The Lexercise Scope & Sequence: Speech sounds (phonemes) & letter symbols (graphemes)


The Lexercise Scope & Sequence is a systematic order for introducing and practicing the entire scope of English orthography. 

Spoken words are made up of a sequence of speech sounds (phonemes). Awareness of speech sounds in words (i.e., phonemic awareness) is an important aspect of auditory processing and highly predictive of reading and spelling skills.  Many of the practice tasks we use to teach phonemic awareness suggests that speech sounds in words line up like beads on a necklace, but this is an over-simplification.  In reality, there is no actual acoustic division between one phoneme and the next in spoken words. Phonemes are psychological abstractions. People who have strong “central linguistic processing” find it natural and easy to identify and classify phonemes in words whereas those with weak linguistic processing may struggle with this.  As Moats (2000) points out, “Readiness for learning to use language is less a function of general maturation than it is a function of linguistic knowledge and linguistic awareness.” (p.145)


George Miller (1991) gives the following example: think of the words nut, not, neat, and newt. All four words begin and end with the same sounds and differ only in their vowel sounds. If a speaker could not articulate these differences or a listener could not discriminate them the sentence, "The nut's not neat, Newt" would become, "The nut's nut nut, nut." Speakers of English hear the differences so clearly, yet the physical difference for each word is small.


Some speech sound awareness definitions are important but not obvious and may require explicit teaching. Here are a few questions that clinicians often ask when using a structured language scope and sequence for the first time: 


#1.  What is the best way to teach the difference between a consonant sound and a vowel sound?

All human speech sounds are categorized as either consonants or vowels.

  • A consonant sound is produced with obstruction or closure of the flow of air by some part(s) of the vocal tract, such as the teeth, lips, tongue.  Consonants are classified by the place where the air flow is obstructed, the nature of the stoppage, and the presence or absence of voicing.
  • A vowel sound is produced with a relatively open vocal tract and is the nucleus of every syllable. Every syllable has one and only one vowel sound. Vowels are classified by how far forward and how high the tongue is in the mouth. It is possible to yell a vowel whereas it is not possible to yell a consonant. 

#2.  What are the conventions used for specifying phonemes?

Brackets, such as / / or [ ] are used to specify phonemes whereas angle brackets such as < > are used to specify the letters that spell the sound in a printed word.

            See:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Phonetic_Alphabet


#3. What are the consonant sounds of English?  

            See:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consonant  

#4. What are the vowel sounds of English?

            See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vowel

#5. What is the difference between a phoneme and a grapheme?

Phoneme refers to an acoustic unit, a speech sound whereas grapheme refers to a visual unit, the letter(s) that represents a phoneme.   In general, the number of phonemes in a word is the same as the number of graphemes. For example, note the phonemes and graphemes in these three sound words:


3 phonemes

3 graphemes


/h a t/

<h o  t>


/ʃ a t/

<sh o t >


/s I ŋ /

<s i  ng >


/æ n t /

<a n t >


 There are a few phoneme – grapheme issues in English that require a little additional explanation. For example:






/b æ k /

<b a ck >

When /k/ comes at the end of a word it is often spelled <ck>



/æ k s  /

<a x >

The letter <x> at the end of a syllable stands for a sequence of two phones (a consonant cluster) : /ks/

See the Wikipedia discussion about "phonemic representation" for more information.






/k w I t /



/l I k ɝ/

<qu i t >



<l i qu or>

The letters <qu> often represent a sequence of two phones (a consonant cluster):  /kw/


Here the <qu> stands for /k/


/s I ŋ /

<s i  ng >

The phoneme /ŋ/ is spelled  <ng> at the end of a syllable



/s I ŋ  k/

<s i  n k >

The phoneme  /ŋ/ is spelled  <n> when it is not the last sound in the syllable



/k  I  s /

<k i ss>

When at the end of a word

<f, l, s, z>  are usually spelled

<ff, ll, ss, zz> 

 (When spelling aloud, read these as "double f", etc.)


 See the Lexercise Scope & Sequence for word structure for all the all the phoneme-grapheme associations and their order of introduction in Levels 1 – 26 of Lexercise.  The most current version of the Lexercise Scope & Sequence is in an article in the Lexercise Manual, accessed from the Manual tab on both the Parent and the Clinician dashboards.


#6. What is the best way to teach the  difference between a consonant “r” and a vowel “r”?   

  In English “r” can be a consonant, as in run, or a vowel, as in urn.  When “r’ is a consonant it is not the nucleus or energy peak of the syllable as it is when it is a vowel.  Since the distinction between the consonant “r” and the vowel “r” has to do with its syllable context you can not distinctively produce a consonant “r” versus a vowel “r.”  In isolation, both sound very much the same.  Note that for the consonant "r" Lexercise has chosen to use an audio file that sounds more like -er” as opposed to “ruh-” because the mid-vowel (“uh”) attached to the latter can be confusing in phonological awareness activities.

As in all Orton-Gillingham approaches, Lexercise introduces the consonant "r" early  (Level 2). The vowel "r" is taught later (Level 13), as a specific syllable type.

#7. What about phonetically "irregular" words?

Most spelling patterns in English are regular---but understanding all regularities can take a high level of word-structure knowledge and sometimes some word history investigation.  For example, the letter-sound patterns in word "syringe" are very regular, but to know that you have to understand that the vowel in first syllable (<y>) is reduced to a lax, mid vowel (schwa) because that syllable is unstressed. Further, you have to know that the <e> following the <g> signals that the <g> will have its "soft" sound, just as in "singe" and "orange".  So, all the phoneme- grapheme correspondences in "syringe" are regular:  <s-y  /  r-i-n-ge>.   

Some words do have at least one phonetically "irregular" letter-sound. These tend to be very common, old words that have had changed over the centuries.  In Lexercise therapy we use the term "sight word" to refer to these common, old words, and we teach them with a little history lesson attached to help kids remember how to spell them.


#8. How is Lexercise similar to other Orton-Gillingham (O-G)  / structured language methods?

The scopes of most Orton-Gillingham or structured language methods are more alike than they are different. For example, they all begin with a small set of consonants and an even smaller set of vowels and build the inventory of each systematically and sequentially, resulting in more and more possible words.  Most begin with lax ("short") vowels in closed syllables. Most explicitly teach the (6 or 7) syllable types of English as a way of describing vowel patterns. While there is some variation across methods in the sequence with which phoneme-grapheme pairs are introduced, most introduce the more regular and more frequent pairs before the less regular and less frequent pairs.  Variation across methods in the sequence of introduction of specific phoneme-grapheme pairs has not been a focus of much research.  There is, however, a consensus about the importance of a systematic and cumulative sequence.

One of the advantages to web-based software is that it can be edited and upgraded without having to be re-published and re-distributed as do print-based publications. Unlike print-based "programs" in which there is a static word list or word bank for each level or unit, Lexercise's online software allows clinicians to derive a Word Bank that they can customize, using digital  filters to, for example, select or de-select specific phoneme-grapheme pairs. In this way, the Lexercise Scope & Sequence follows one of the principles of an Orton-Gillingham approach: flexibility within structure

#9. How is Lexercise different from other Orton-Gillingham (O-G)  / structured language methods?

Lexercise is committed to keeping pace with best practices, so adjustments and improvements to the Scope and Sequence and to the tools used to teach can be expected from time to time. This is a bit different from O-G based "programs" that tend to have a static Scope and Sequence and paper-based materials for use across a table-top.  In fact, Lexercise is not a "program". Rather, it is a technology platform designed to facilitate the application of best-practices in assessment and intervention with clients who have language processing differences.  Here are some examples of how Lexercise is keeping up with best practices:

  • Lexercise teletherapy tools in include a strong teaching routines that span all domains of language from speech to discourse.  For example, the morphology step uses a modern approach, Scientific Word Inquiry, that takes clients beyond "phonics" to a complete and deep understanding of how English words are structured, including an understanding of the meaning of each word element. This counters the problem that many dyslexic have with spelling and often misspelling words exactly as they sound.
  • Consistent with the research that shows that provider knowledge and skill is one of the best predictors of client progress, Lexercise requires that clinicians pass a qualification exam before they can use Lexercise with clients.


  • Birsh, J.R. (2005). Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills, 2nd Edition. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
  • Miller, G. (1991). The Science of Words. Scientific American Library. Freeman: New York.
  • Moats, L.C. (2010). Speech to Print: Language Essentials for Teachers, 2nd Edition.  Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. 
  • Websites:   Real Spelling & Real Spellers


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