The Steps


What do they need to learn?

What are the skills and concepts 
covered within this step?


How can they learn these skills and concepts quickly and easily?

How will you adapt the activities to meet the needs of children who may have additional needs?


Why do they need to learn these skills and concepts, at this stage?

How does this relate to the 
Science of Reading?


Where can you download or purchase the resources we use in the
Steps to Reading Program?

Assessment & Inclusion 

How will we know if each student understands and can apply the focus skills and concepts? How will we ensure all learning needs are met? How will we engage all learners?
How will we differentiate and adapt where necessary? How will we record their learning journey?

A note about Orthographic Mapping

While talking about the Steps to Reading and Spelling, as a 'speech to print' approach, we must mention the term 'Orthographic Mapping' as this is the destination of 'Steps', ie where the steps lead to! 

When reading, the eyes fixate the majority of words in the text, and typically only once. This implies that readers are getting a glimpse of most words in the text and that the essence of skilled reading behaviour is contained in the processing that is performed during that glimpse. Therefore, quite understandably, explaining how literate adults read single words has been one of the major goals of experimental psychology since the very inception of this science (Huey, 1908).

The process of silent word reading (reading for meaning) minimally requires two types of codes: orthography (knowledge about letter identities and letter positions) and semantics (knowledge about the meanings of words). The process of reading aloud minimally requires an orthographic code and a phonological (knowledge about the sounds of words) code in order to generate a pronunciation. Although no more than two codes are necessarily required for each task, it has become increasingly clear that all three codes (orthography, semantics, and phonology) are involved in both silent reading and reading aloud.

A growing body of research (see Kilpatrick, 2015) shows that once typically developing readers become reasonably proficient at phonic decoding they begin to ‘self-teach’.  This occurs during SSP Phase 2 and is extended during phase 3, with opportunities for a really broad exploration of the code (eg within the Speedy Six Spelling, Paired and Group Decoding of text higher than their 'reading level') Within the pre-school Steps to Reading (and Spelling) Program this is happening by 'Step 10', and often well before they start school (see videos below) This self-teaching hypothesis proposes that every time these readers encounter an unfamiliar word, they work out the Code Mapping (an SSP term to describe the mapping of phonemes to graphemes, that we show visually by using black/ grey colours) as they recognise the structure of the word. They then use this new knowledge to establish an orthographic representation of the word in their long-term memory. It is said that this occurs after one to four exposures to the word.

However students who have poor phonemic awareness and phonic decoding skills do not self-learn orthographic mapping.  More exposures are needed, and so these students do not easily develop a large ‘sight’ vocabulary, compromising their ability to read fluently, which in turn interferes with their comprehension.

This is why Step 1 is SO important. We can identify phonemic awareness difficulties from day 1, and are offering an early intervention, so that orthographic mapping can take place as quickly and easily as possible.

See 'Session 1' with Miss Emma and notice that the whole session is focused on this skill ! No graphemes are even introduced. 


Linnea Ehri developed a four phase model of how students learn to read words (Ehri, 1999).

The four phases are:

  1. Pre-alphabetic phase: students read words by memorizing their visual features or guessing words from their context.

  2. Partial-alphabetic phase: students recognize some letters of the alphabet and can use them together with context to remember words by sight.

  3. Full-alphabetic phase: readers possess extensive working knowledge of the graphophonemic system, and they can use this knowledge to analyze fully the connections between graphemes and phonemes in words. They can decode unfamiliar words and store fully analyzed sight words in memory.

  4. Consolidated-alphabetic phase: students consolidate their knowledge of grapheme-phoneme blends into larger units that recur in different words.

We take this 'pre-alphabetic phase even further back by priming the brains of students to understand how 'words work' ie that when we speak we are using small sound units (speech sounds) which are used, in order, to create the words on paper ('talking on paper') So even before looking a words, during systematic teaching (they are, of course, seeing words around them every day) they UNDERSTAND the decoding (follow the monster sounds to say the word) and encoding (monster routine to spell words) process !

The speech sound monsters are a visual representation of a SOUND, before graphemes are introduced. They enable children as young as 18 months old to UNDERSTAND concepts, and also to decode and encode ANY words, just with the phoneme monsters. So when the 'pictures' of the speech sounds are introduced (within a few hours, or days) they UNDERSTAND what we are going to be learning. They also understand from week 1, that the initial 'Sound Pics' (graphemes) are only ONE of the numerous spelling choices they will see and use when reading and spelling in English. We are focused on CONCEPTS and SKILLS more so than specific words; the initial graphemes and words are simply a vehicle, to start building 'Code Knowledge'. The monsters also enable students to move to the 'self-teaching' stage far more easily. The vast majority of children using the Steps to Reading program will be at phase 4 (consolidated-alphabetic phase) BEFORE they start school. Because they understand that every word can be Code Mapped, and HOW to attack words (and learn from every newly encountered word) they are using 'othographic mapping' before they enter school, and will not only understand thousands more words, but be able to read and spell them. They are receiving the 'intervention' Kilpatrick has found to be successful BEFORE they struggle, and need it. We start early, and we teach ALL children AS IF they were going to struggle, from day 1.


Why not join the Orthographic Mapping: from Theory to Practice group here. We discuss HOW reach this vital stage EARLY, using Miss Emma's Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach. The Steps Program is for early years educators and parents, with SSP Phase 1, 2 and 3 being used in Primary Schools.  

Kilpatrick’s (2015) analysis of the research indicates that successful intervention for these students needs to include:

  1. Teaching phonemic awareness to the advanced level (this includes not only teaching blending and segmenting, but also phoneme manipulation such as deleting, adding, substituting or reversing phonemes).

  2. Teaching and reinforcing phonic skills and decoding.

  3. Providing authentic literature so students can practise reading connected text.



Kilpatrick, D.A. (2015). Essentials of Assessing, Preventing and Overcoming Reading Difficulties. John Wiley

Learning the (phoneme) monsters (also aids with the unnatural act of using phonemes in isolation)

Sound Pic (grapheme) recognition
4 Code Levels - 90+ high frequency graphemes


Phonemic awareness (phoneme identification, segmentation and blending)

Blending the Sound Pics (graphemes) in 'Code Level words'
(sentences are on the back of the Coding Poster)

Sound Pic (grapheme) recognition and blending
- words that have at least one 'sound pic' not covered in the 4 Code Levels (HFWs)

Systematic phonics teaching. She has paused the SSP Monster Mapping app - Yellow Code Level - to demonstrate understanding / consolidate.

As she moves through the Code Levels she is using 'code level' texts (decodable readers) FREE guide
This is an SSP 'Blue Code Level' reader from Phonics Books UK

Here she is taking a 'print to speech' approach, to see what /ed/ represents at the end of words in a Dandelion reader.
She has not even started school yet.


She is reading whatever books she chooses. If unsure of words she can ask someone to 'follow the sounds' for her to blend and then store., or she types the word into tophonetics as she know which phonetic symbol maps with the monsters 

We use the science, and also create new theories.
We are action researchers. 

Ideally the student says the sounds while writing (but when listening this can be tricky, so the Coding Poster work is ideal as they have to do it without help. The parent or teacher can hear them, and see how they are progressing. 

Teacherless Teaching Tools
(SSP Monster Mapping app has stored lessons. Plug and play!)

  • Steps to Reading - Part of the Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach

© 2020 Steps to Reading Program - Teaching Reading and Spelling in the Early Years - Part of the Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach from Miss Emma, The Reading Whisperer 

Steps to Reading Program

Parents and EY Teachers please use this link to order a membership.