a" can represent 9 different sounds. This requires children to unlearn and re-pair sounds and graphemes, increasing cognitive load and complicating the learning process.

Phonemies, as visual representations of phonemes, are therefore designed to act as "speech sound characters' that make specific English phonemes (speech sounds). These Phonemies are not tied to a single grapheme but rather represent the pure phonemic sound itself. This approach focuses on phoneme articulation and phonemic awareness, helping children understand and manipulate the sounds within words more effectively. Although they are doing this before letters are introduced, it makes the  introduction far easier to understand, because each Phonemie corresponds to a specific phoneme, independent of any particular grapheme. For example, the Phonemie for the /s/ sound remains the same whether it is represented by "s," "c," "ss," or the other 11 graphemes.

Phonemies are designed to be engaging and memorable, using visual aids and characterisation to help children remember and articulate each phoneme. Children learn the 'Monster Moves' and are able to think of that movement even when the resources show the Phonemie in its static form. By integrating visual, auditory, and kinesthetic elements, Phonemies reinforce phonemic awareness through multiple learning modalities and encourage children to regularly articulate the individual sounds as part of what they view to be play.

When first starting, they learn six of these 'Monster Sounds' and are able to build over 25 words using the phonemic awareness skills they will use when introduced to phonics. They will find phonics easier to learn as it will simply build on prior knowledge (their schema).

Phoneme isolation, segmentation, blending and manipulation, phonemic awareness and phonological working memory - without the cognitive load of letters! 

Taking pictures of speech sounds - Sound Pics

The Phonemies are used to develop phonemic awareness, so that when letters / graphemes (as 'Sound Pics') are introduced they 'just make sense'! 

Educational Benefits:

Enhanced Phonemic Awareness: Phonemies improve children's ability to isolate, segment, blend and manipulate phonemes. Phonemic awareness is a critical skill for early reading and spelling development. 
Reduced Cognitive Load: By decoupling phonemes from specific graphemes, Phonemies simplify the learning process, reducing the cognitive load on children.
Easier 'learning to read' journey: with a clearer understanding of phonemes and their articulations, and how they map with 'pictures of sounds' (graphemes) children will learn to decode and encode words more accurately and fluently.


Phonemies represent a significant advancement in early literacy education. By focusing on phoneme articulation and phonemic awareness, Phonemies provide a more accurate and flexible tool for teaching reading and spelling. This approach not only supports better reading outcomes but also reduces the cognitive burden on young learners, making the process of learning to read more efficient and enjoyable.

Example for Clarity Using the Word "Village":

Let's break down the word "village" using Phonemies with British IPA (Received Pronunciation)
- the British IPA is used within DfE validated phonics programs:

Phoneme /v/: Represented by a specific Phonemie, consistently indicating the /v/ sound.
Phoneme /ɪ/: Represented by its own Phonemie, indicating the /ɪ/ sound.
Phoneme /l/: Represented by a Phonemie that consistently indicates the /l/ sound.
Phoneme /ɪ/: Represented again by the Phonemie for the /ɪ/ sound, appearing a second time.
Phoneme /dʒ/: Represented by a Phonemie for the /dʒ/ sound.

So, for the word "village," the Phonemies would guide the child as follows:
The grapheme "v" is matched with the Phonemie for /v/.
The grapheme "i" is matched with the Phonemie for /ɪ/.
The grapheme "ll" is matched with the Phonemie for /l/.
The grapheme "a" is matched with the Phonemie for /ɪ/.
The grapheme "ge" is matched with the Phonemie for /dʒ/.


This approach allows children to see the phonetic breakdown of the word "village," making it easier to articulate each sound and blend them together to pronounce the word accurately. Phonemies provide a clear visual representation of each phoneme, helping children to decode and understand the word without the confusion of multiple grapheme representations.

Picture embedded mnemonics

Dr. Linnea Ehri, a distinguished researcher in literacy development and psycholinguistics, has conducted studies on the effectiveness of mnemonic strategies, specifically focusing on Letterland. While acknowledging the utility of embedded mnemonics in facilitating students’ understanding of basic letter identification and phonics, Dr. Ehri has highlighted their limitations, particularly when applied beyond the scope of individual letters and sounds. This perspective is encapsulated in the critique by Shmidman and Ehri in 2010, which states, "Although there are commercially available programmes that employ mnemonics, many are unlikely to achieve success due to the excessive number of associations required to be remembered, coupled with the lack of personal relevance of these associations."

Limitations of Embedded Mnemonics: Advocating for Phoneme-focused Mnemonics

Many educational programs utilise embedded mnemonics, which can be incredibly challenging to follow and often require a high level of learner readiness. To use these associations for reading and spelling, students must first identify the pictured objects and know the corresponding English words. Then, they must segment the sounds in those words and discern which relates to the mnemonic. This process not only demands an English language background and a certain level of developmental readiness but also necessitates an awareness and understanding of letter-sound relationships that most 5-year-olds don’t naturally possess; it must be taught.

This typical process with traditional letter-sound picture cues, including those with embedded mnemonics, poses significant hurdles for young learners. Unlike random pictures and unrelated words, phoneme characters have the potential to engage multiple areas of the brain simultaneously, putting the whole brain to work effectively. This is crucial because the more widespread the connections, the deeper the learning. Engaging more brain areas leads to more neurons firing, more neural networks changing, and consequently, more learning occurring.

While embedded mnemonics have been praised for their role in early phonics learning, and likely why Letterland and others have been 'validated' as suitable for KS1 students, questions arise regarding their application beyond basic letter identification and sounds and, indeed, whether they make learning to read and spell (and develop phonemic awareness and orthographic knowledge) harder for neurodivergent children. Critiques, including those from Dr. Ehri, suggest the potential for overcomplication and lack of personal relevance, which may limit their effectiveness (Shmidman & Ehri, 2010). Moreover, the effectiveness of mnemonics may be diminished when the presented information is overly complex or irrelevant (Sousa, 2006).

Despite robust evidence supporting traditional mnemonics, research has not explored mnemonics directly linked to phonemes. This gap underscores the potential of phoneme-specific mnemonics, like the engaging "Speech Sound Monsters," to enrich phonics instruction. By concentrating on phonemes instead of graphemes, these mnemonics offer a deeper understanding of phonetic elements, enabling learners to connect various graphemes with a single phoneme. This proposes a novel research direction aimed at enhancing literacy education.

However, setting aside 'phonics,' the Speech Sound Monsters (Phonemies) can simply be used to support phoneme articulation and phonemic awareness in the early years, with children as young as 12 months old, without the introduction of letters. They are understood by very young children just as they understand that a cow says 'moo.' Although some might ask, "Why not use a snake to prompt the sound /s/ as in sip?" they fail to recognise, because they hardly pay attention to the mapping of words (as they are skilled readers), what happens when the child associates it with the letter 's.' Very quickly, they will notice the letter /s/ within environmental print and expect it to map with that sound. It often won't. And what happens when trying to spell words with the /sh/ sound - and those letters and not used? How frustrating! More importantly, even toddlers are interested in the Phonemies! That interest—combined with the ability to focus on phoneme articulation and phonemic awareness—makes them a breakthrough with regard to early screening. It means they are developing phonemic awareness more easily as they work directly with the target sound, regardless of the word! It is far less frustrating. 

1,2,3 and Away! Regular books - no mapping
One, Two, Three and Away! Mapped Version

Phonemies also overcome a huge problem that Emma Hartnell-Baker is currently researching, which relates to the quality of early phonics instruction: teachers aren't trained to demonstrate phonemic awareness. A simple test would be to ask them to give the sounds in words, as expected within phonics teaching. If they do not give the correct sounds the word does not appear in the Innovate UK funded app. Even if you haven't learned the monster sounds yet, would you chose the correct phonetic symbols / phonemes? This is vital, if you are tasked with developing Orthographic Mapping

Orthographic Mapping through Speech Sound Mapping
The Different Reading Framework from The Reading Hut - Phonemies - Phonemic Awareness Mastery with Speech Sound Mapping
The Different Reading Framework
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