Embedded picture mnemonics – flashcard size

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New, improved Embedded Picture Mnemonics in flashcard size, four to an A4 page. There are three versions – for US English, UK/Aust/NZ English, and a less urban/formal Aussie version. Download whichever suits you best.

These colourful, fun illustrations represent all the speech sounds of English and include all the letters. Each has a letter or spelling (e.g. h, i, sh, ou) integrated into a picture representing a word containing that sound (e.g. house, insect shells, cloud). Research has shown this helps children learn sound-letter relationships more easily.

These embedded picture mnemonic cards can be used to build and change words, to create classroom Sound Walls with children, and in many other ways.

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When teaching children sound-letter relationships, integrating letter shapes into relevant pictures has been shown to be more effective than just associating letters with a relevant picture, as occurs in typical alphabet friezes/charts. 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 discussing this at 18:40 on the video clock here, read about it on p272 of his accessible book, or read relevant research for yourself here, here, here and here.

You can use these cards in word-building sequences/word chains, 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 /z/ in ‘is’, and the /s/ in ‘pretzel’.

‘Short’ vowel sounds in the set are followed by ‘long’ vowels, and the the ‘r-controlled’ and other vowels. The ‘long’ vowels are now represented by single letters (a/ape, e/evil, i/ice, o/ocean, u/unicorn), which are their most common spellings, as most English words are polysyllabic. Consonant sounds are in Portrait format, and vowel sounds are in Landscape format, to help children learn the difference between these two classes of speech sounds.

These embedded picture mnemonic cards can be used to build Sound Walls, if you don’t have enough wall space for the A4 version. Sound Walls teach children how English words are spelt more logically than alphabet friezes/charts or Word Walls. They show that English has many more speech sounds than letters, that many sounds are spelt with letter combinations, and that a spelling can represent more than one sound.

Sound Walls are gradually co-constructed with children, refreshing words as new vocabulary is learnt. Working from sound to print helps you to give simple, clear, truthful explanations about how English spelling works, and allows you to adjust your teaching to your learners’ accent(s).

Once children are aware of a sound and know one of its spellings, other ways it can be spelt can be added to the relevant mnemonic in groups, like this:


These mnemonics were devised with a talented, tolerant, patient, Melbourne illustrator called Cat MacInnes (www.catmacinnes.com). There are now three sets – one for speakers of British, Australian, NZ and other non-rhotic Englishes, for speakers of American and other rhotic Englishes, and a less urban/formal Aussie version with u/undies, k/kangaroo and ur/surf, just for a laugh. Download and use whichever work best for you – the website shop doesn’t know what your accent is, so it will give you all versions.

Please save the file(s) you need to your computer (you have three chances to do this, in case of computer crashes, power outages etc), and then print what you need for your students. The price of the mnemonics assumes that they will be bought by a teacher or therapist for use with their class/students. If you’d like to use them in several classrooms, or several people want to use them, please buy one copy for each classroom/full-timer. Artists should be paid properly for their work, and their sales help keep the Spelfabet website going.

Last updated 20 May 2023.