Step 1 (Pre-Phonics)

- Steps to Reading & Spelling
As with all Steps, please talk, sing, read and rhyme as often as possible!

This is an over-view of what we will be doing with your child when attending a Steps to Reading Group, and WHY we do what we do! As you attend with your child you will learn how to teach children to read using an evidence based approach. This means that the activities are most likely to be effective with your child, regardless of any factors. You'll have heard people say that they taught their child to read, but they may have been lucky and their child doesn't have speech and language difficulties, poor phonemic awareness, or dyslexia etc.  

You may become so excited about being able to teach ANY child to read that you want to then start running your own group. We would love to help you with that.

Members have access to the core materials needed to teach their child to read and spell at home, even if not attending a group. We want children to experience a love of reading, as they CAN read, around the world.

This is only Step 1 ! This is the 'pre-phonics' phase. We are ensuring that their brains are 'wired' to be able to read and spell, identifying which children are potentially dyslexic, and teaching them in the way they learn best. So if this is 'pre-phonics' imagine how systematic and scaffolded our phonics teaching is! You can also see that Steps is FUN, hands-on, play based  learning that aligns with the Montessori Method.  


Steps to Reading Program


Children need to be able to:

Identify the speech sounds in spoken words, segment (order, left to right) and blend them. They must understand that this is how we are to record the 'pics' of the sounds on paper when we start writing words.

They demonstrate the skills using Duck Hands, Lines and Numbers, and by placing the correct Speech Sound Monsters on those lines. If non verbal the Monsters show us which sounds they are hearing.

(early spelling skills)





Identify the target speech sounds and blend them into a whole (spoken) word.

They demonstrate this by 'following the Monster Sounds to say the word' If they are non verbal they can demonstrate by circling the correct visual prompt 
(early decoding skills)

They will be blending words with other phonemes too, but the focus is the first six (especially if ready to be challenged) 

In order to prepare for the transition to phonics, where these speech sounds are mapped (on paper) with graphemes, children practise forming lower case letters, in Steps to Reading & Spelling phonics teaching order
(starting with s a t p i n) 
We use the RWI letter formation phrases, with exits.
Within Step 1 they only use these 6 letters, and also practice writing their name.


They demonstrate this by forming the letters correctly (eg from top to bottom) and only lift the pencil/ crayon when necessary.  They can write their own name, using a capital letter - all other letters are lower case.

We are NOT teaching letter names, even though they will start forming the letters in preparation for Step 2. Some letter names bear little relationship to the sounds the letters represent and interfere with learning the sounds. If the child learns letter names without a clear conceptual and associative emphasis on the sounds the letters symbolise, confusions in reading and/or spelling will occur.

Children introduced to the first 6 Speech Sound Monsters.
Just as a cow 'says' moo, a dog 'says' woof woof, each monster 'says' a speech sound (phoneme)
They learn to associate the monsters with their corresponding phonemes. Even though it is the first 6 that matter most, they will learn all 46 monsters quickly, using the 2 Minute 
Monster Video 

Blending phoneme monsters

Children learn the associated word for the Visual Prompts. When segmenting and blending sounds their brains will be searching for the familiar connection (the word created using only those focus 6 speech sounds) Familiarity helps the process.

They will play bingo, snap etc to learn the associated words, as well as the Phase 1 videos in the SSP Monster Mapping app.

Children use 'Duck Hands' to isolate, segment and blend phonemes from left to right.  This quickly progresses to also using Speech Sound Lines and Numbers.

Children are learning that spoken words are simply smaller sound units (phonemes) and ordered that way to produce the whole word. The ORDER matters if we are to talk on paper (segmentation) 
Duck Hands, Lines and Numbers all help children understand how speech translates to written words more easily, even before looking at the letter/s used to represent those sounds on paper.

Children can't learn to read without this skill! Please say 'follow the Monster sounds to say the word'
We don't use the phrase 'Sound it out'

Manipulation is the highest level of phonemic awareness and so although we add, delete and manipulate speech sounds this skill can take longer. Being unable to manipulate won't hold them back from moving to Step 2 

The Monster Routine
Initially with just Duck Hands, Lines and Numbers, and Speech and Monsters.
We start adding in the Sound Pics in Step 2


The National Reading Panel found that certain instructional methods are better than others, and that many of the more effective methods are ready for implementation in the classroom. To become good readers, children must develop:

  • Phonemic awareness

  • Phonics skills

  • The ability to read words in text in an accurate and fluent manner

  • The ability to apply comprehension strategies consciously and deliberately as they read

The Panel found that many difficulties learning to read were caused by inadequate phonemic awareness and that systematic and explicit instruction in phonemic awareness directly caused improvements in children's reading and spelling skills.

The evidence for these casual claims is so clear cut that the Panel concluded that systematic and explicit instruction in phonemic awareness should be an important component of classroom reading instruction for children in preschool and beyond who have not been taught phoneme concepts or who have difficulties understanding that the words in oral language are composed of smaller speech sounds — sounds that will be linked to the letters of the alphabet. Importantly, the Panel found that even preschool children responded well to instruction in phonemic awareness when the instruction was presented in an age-appropriate and entertaining manner. 


Why not start from phonics? Why not introduce
graphemes (letters) from day 1? Why are there no
graphemes in Step 1?

'One of the most fundamental flaws found in almost all phonics programs, including traditional ones, is that they teach the code backwards. That is, they go from letter to sound instead of from sound to letter. Such programs disregard the fact that speech evolved at least 30,000 years before writing. Alphabetic writing was invented to represent speech; speech was not learned from reading. Following the logic of history, we should teach awareness of the sound system (phonology) and anchor letters to it.


Moats Teaching Decoding 

How will we know they are learning Step 1 skills and concepts?

What will we do if they are struggling to isolate speech sounds, segment and blend them?


What will we do if they are struggling to form the letters of the alphabet?   

Here soon

Resources for Step 1

Individual Items used in Step 1:

Monster Mapping Kit Handbook

SSP Monster Mapping app (app store or google play store)

Speech Sound Puppets

Online Membership for Code Level and Duck Level videos, Bookcase and Digital Downloads 

Why not follow Miss Emma's ONLINE lessons on the main web site if you can't attend a group?
Go to the PARENT'S CORNER as you can get started with Step 1 there, and access some free resources to get you started with this ESSENTIAL step!!

Miss Emma's Lessons in the Parent's Corner

Revolutionary theories succeed when the new framework makes it possible to solve problems that stymied the previous intellectual regime. 

Phonemic awareness could be taught effectively by segmenting, blending and manipulating phonemes with the letters of the alphabet, because it will help children to see how phonemic awareness relates to their reading and writing. Code Mapping refers to the mapping of phonemes to graphemes, but also shows how each word is segmented (using black and grey letters, to also ensure the word is as similar to 'real' text as possible) However this would mean that children need to understand 'phonics' (cart/ horse?) By using a representation for the phonemes without needing to understand which letters/graphemes map, we can teach phonemic awareness effectively, regardless of phonics skill level. It means that children will also have a better understanding of how we 'talk on paper', in line with recommendations from Moats ie that a Speech to Print Approach is being taken. They have something that is placed on the speech sound lines, even before introducing the graphemes. Furthermore, we have extended 'visual phonics' - usually offering a phoneme prompt for the grapheme, (eg showing a snake to represent the /s/ phoneme) They will not later become confused as the picture links with only one spelling choice; eg when they see the word 'cent'. We suggest that embedded 'alternative phonetic symbols' (phoneme monsters) better secure letters to their sounds in memory which in turn improves word learning for children in Ehri's (2005) partial alphabetic phase.

Linnea Ehri--a Professor of Educational Psychology at the Graduate Center, City University of New York--has 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.

What does it look like?

We've been reading Orange Code Level Books but you might be ready to move to Step 2 (The Green Code Level)! 
Head to the Bookcase !

A snap shot into the transition from Step 1 to Step 2. 

  • 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.