Classrooms often have alphabet friezes and word walls, but sound displays/sound walls are more useful for teaching children the logic of our writing system. These explicitly show that English has many more speech sounds than letters, and many sounds are spelt with letter combinations.
Integrating letter shapes into relevant pictures is more effective than just associating letters with a relevant picture, as occurs in typical alphabet friezes. The embedded picture mnemonic on the right below is thus more likely to help learners remember the letter C and the main sound it represents than the image on the left.
You can watch US expert Dr David Kilpatrick explaining this at 18:40 on the video clock here, read about it on p272 of his excellent, accessible book, or read relevant research for yourself here, here, here and here.
Once children know one spelling for each sound, other ways that each sound can be spelt can be added to the relevant mnemonic(s) in groups, like this (this picture is from the original mnemonics set, but you could use these cards as headings in the same way):
You can then use the display to teach about shared spellings e.g. the letter “u” can represent both /u/ as in “cup” and /oo/ as in “put”.
Working from sound to print helps you to give simple, clear, truthful explanations about how English spelling works, regardless of accent. US expert Mary Dahlgren explains the logic of sound walls in more detail here.
Instead of overwhelming beginners with big charts of all the sounds and their main spellings, these downloadable embedded picture mnemonics allow you to gradually build your own sound-spelling charts with children, refreshing words as new vocabulary is learnt.
Working in a known-to-unknown, speech-to-print way using embedded picture mnemonics means you need a mnemonic for each sound, not just each letter.
You can also use these cards in word-building sequences, as seen here:
Consonants in the set are grouped in voiced-voiceless pairs by sound type (stops, nasals, fricatives, glides, liquids). Keeping voiced-voiceless pairs together helps you explain why they sometimes use each other’s spellings e.g. the /v/ in ‘of’, the /s/ in ‘is’, ‘please’ and ‘scissors’. In the vowels, the ‘short’ vowel sounds are first, then ‘long’ vowels, and finally the ‘r-controlled’ and other vowels.
These mnemonics were devised with a talented, tolerant, patient, Melbourne illustrator called Cat MacInnes (www.catmacinnes.com). They are supplied as a downloadable pdf for you to download, save to your computer, and then print in colour. Cat owns the copyright on the drawings, so only a limited number of copies are available at this stage.