Sounds-Write books

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I hadn't realised it till last week, but one of the perks of this blogging caper is that people who are on more or less the same wavelength as you sometimes share their materials with you.

So last week I received a lovely bundle of decodable readers in the mail from Sounds~Write in the UK. Thanks, John!

Sounds~Write training

Sounds~Write is an evidence-based synthetic phonics program, with a focus on intensive training for teachers, thus providing them with the skills to teach synthetic phonics really well.

The Australian National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy found that this was a significant gap in Australian teacher-training, so more programs such as Sounds~Write sound like just what the Inquiry ordered.

You can find out most of the things I know about Sounds~Write from their website, so I won't paraphrase them, except to say that there is a Sounds Write trainer called Mary Gladstone in Lismore, NSW, with whom I have been playing phone tag today, she sounds very nice.

The Dyslexia-SPELD Foundation in WA is also bringing Sounds~Write trainer John Walker out from the UK to run some training in Perth in early July 2013 – click here for details. I have no idea whether they still have spaces available, so sorry in advance if it's full or over-subscribed.

Sounds~Write books

Anyway, let me tell you about the nice little books that magically arrived in the snailmail.

Sounds~Write starts off teaching children the following letters/sounds: a, i, m, s, t. They have two little books for learners to practice reading words containing these.

You can't make a lot of words using only 5 letters, but they have a good crack at turning these into something readable and enjoyable. For example, Tim, Tam and Sam go to the park and play pranks on each other, putting water on the see-saw and getting each other to sit in it. The last laugh is on all of them when the gardener runs the hose over the swings, then they all sit down and get wet pants. Full marks for squeezing a story kids will like out of so few letters and some nice illustrations, I say.

The Initial Code

There are a couple of books in the set for each group of sounds/letters that are introduced (and presumably a whole lot of other teaching activities to back these up):

  • a, i, m, s, t
  • n, p, o
  • b, c, g, h
  • d, e, f, v
  • k, l, r, u
  • j, w, z
  • x, y, ff, ll, ss

Next they work on consonant blends, first at word endings and then word beginnings, starting off with two-sound blends, then three-sound blends.

The final part of what they call their Initial Code is the introduction of the digraphs sh, ch, th, ng and ck, with one book each.

It looks like children in their first year of schooling cover all of this before Easter. Wow. As Liz Lemon would say, "I want to go there".

Introducing letters/sounds in clumps v/s just adding to the pile

Some synthetic phonics programs seem to introduce sounds and letters in little clumps, so they start off with s, a, t, p, i, n, and then move on to a second clump and a third, until they have covered the basics.

However, I'd worry that my learners might forget the first clump while they were learning the third one, so I much prefer to use a cumulative approach, where a few letters are added at a time to the overall total, and the number of letters/sounds learners are using just expands over time. This also makes it easier to write interesting stories, and seems to be the Sounds~Write approach.

The Extended Code

After the Initial Code, Sounds~Write introduces the Extended Code, which is basically vowel spellings like 'ay' and 'ee' and 'or', and again each one has its own book. These books also introduce some multi-syllable words, which could be a bit tricky for some of the learners I work with.

I prefer to introduce all the vowel spellings in one-syllable words before moving on to longer words. However Sounds~Write has some pretty heavyweight research behind it, so perhaps with mainstream learners this is less of an issue.

If anyone wants to come and have a look at these books (either in person or via Skype, which I am definitely learning how to use properly in the next few weeks) before deciding whether to buy them, please let me know.

Age group

These books are intended for younger children, and reflect themes that are mainly of interest to primary school aged children, so I probably won't use them with the teenagers I'm working with tomorrrow.

However the Sounds~Write order form includes six books called Battle Cries for young adults. There just aren't enough books around for older, grumpy readers who don't want to read "kids' stuff", so these also go on my (far too long) wish list.


7 thoughts on “Sounds-Write books

  1. Pingback: Sorry, all kids deserve the gold standard | Spelfabet

  2. Clare Wood

    Just found this article whilst google searching different phonics programs. Such a useful synopsis of Sounds Write. There does still seem to be huge confusion about phonics and teaching of reading in general. I use several different programs including Sounds Write and also Letters and Sounds. The 6 sounds / s a t p i n/ comes from Jolly Phonics. The training I received in the UK from Letters and Sounds years ago advocated 4 sounds to begin with /s a t p/ and I have always used a cumulative approach not the clumps approach that you talk about. Always find your blog interesting and when in Melbourne – now in Perth referred several people to your great resources.
    You might be interested in a recent blog post I did on the alphabet

    1. alison Post author

      Hi Clare, yes, it’s astonishing that perhaps the most well-studied and understood of human behaviours is still not widely understood by the people responsible for teaching it, as they are taught a whole lot of other stuff made up in the US in the 1980s that has now been shown to be incorrect. I think there is a bit of a grey area between the cumulative and the clumps approach, as a skilled teacher will stagger the number of new sounds/letters introduced if she or he knows that there are too many in a clump for their particular learner(s). Your blog post is very nice, thanks for the link. I don’t usually get involved in teaching very tiny true beginners to learn their letters, I’m usually called in to work with bigger kids who often know them, but not what to do with them. But I’m sure that people who have prevention in mind will find your post very useful. All the best, Alison

  3. Bernadette Tapscott

    Thanks for all that information
    Just curious about john walker coming out from the UK to do PD in WA from looking on the website i can only find alison perry doing them !!!! I have hear john walker is awesome

    1. alison Post author

      My profuse apologies for overlooking your comment on my website for so long. All comments used to be emailed to me but they’ve stopped now and I don’t know why. John is coming here this year I think but I don’t know dates or where he will be. Just email him and ask! He is a very good presenter and nice fellow.

  4. Tegan Jenkins

    Hi there, what come after extended code? Is that the last section of the training? And how long does the extended code usually take? Thanks!

    1. alison Post author

      Hi Tegan, after the extended code is work on polysyllabic words, and then Sounds Write have a new Year 3-6 course which I haven’t done yet which looks at continuing work on spelling and word-building in the middle years. Re how long the Extended Code takes, it depends on the student(s) and how much work they do. I work with a clinical population not mainstream children, I think you’re asking about mainstream kids, so I’ve sent your inquiry to John Walker at Sounds Write. He should be able to give you the facts and figures for mainstream kids, as well as tell you about the Year 3-6 course. All the best, Alison


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