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Ortho-Graphix: Boosting Orthographic Knowledge

Miss Emma'ideas for teaching orthographic knowledge quickly through Speech Sound Mapping


Embarking on the journey of self-teaching orthographic knowledge, particularly for young learners in their Reception year (the first year of primary school in the UK, typically for children aged 4-5), is a valuable endeavour that can set the foundation for a lifetime of literacy. The Kick-Start towards this journey involves two key components: understanding the Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach to teaching the grapheme-phoneme correspondences (GPCs) within the 4 Code Levels and integrating high-frequency words (HFWs) into the orthographic lexicon.

Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach

The SSP Approach is a comprehensive method for teaching reading and spelling that centres on the connection between speech sounds and their visual representations, or "pics". using 'Code Mapped' text (highlighting grapheme markers) and  Speech Sound Monsters to make the written code visible.

The sounds, spellings, and meanings of words are more easily and securely bonded and stored in the brain's word bank (orthographic lexicon) 

This approach is distinct in its emphasis on the following:

  1. Learning the 4 Code Levels: These levels correspond to the progressive complexity of phoneme-grapheme correspondences within synthetic phonics programmes. They start from simple, one-to-one correspondences and move towards more complex and less common patterns. This structured progression aids in gradually building the learner's phonemic and orthographic awareness.

  2. Phoneme to Grapheme Mapping: This is the core of the SSP approach, where learners are taught to map speech sounds (phonemes) to their corresponding letters or letter combinations (graphemes). This Speech Sound Mapping skill is crucial for both decoding (reading) and encoding (spelling).

  3. Multi-sensory Learning: The SSP Approach incorporates visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning modalities to cater to diverse learning styles. This includes the use of visuals  to show the graphemes (the "pics"), sounds (the monsters), and physical activities to reinforce the connections between phonemes and graphemes.

Integrating 400+ High-Frequency Words (HFWs)

High-frequency words are those that appear most commonly in written English. Many of these words have irregular spellings and cannot be decoded using the GPCs within the four SSP Code Levels alone. Thus, it is important for learners to:

  • Secure HFWs by Bonding Sounds, Spelling, and Meaning: Storing over 400 high-frequency words in the orthographic lexicon allows learners to recognise these words by sight, which significantly speeds up the reading process and aids in fluency.

Implementing the Kick-Start

Parents, educators, and learners themselves can implement these strategies through a variety of activities:

  • Phonics Games and Apps: Utilise educational technology that incorporates the SSP Approach and HFW learning.

  • Daily Reading Practice: Engage in shared reading that highlights the 4 Code Levels and HFWs.

  • Interactive Writing Activities: Encourage writing exercises that use HFWs and practice encoding using phoneme-grapheme mappings.

  • Multi-sensory Learning Tools: Incorporate physical materials like letter tiles, flashcards, and visual aids to support learning.

The kick-start towards self-teaching of orthographic knowledge through the SSP Approach and integration of HFWs lays a critical foundation for literacy. It equips young learners with the tools they need for reading and spelling success, fostering a positive relationship with language from an early age.

Phoneme characters (Speech Sound Monsters) make it easy for SSP children to understand the schwa within the first few weeks of Reception, Term 1 

Ask about Ortho-Graphix training with Emma Hartnell-Baker through PATOSS in 2024. 
If in the UK the training counts towards CPD 

The only other way to access training is as a Professional Member of this site.  

30 Minute a Day Phonics Routine in Reception

The 4 Code Levels: Chant Strips

Children who start Reception as skilled readers

ALL words are orthographically mapped

2 useful activities: any age and stage! 

WHAT: Phonics instruction aims to teach children the relationship between sounds (phonemes) and letters or groups of letters (graphemes) in English, essential for reading and writing.

The specific goals include:


  1. Phonemic Awareness: the ability to isolate, segment, blend and manipulate phonemes.

  2. Sound-Letter Correspondence: Children learn how sounds (speech sounds) correspond to letters or groups of letters (which she calls Sound Pics). However, due to time constraints, only around 100 grapheme-phoneme correspondences (GPCs) are explicitly taught in most phonics programs. Within Miss Emma's Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach she splits these into 4 'Code Levels'. 

  3. Decoding Skills: Phonics instruction helps children blend letters to form words, a critical skill for reading.

  4. Implicit Learning and Exploration: Following David Share's self-teaching hypothesis, the idea is that by teaching a foundational set of GPCs, children gain enough understanding to continue exploring the over 300 existing correspondences through implicit learning. 

  5. Word Mapping and Fluency: Instead of teaching children to recognise common words by sight, phonics instruction emphasises mapping all words, regardless of their frequency or commonality. This approach involves using phonics skills to decode and understand each word, reinforcing the principle that every word can be sounded out and understood through its grapheme-phoneme correspondences. This method supports the development of reading fluency, as children learn to apply their phonics knowledge to a wide range of words.

  6. Spelling Skills: Understanding the sound-letter relationship helps in accurate spelling.

  7. Pronunciation and Comprehension: Phonics using the IPA aids in correct pronunciation and lays the groundwork for reading comprehension.

  8. Confidence and Motivation: Gaining proficiency in phonics boosts children's confidence and motivation in reading and writing.

  9. Orthographic Mapping: As per Linnea Ehri's theory, the ultimate goal of phonics instruction is to achieve orthographic mapping, where reading becomes an automatic and effortless process. This is where children transition from consciously decoding text to reading with ease, understanding, and enjoyment.

In summary, phonics instruction is about providing children with the foundational skills necessary for proficient reading and writing, with a focus on explicit teaching of a core set of GPCs, encouraging further exploration through implicit learning, and aiming for the development of automaticity in reading through orthographic mapping.

HOW: The phonics instruction approach advocated by Miss Emma emphasises personalised learning and the use of technology to cater to the individual needs and pace of each child. This approach involves several key stages:

  1. Differentiated Learning with Technology: Instead of teaching phonics to the entire class uniformly, technology is used to differentiate the learning of around 100 grapheme-phoneme correspondences (GPCs). This allows children to progress at their own pace, both in class and at home.

  2. Green Code Level Start: All children start with the Green Code level, learning the GPCs s (s), a (æ), t (t), p (p), i (ɪ), n (n). They read and write words containing these GPCs and also learn a few high-frequency words and phrases like 'and' (æ/n/d), 'the' (ð/i:), 'is' (ɪ/z), 'said' (s/ɛ/d) within Code Level (Braintree Forest) readers.

  3. Progression to Purple Code Level and Beyond: Once confident, children move to the Purple Code Level, where new GPCs are introduced. This progression continues at their own pace until they can read and spell words with these 100 GPCs. Again, they learn these using tech - with Miss Emma's IPA aligned phonemes. 

  4. Learning High-Frequency Words with Technology: Over 400 high-frequency words are taught cumulatively using Miss Emma's technology. Children see the words, hear the corresponding phonemes, and write the words while listening, enabling orthographic mapping.

  5. Spaced Repetition and Time Management: The programme uses spaced repetition, requiring a maximum of 30 minutes per day for activities. This leaves more time for exploring other texts and additional GPCs through independent writing.

  6. Clickable Library and Introduction to Characters: After mastering the Green and Purple Code Level GPCs, children start with the Clickable Library at the 36 pre-readers. This introduces them to characters like Roger Red-hat, Billy Blue-hat, Johnny and Jennifer Yellow-hat, and enhances vocabulary, comprehension, and emotional investment in reading.

  7. 1,2,3 and Away Series and Code Level Readers: Alongside continuing with Code Level readers that focus on target GPCs and mapped high-frequency words, children begin the 1,2,3 and Away series. This series provides repetitive and predictable texts to build confidence.

  8. Achieving Independent Reading: By the end of book 120 in the Yellow Platform readers, most children reach independent reading capability. Over 95% enter the self-teaching phase before Year 2, a significant improvement over traditional phonics instruction, where only about 75% achieve this level of proficiency, with 25% struggling to learn to read in primary school.

This comprehensive approach integrates technology, personalised learning, and engaging content to effectively teach phonics and foster independent reading skills in children.

There are also group or whole class activities designed to specifically develop orthographic knowledge. The activities include:

  1. The Speedy Six: Focusing on spelling.

  2. Snap and Crack: Concentrating on mapping words orthographically, with comprehension. There is a focus on figuring out WHERE in the text they found the answer, and in structuring a 'writer's response.   

  3. Rapid Writing: Aimed at mapping words while writing, and with a focus on sentence construction, grammar and punctuation. Children using prompts to evoke creative discussions before they write!  

These activities are intended to supplement and enhance orthographic knowledge, providing additional opportunities for students to develop their reading and writing skills in a more comprehensive and integrated manner.

Miss Emma's Daily 30 Minute Phonics Routine: The 4 Code Levels & 400+ HFWs Mastered within 12 months
A Focus on Mapping Phonemes and Graphemes

Activity 1 * Speedy Solo or Paired Word Mapping   (5 mins)
Activity 2 * Coding Poster Video Lessons  (5 - 8 mins)
Activity 3 * Coding Poster: Demonstrated Existing Knowledge, Push for More!  (10 - 12 mins)
Activity 4 * HFWs - Orthographically Mapped - Write while Watching  


Why the Blue Cow and not the Silly Schwa in Duck Level 1 and the early readers?
Because we (and they) over-pronounce the phoneme, which turns it into the Blue Cow's phoneme (sound) ie  ʌ - even though it should be the Silly Schwa (as seen in the IPA chart)  ie the tin ðə tɪn - and so the children WANT to choose the Blue Cow. It makes more sense.  

The other phoneme to grapheme correspondence for the word 'the' ie the ant - and the children can hear that phoneme - ði: ænt

Sometimes the Silly Schwa's grapheme is swallowed (usually with the /l/ or /n/  

kɛtᵊl ˈpɛtᵊl

The phoneme (sound) is still used, but the Silly Schwa doesn't have a separate grapheme to map with.

kɛtᵊl ˈ              pɛtᵊl
k/e/tt/le     p/e/t/a/l

Why are the words 'one' and 'once' in red?

IPA phonetic symbols/ phoneme characters (monsters) wʌn wʌns

The Naughty Speech Sound Frog messed up the mapping of the words, and the Speech Sound King was so annoyed he kept the spelling as such - even though /o/ is never a representation (grapheme) for the phonemes /wʌ/ anywhere else within the written code. 

When restricted to the grapheme to phoneme correspondences they know children are restricted to blending words with only a few phonemes, often for quite a while. Blending lots of phonemes is useful not only for phonemic awareness but also working memory - and to discuss a wider range of words. 

When restricted to 'print to speech' grapheme to phoneme mapping children are not only restricted to a limited number of words but may struggle to spell or understand homophones, for example. Toddlers can explore ALL words when they know the Speech Sound Monster sounds

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