The earlier children learn to read, the earlier they can start reading to learn. Learning early also
increases self-confidence, and the potential to equate reading with pleasure. Reading for pleasure
increases the likelihood of children choosing to read independently. This, in turn, improves their
vocabulary knowledge and comprehension. So our aim is that every child leaves Prep reading and
writing with confidence, even though all will reach this destination in a different way. Their journey
will centre around building their self-esteem, and developing a love of learning. Your child’s teacher
has chosen to use an innovative approach based on neuroscience ~ utilising the power of brain
plasticity, and not only speeding up the reading and spelling process but also working memory!
The Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach to the teaching of reading and spelling is based on over a
decade of research relating to ‘the reading brain’. Brain imaging allows us to see the impact certain
interventions have one the brain, and to discover why so many struggle with reading and spelling,
including those with dyslexia. The biggest predictor of reading and spelling success or failure is
‘phonemic awareness, which is often confused with phonics. In fact, without good phonemic
awareness, children will struggle to understand phonics. Around 35% of any new Prep class will have
poor phonemic awareness, regardless of how intelligent they may be. Then good news is that we can
identify this within the first three weeks of term 1, and by term 2 none of these children will ever
know. Difficulties are avoided, through differentiated teaching and personalised learning. Each
student is taught in the way that is most effective for them. Activities and readers are appealing to
boys and girls, and can be accessed by parents and carers at home, for free, on tablets or computers.
Writing was created to translate speech into print. We call writing ‘talking on paper’. The smaller
parts of our spoken words can be represented by ‘pictures of speech sounds’, and these are created
using letters, or combinations of letters. In order to find reading and spelling relatively easy, children
need to learn to hear those smaller parts, to split them, know their order and ideally to also
manipulate them. This is the biggest focus, when first learning to read and spell, as this ‘wires the
brain’ to make sense of print, even though this stage doesn’t include print, or letters.
When a student can hear that the word ‘fish’ has three speech sounds, they can figure out how to
spell the word, even if they have never seen it before. They use the SSP Spelling Strategy. This
strategy will enable them to spell 99% of English words, without having to memorise them.
They can also read any word they have never seen before, in the same way! They start from the left,
identifying the sound pics, and then blending them into a word. This is what you would do if you
were asked to read the word ‘gallimaufry’ out loud. Without hearing the word you wouldn’t know if
you were correct. Knowing ‘the code’ however, gives you the opportunity to at least attempt the
word. This is what we will be teaching your child.
When we break it down, there are about 47 speech sounds, and about 150 speech sound pics. These
will enable your child to read and spell 99% of the English language. Far easier than trying to
memorise the millions of words we use as whole words! Children only learn high frequency words as
‘sight words’ in the early stages, to give them more choices when writing, however they soon learn
how to decode them, as they move through the SSP levels.
Spelling Clouds give children instant access to every spelling choice. So when spelling the word ‘fish’
the only options are shown within these three Spelling Clouds.
SpeedySSP is a daily activity that lasts up to 30 minutes, and enables children to work at their level,
developing all skills and concepts essential for reading fluency. The attached sheet shows the
scaffolded approach, which you can reinforce at home. Parental involvement is highly encouraged,
both at home and in the classroom. There will be 4 stations (Green, Purple, Yellow and Blue) and if
you could support a station on any day please do get in touch with your teacher. Children move
through the stations at their own pace, during the year, with the aim of every student completing
the Blue Level before they complete term 4. After station work they can read independently from
the SSP Book Tier – which you can access at home. The tier is split into the 4 SSP station levels.
We want you to be as excited about reading and spelling as we are! Remember, the focus is on your
child’s journey, not as it compares to others. Children will learn to support each other, with a spirit
of collaboration rather than competition.
In order to help share information with other schools about our journey with SSP, which includes
collecting data (students are assigned a number, names of students will never be shared) we ask that
you indicate your permission for photographs and videos of your child to be shared, for educational
training purposes. Throughout the year we may record our journey on a private facebook page,
which will only be available to class parents and school staff. Only positive photos and info will ever
be shared, in keeping with the SSP approach.
If you would like a more detailed over view of the approach please do watch this message to older
students, who are now using SSP to get back on track. SSP is used with struggling readers and
spellers of any age.
If you have any questions please do contact your teacher, and I very much hope to meet you all this
year when I visit the school.
Emma Hartnell-Baker BEd Hons. MA Special Educational Needs.
Creator of the Speech Sound Pics Approach (SSP)