What is Sounds & Syllables?
Sounds & Syllables is a primary spelling programme that ditches the nonsense and teaches all children in a simple but logical way how English spelling actually works. And was designed with three simple, principles in mind: that it would be universal, simple and logical.
When we say that Sounds & Syllables is universal, we mean two things. First, it works with children across the primary age range (and beyond) from EYFS through to Year 6. It works with spellers of all abilities, from those who are just starting out on their spelling journey to those who are confident, sophisticated spellers. Second, the Sounds & Syllables spelling approach helps children to spell any word in the English Language from hip to hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia.
Because the Sounds & Syllables approach works with all children of all abilities to spell any word, it’s an approach that only needs to be learned once and pays back in improved spelling for years to come. There are no complex spelling rules to learn, no mess of unhelpful spelling activities (no look cover write check, word shapes, rainbow spelling, backwards spelling, does it look right?, crosswords or word searches), just one simple five-step spelling sequence.
And because the Sounds & Syllables is so simple to learn and apply, children use it where they need it most – at the point of writing. Any spelling programme that doesn’t explicitly help children with spelling as children write is lacking. And the same spelling sequence that children learn and practise in spelling lessons is the same spelling sequence that they will use when they are writing, making Sounds & Syllables the only spelling programme that addresses spelling at the point of writing.
Sounds & Syllables teaches children how English spelling actually works. This unlocks the logic of English spelling (it is not a chaotic mess with countless rules and countless exceptions) and shows children h0w a few simple principles can improve their spelling.
The Logic Of English Spelling
The founding concept behind spelling in Sounds & Syllables is the understanding that every word in the English language, from the the simplest to the most complex are constructed in the exactly the same way. Each word is a collection of spellings, each of which represents a speech sound. And these sound-spelling matches are clustered into syllables. It is from this founding concept that the logic of English spelling unfolds.
When, for example, spelling the word keeve, (a vat using in the brewing or bleaching process), a speller must select a spelling for each speech sound /k/, /ee/ and /v/. But is not simply a case of matching a spelling to each sound, children need to match the correct spelling to each sound. And Sounds & Syllables helps children to understand English orthography, the set of conventions for writing a language of which spelling is a key component.
Developing a deeper understanding of English orthography will help children to make better choice. An important concept taught in Sounds & Syllables is frequency – that some spellings are more frequent and, therefore, better ‘bets’ than others. When spelling the /ee/ of keeve, <ee> is a good bet, <eo> (as in people), not so much. But frequency lone is not enough; position matters too. Looking at the final sound of keeve, /v/, <v> is the most common spelling overall, but at the end of a word <ve> is much more likely. And the relationship of one sound or spelling to another also influences the choices we make. Keeve beings with the sound /k/ and the most common spelling for this sound in English is <c>, but followed by <e> represents /s/ (cell, certain, proceed), so instead we use <k>.
But English spelling is not just phonemic (spellings represent sounds), it is morphonemic; the meaning of words and word parts, the study of which we call morphology, also affects spellings. And Sounds & Syllables teaches children the spelling of common morphemes – prefixes, suffixes and roots – helping children to understand why, for example, the penultimate spellings of the same sound in circus and famous are different (the former ends with the suffix <us> meaning ‘one’ and the latter the suffix <ous> denoting an adjective). And Sounds & Syllables teaches children the conventions for combining these morphemes, helping them to understanding why we end up with hopping from hop and hoping from hope, for example.
And Sounds & Syllables teaches children a little about how the origins of the English language and how it affects how we spell words: that words ending with /ai/ spelled <et> are derived from French (ballet, crochet, cabaret) or that words containing /k/ spelled <ch> derives from Greek (chorus, school, ache).
The Sounds & Syllables Spelling Sequence
At the heart of Sounds & Syllables is a simple but powerful spelling sequence that is used with all children from EYFS to Year 6 (and beyond) to spell any word. This sequence is simple to learn and is used when teaching and practising spelling, but also when attempting spellings while writing. The Sounds & Syllables sequence consists of five simple steps: (1) say the word clearly; (2) snip the word into syllables; (3) say the sounds and write the spellings for each syllable in turn; (4) target and correct any misspellings; and (5) lock in those tricky spellings by linking them to similar spellings in known words.
Step 1: Say It
Good spelling starts with good pronunciation. After all, the key to spelling is transposing spoken sounds into written spellings, so ensuring that children pronounce words clearly and crisply in a way that illuminates the relation between sound and spelling is vital to producing good spellers. And the Sounds & Syllables spelling voice is a key weapon in the armoury of any good speller.
Step 2: Snip It
Working memory is very limited. Researches estimate that we can only hold three or four items in working memory at any one time, so it is no surprise that poorer spellers struggle to hold multiple longer words with multiple syllables in working memory to spell them correctly. To avoid overloading working memory, an important step in the Sounds & Syllables sequence is to snip words into syllables and spell each syllable at a time, thereby reducing the load and making words easier to spell.
Step 3: Say & Spell It
Sounds & Syllables uses a multi-sensory approach to spelling words, listening to and saying clear pronunciations of words, but also saying speech sounds and children write spellings of each syllable in turn. Saying speech sounds aloud as children write the spelling that represents it helps to strengthen the correspondence between them and lock it into long term memory.
Step 4: Target It
Of course, there is no spelling strategy on the planet that will prevent children from making spelling mistakes, so step four in the Sounds & Syllables spelling sequence helps children to identifying mistakes at the sound-spelling level, which is the key to correcting errors and misconceptions, and provides a simple but effective strategy for correcting them.
Step 5: Lock It
But it is not enough to simply correct spelling mistakes, we need to assess the causes of those mistakes. And Sounds & Syllables provides teachers with the tools to do so. The final step in the sequence has teachers analyse the cause of within-word spelling errors for their causes, be it a misconception with pronunciation, a misunderstanding of sound-spelling matches, or errors linked to morphology.
The Sounds & Syllables curriculum contains 144 spelling units with 36 units each year from Year 3 to Year 6. Although the Sounds & Syllables approach to spelling can be used with children from Reception onwards, and most schools who purchase Sounds & Syllables training use the principles and approach to elevate their phonics teaching, to avoid clashes, the Sounds & Syllables curriculum is designed to pick up where your phonics programme leaves off.
National Curriculum content is fully covered, including the teaching of key stage 2 statutory spellings, but the content is organised and delivered in a more logical manner, each unit explicitly teaching an element of English orthography. And where the National Curriculum fails to teach children about common root words, Sounds & Syllables has this covered too with the most common Latin and Greek roots taught from Year 4 onwards.
Each Sounds & Syllables unit comes with a word bank, containing a set of words from you can select those words you would like to teach. Each word is already broken down into its sounds and syllables, so you don’t have to. And words within the bank are organised into different spelling patterns.
Teaching notes are provided with every unit. These notes help to explain the spelling pattern taught within the unit, improving teachers’ knowledge of English orthography, and unpick areas of difficulty and potential misconceptions. And they provide notes for using some of the resources within the unit too.
And every unit comes with a set of printable teaching resources, which takes the hassle out of planning, frees up teachers’ valuable time and makes Sounds & Syllable a fuss-free way to teach spelling.
To learn more about the resources contained with Sounds & Syllables, click on the image below, which will take you to a page that walks you through a Year 3 unit. At the bottom of that page, you can download a sample Year 3 unit.
Whole School Training
If you would like to use Sounds & Syllables in your school, the curriculum and resources are provided free with whole school training. Training takes six hours to complete, but can be delivered flexibly to suit you – as a single six-hour session, as two three-hour sessions or as three two-hour sessions. Face-to-face training is offered where that is logistically possible (distance often being the deciding factor), but training can also be delivered online through Zoom.
Get In Touch
To book Sounds & Syllables training for your school, or if you have any questions, please get in touch using the contact form below.