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 (excuse my handwriting, yours is probably much neater):
You can then use the display in teaching about shared spellings e.g. ou represents four different sounds in ‘out’, ‘you’, ‘country’ and ‘cough’.
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 many beginners with big charts of all the sounds and their main spellings, these downloadable embedded picture mnemonics allow you to build your own sound-spelling charts with children. Laminate them and add example words in whiteboard marker, which can quickly be erased and refreshed as new words are learnt, to keep them relevant and interesting.
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. That’s what this set contains. Here’s how I have set mine up:
Consonants are grouped in voiced-voiceless pairs from left to right by sound type (stops, nasals, fricatives, glides, liquids) with front-of-the-mouth sounds at the top, and back-of-the-mouth sounds at the bottom. 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 display, the ‘short’ vowel sounds are on the top row, ‘long’ vowels are next, and the ‘r-controlled’ vowels and the other two stressed vowel sounds are at the bottom. This allows you to 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, good/moon, and lead into teaching about closed (consonant last) and open (vowel last) syllables.
These mnemonics were devised over nine distracting months with a talented, tolerant, patient, Melbourne illustrator called Cat MacInnes (www.catmacinnes.com). They are supplied as a downloadable pdf and can be printed in A4 size, or two per page if the A4 size is too big for your display area. Cat owns the copyright on the drawings, so only a limited number of copies are available at this stage (so get in quick!).