Budget embedded picture mnemonics

32 Replies

Early years teachers around Australia are this week starting to set up their classrooms for the new school year. Many are about to set up alphabet friezes and word walls.

I’m hoping that my new, cheap-and-cheerful embedded picture mnemonics ($10 plus GST) will encourage and help them to instead set up sound friezes or sound walls.

Early last year I commissioned talented, tolerant, patient Melbourne illustrator Cat MacInnes to turn my vague ideas into 46 cute, colour pictures you can print to help kids learn sound-letter relationships. They’re her copyright, so I have a limited number available (get in quick!).

Linking sound to spelling – embedded picture mnemonics

Children’s alphabet friezes typically associate each letter with a picture, ‘a’ with an apple, ‘b’ with a bus’ etc., generally going a bit pear-shaped when they get to X (xylophone? X-ray? fox?).

Research shows that integrating letter shapes into relevant pictures is more effective than just associating letters with a relevant picture. You can watch US expert Dr David Kilpatrick (this year’s LDA Tour speaker, details will be here) talk about this at 18:40 on the video clock here, read about it on p272 of his book, or read relevant research here, here, here and here.

The embedded picture mnemonic on the right below is thus more likely to help learners remember the letter C than the image on the left.

Available sets of embedded picture mnemonics are often designed from a print-to-sound orientation, and thus only represent 23 sounds, because the letters c, k and q represent the same sound, and x represents /k/ plus /s/.

Sometimes these sets include digraphs, but often don’t depict words containing relevant sounds e.g. the digraph ‘sh’ as ‘s for snake’ plus ‘h for horse’, though neither the word ‘snake’ nor ‘horse’ contains the sound /sh/.

To work in a logical, sound-to-print way, it helps to have a visual for each sound. This clearly shows children that we have many more sounds than letters, and often combine letters to represent one sound. Once all the sounds are known, additional spellings for each one can be taught, as well as the ways sounds share spellings (e.g. out/soup/cousin/cough).

Sound walls make more sense to young children than word walls. US expert Dr Mary Dahlgren explains why here. She suggests including photos of children’s mouths saying the relevant sounds on sound walls, and has suitable photos and other word wall resources available here.

Big charts showing all the sounds and their main spellings can overwhelm beginners and strugglers. Embedded picture mnemonics can be used to develop your own charts with children’s involvement, in manageable steps. Example words can be refreshed, to keep them interesting and relevant. Find free wordlists to choose words from here.

Setting up the mnemonics

Laminate and store/display the mnemonics on a wall, noticeboard, window or room divider.

If working with absolute beginners, just start with a few, and add more over time as you teach them. If you don’t have enough space for the A4 version, print them two to a page (A5).

Voiced-voiceless consonant pairs should be kept together. These are:

‘p as in penguin’ and ‘b as in bug’ ‘th as in path’ and ‘th as in weather’
‘t as in tiger’ and ‘d as in dog’  ‘f as in flower’ and ‘v as in vase’
‘c as in cat’ and ‘g as in girl’ ‘s as in snake’ and ‘z as in zip’
‘sh as in shells’ and ‘si as in Asia’
‘ch as in cheese’ and ‘j as in jellyfish’

Knowing that these are pairs helps children understand why they sometimes use each other’s spellings, e.g. the /v/ in ‘of’ and ‘Stephen’, the /z/ in ‘is’, ‘as’, ‘please’ and ‘scissors’.

Organise consonants according to where they’re made in the mouth, e.g.
• Lip sounds at the top of the display,
• Tongue behind teeth sounds in the middle,
• Back-of-the-mouth sounds at the bottom.

Here’s how I’ve set up my consonants, ready for words to be written on them:

In displaying the vowels, I suggest putting the ‘short’ vowel sounds (which must be followed by a consonant) on the top row, ‘long’ vowels next, and the ‘r-controlled’ vowels and other two stressed vowels at the bottom. When you start teaching about extra and shared spellings, you can point out that the usual spellings for the sounds in the top row can also be used for the second row (e.g. ant/apron, hit/hi, not/no, flush/flu).

How to use the mnemonics

Words including the sound being taught should be written on the space around the relevant mnemonic using whiteboard marker. Children might first learn four sounds, and then add a couple more to quickly construct many words:

As new sounds are added so that new words are able to be spelt, the words children have consolidated and can spell independently can be erased, to make space for the new words.

Once students have learnt a spelling for each sound, they can start learning its other spellings systematically. For example, if studying the sound /f/, children might brainstorm the words ‘fun’, ‘film’, ‘defend’, ‘off’, ‘fluffy’, ‘cliff’, ‘Sophie’, ‘elephant’, ‘cough’ and ‘laugh’, and these can be grouped under the headings ‘f’, ‘ff’, ‘ph’ and ‘gh’.

Once there are too many words to write them all in whiteboard marker, lists in smaller print can be attached. Displaying lists of words, rather than a single example word, makes it clear that many spellings have typical locations and neighbours (e.g. ‘ay’ at word endings, ‘igh’ usually before ‘t’).

I hope you like these embedded picture mnemonics, and find them helpful in teaching children about English speech sounds and the complicated way we represent them with letters.


* Except the unstressed vowel, which is stressed when working through words slowly, syllable by syllable, so that it is pronounced a variety of ways based on how it is spelt.


32 responses to “Budget embedded picture mnemonics”

  1. Louise says:

    Hi There, thanks for this resource. As a preschool/ kinder teacher in Victoria, I have used abc charts at the post office table, for children who want to write real words, or initials. We use abc jigsaws and alphabet books, we play with magnetic letters etc and I usually introduce them to letters through the year starting with the letters beginning their Names. Is it appropriate to display your whole chart just as I would have done with the abc chart. I thought I might add it for the ones who do notice that the written letters are not quite as straightforward as the chart suggests?

    • alison says:

      Dear Louise, great to hear that you’ve been teaching preschoolers about letters for years. I think you could display my mnemonics in the same way as you’ve used an alphabet chart in the past, though there are a lot more of them so you’d probably want to introduce them in stages. This might help you with teaching children about the sounds and letters in their names, because children with names like ‘Charlotte’ and “Phoebe” and “Thomas” can get very confused by the fact that the sound that goes with the first letter of their names is not the sound they hear in their names. My brother is called Leigh, and I wish I could turn back time and give the small him an ‘ee as in bee’ mnemonic with his name written on it, and tell him his name has an unusual spelling of ‘ee’, with four letters. I like to underline graphemes too, to help kids understand that graphemes are what represent phonemes, and many of them contain more than one letter. I’d love to hear how you go. All the best, Alison

  2. Louise says:

    Alison, this is not a comment but a query. I would like to purchase the posters but I have to put an order in first to my admin – so would you be able to send me an invoice with your ABN and name, address, fax number if you have one, etc? Sorry about this, I know it’s unnecessary admin from your end.

  3. lisa4 says:

    Do you have these available as part of the download on an A4 sheet – back to back – in the layout you have demonstrated? Just thinking this would be a good visual for children to have on their desks as well when writing. Very keen to use.

    • alison says:

      Hi Lisa, I don’t have these in other formats yet, sorry, but I am certainly thinking about this, thanks for the suggestion, as soon as I have the dozen other pressing tasks on my list done I’ll look at what might be possible. All the best, Alison

  4. Stephanie Hatton says:

    Thank you so much! I have been looking for something like this for a long time (that weren’t Read, Write Inc). If i purchase, can I download rather than send the hard copies?

    Thank you

    • alison says:

      Yes, all the things in my website shop are pdfs that you download and print yourself. I would never be able to print, store and post them so cheaply. I’m assuming that teachers have access to colour printing.

  5. Ann-Louise Clark says:

    These are fabulous and I love her illustrations. Can I ask one thing though…we are starved for brilliant resources like these using the fonts we teach in each state. As I would like to use these as a lesson resource as well as room decoration, it would’ve SO exciting to have the letters in Foundation font (NSW teacher)! Please consider this if ever doing a revision.

  6. Karen A. Kemp says:

    I ordered these and did not receive a link to download. Wondering if my order and payment went through?
    Thanks for checking,

    Not sure which email I used. Could be the one below or karenmetzoldkemp@gmail.com

    • alison says:

      Hi Karen, Sorry to take ages to get back to you, I have been snowed under. You ordered using the yahoo address, so to download the embedded picture mnemonics you go to my site, click on My Account, put in your yahoo email address and the password you created when you bought the materials (you can reset it if you’ve forgotten it) and then go to the Downloads area and download them. Email me on spelfabet@gmail.com if you can’t work it out and tomorrow I will send you the file. Sorry again I didn’t see this message earlier. Alison

  7. Lynne says:

    Hi Louise

    This is a question – what are your thoughts on SSP? I am at a school that has adopted this program whole heartedly. I am not sure I am a fan as it goes against the idea of teaching the most common sound and decodable texts. Was interested in your thoughts. Thanks

    • alison says:

      Hi Lynne, SSP can mean Systematic Synthetic Phonics, which I am wholeheartedly in favour of, or it can mean a program from someone in Qld called Speech Sound Pictures, which I don’t use, and about which I can have a conversation with you offline if you like, just email me. Alison

  8. Jo says:

    These look so good Alison. Can’t wait to use them. Did you have a video explaining them? I thought I saw one previously but now can’t find it.

  9. Samantha Gilchrist says:

    Hi there, I have just downloaded these and I LOVE them!!! I was wondering if in the future you could make an upper case version? I am just thinking this, as I would like to use these to make name cards for the kids. HOWEVER in saying that, this can be problematic for long vowels. It will be great for “Abby” but not so much for “Amy”. Just a thought anyway!!!!

    • alison says:

      Hi Samantha, thanks for the nice feedback, I am not planning an uppercase version of the mnemonics but I am planning version 2 which will actually be two sets, one that works for rhotic accents like American English (where “orange” doesn’t start with a “short O” and “for” doesn’t rhyme with “saw”) and the other for speakers of non-rhotic accents like myself, but I am tweaking some of them a bit. The mnemonics are meant to represent sounds rather than letters, so the first sound in Amy’s name would belong on the ‘ai as in rain” mnemonic, and Abby’s name would be written on the ‘a as in apple’ one, and Audrey’s name would go on the ‘or as in corn’ one on your sound wall, and so on. If you have four children in your class called Charlie, Charlotte, Chloe and Chiam, they’d represent the first sounds in their names on the (respectively) ‘ch as in cheese’, ‘sh as in shell’, ‘k as in cat’ and ‘h as in house’ mnemonics. Hope that makes sense. Alison

  10. Jodie Goddard says:

    I have just purchased this wonderful resource and had a question regarding the long a but with the /ay/ spelling pattern. I am doing this focus next week and noticed there is not a mnemonics for it. Is there a reason this is not included?
    Thanks so much 🙂

    • alison says:

      Hi Jodie, I only have one mnemonic for each phoneme (in this case ‘ai as in rain’), not one for each grapheme, so when you are working on “ay as in play” you’d just write words with this spelling pattern as an alternative/ending spelling for that sound. It’s the same sound, just a different spelling of it (think of pay-paid and lay-laid).

      Once children can recognise the letters and know what all the sounds are, you can add other spelling choices to every mnemonic poster e.g. if you have a child called “Freja” in your class you can add “aj” as a spelling pattern tot the /ai/ sound mnemonic. You don’t have to be restricted to words found in the dictionary, you can account for the spellings of whatever is relevant to your class – street or town names, pet names, whatever. Hope that makes sense, all the best, Alison

  11. Hi,

    I was just wondering if you have a mnemonic for the ‘er’ and ‘ure’ sound, and if not, could you develop it? Please let me know.

    Kind regards,

    • alison says:

      Hi Daniel, I do have an /er/ SOUND mnemonic (ur as in surf, in in the forthcoming set this will change to ur as in burn), but not one for the SPELLING ‘er’, because I only have one mnemonic per phoneme. I don’t have one for every grapheme, if I did I’d need over 100 of them and they’d never fit on a sound wall. “ure” is not a single sound, it’s a sound combination, it’s actually /y/ plus /oo/ plus /r/ if you have a rhotic accent (e.g. North American, pronouncing final /r/), or in non-rhotic accents like mine and in the UK, we pronounce the last sound as an unstressed vowel (schwa) in connected speech, but in my “spelling voice” (say it wrong to spell it right) I do say an /r/ like an American. I do have a /y+oo/ = ‘ew as in newt’ mnemonic at present, and in the new set it will change to ‘ue as in statue’, so that might lend itself a bit better to explaining ‘ure’ spellings. There aren’t many one syllable words with ‘ure’ endings (cure, pure, lure), and most 2+syllable words actually have this pattern pronounced as a schwa, as in capture, posture, adventure, measure, treasure etc. But again in my spelling voice I’d say their last syllable like “cure” when writing it. Hope that all makes sense, all the best, Alison

  12. Malissa Kelly says:

    Hi these are amazing but I was just wondering, when I downloaded the american version it is exactly the same as the uk version?
    Am I doing something wrong?

    • alison says:

      There are just a few differences between versions, mostly in the vowels. I think I’ve sent you both files so you can compare them.

  13. William Dowe says:

    Hey Alison,
    I purchased the $11 NSW version of the picture mnemonics, but the graphic for ‘ew’ was not included. any reason for this?

    • alison says:

      Hi William, there is one mnemonic for each phoneme except schwa, plus extras for the letters that are already represented (k, q, x). The vowel sound in ‘crew’ is represented by the ‘oo as in food’ mnemonic and the ‘you’ sound in ‘new’ is represented by the ‘ue as in statue’ mnemonic. In the earlier version I had ‘ew as in newt’ for the latter sound but lots of kids didn’t know what it was. Once you’ve taught one spelling for each sound you can add additional spellings under the same mnemonic heading, kids don’t need a mnemonic for every grapheme, their main value is teaching a main sound for each letter, but then I added one for each of the additional sounds so the mnemonics could be used as headings in sound walls. Hope that makes sense, all the best, Alison

  14. Amy Giddy says:

    Is it possible to get a copy of the digraphs that have been changed in this latest version e.g. I would like ai for rain rather than the new ae for ape. My school follows the Jolly Phonics program and would like to stick to the same ones as is used in the program. Thanks!

  15. Jo Towill says:

    Hi Alison, I have seen what looks like a child’s desk chart with the capital and lower case letters with the mnemonic. Do you seLl these? I’m guessing they are A4.
    Thanks Jo

    • alison says:

      Hi Jo, I don’t currently have a child’s desk chart with the mnemonics on it but am talking to Cat MacInnes, the illustrator who owns the copyright on these pictures, about making one. All the best, Alison

  16. Chantelle says:

    Hi, I’ve just bought the flashcards mnemonics which are awesome, but I’ve noticed that the ai, oa and ew graphemes are missing. Can you please send them to me?

    • alison says:

      Hi, there is only one mnemonic per PHONEME, not one per GRAPHEME. Their main purpose is to use the single-letter ones to teach the alphabet/basic code, and use the others to make it clear to kids that there are more sounds than letters, for example by creating a sound wall (see the work of Dr Mary Dahlgren). The sound /ae/ has about a dozen common spellings (if you count words like ‘eight’, ‘break’, ‘they’ and ‘straight’), but you don’t need a picture mnemonic for all of them, just organise your lists of words with the different spellings under the heading /ae/ as you teach each group of new spellings. Or just use the single-letter mnemonics. But since I was making one for consonant sounds that don’t have their own spelling (ch, sh, th x2, ng) it seemed logical to make one for all the additional vowel sounds, and not let children think there are only five vowels. Hope that makes sense. Alison

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