Letter-sound mnemonic association cues: research guidance & practical tips


 Research supports the importance of accurate and fluent letter-to-sound and sound-to-letter associations. 

1)  Begin by establishing the auditory skill of isolating the first sound in words. (See Lexercise Station 1);

2)  Establish fluent letter-sound associations for a subset of letter-sound pairs (e.g., The child sees a letter and says the sound it represents.) 

3) If the child has trouble remembering any letter(s)-to-sound or sound-to-letter(s) association or has symbol imagery problems (letter formulation or orientation problems) use a first-sound mnemonic integrated in to the letter symbol.  The narrative should provide a “concrete, meaningful, interactive, and imaginable” cue to both the sound and the letter (orientation and formulation). 

Recent neuroscience research (e.g., (Dehaene, 2013 &  Gimenez, 2014)  suggests that the brain's literacy circuit connects the brain's "letterbox" in the back of the brain to an area in the front of the brain (Exner's area) that recognizes a distinctive movement path for each letter.   This research supports practice that includes asking the child to say the phoneme as he/she writes the grapheme using the structurally distinctive movement path.


Research supports the use of mnemonic cues for sound-letter learning with the following guidelines: 

1)    Paired-associate learning was improved by establishing meaningful links between the pairs  (Rothkopf , 1962)

2)    Rohwer (1966) investigated various kinds of associative mnemonics in young children and found that the best connectives for remembering pairs of pictures or words were meaningful "actor-action-object" relations.

3)    Studies confirm that paired associate learning in children is much improved when learners create or are provided with concrete, meaningful, interactive, and imaginable connectives that link the stimulus and response terms in memory (Davidson & Adams, 1970; Ehri & Rohwer, 1969; Lippman & Shanahan, 1973; Rohwer & Levin, 1968; Rohwer, Lynch, Levin, & Suzuki, 1967).

4)    Various kinds of mnemonics have been investigated for their effectiveness in facilitating prereaders' learning of letter-sound associations. Marsh and Desberg (1978) examined two types of response-elaborated pictures: pictures whose names began with the correct sounds (e.g., pumpkin for /pe/), called & first-sound mnemonic, and pictures that depicted an action producing the correct sound (e.g., a boy blowing out a candle and saying /pa/), called an action mnemonic. Control groups were shown no pictures or irrelevant pictures. Results indicated that both kinds of picture mnemonics facilitated performance during training when the pictures were present.

5)    For mnemonics to be effective, not only must the response term involve something concrete and meaningful, but the mnemonic must effectively link the visual stimulus to the response so that when learners see the letter shapes, they are reminded of the mnemonic pictures or actions.

6)    Ehri, Deffner & Wilce (1984) tested of the effectiveness of mneumonics for letter-sound associative learning using pictures designed so that the shape of the relevant letter appeared as a salient visual feature integrated in to the drawing (e.g., the letter w forming part of the wings of an insect) and so that the name of the picture began with the target phoneme (e.g., the initial sound of wing is /w/).  All Ss had phonemic segmentation training before the study to assure that they could segment first sounds in picture names and therefore produce the response sounds during training.  They found the integrated-picture group recalled letter-sound association better that the no-picture group, showing that pictures cues help sound-letter association. The superiority of the integrated-picture group over the disassociated-picture group shows that only one type of picture works, namely, one that links the shape of the letter to its sound.

7)    ARTICLE:  Effects of Integrated Picture Mnemonics on the Letter Recognition and Letter-Sound Acquisition of Transitional First-Grade Students with Special Needs.  Barbara M. Fulk, Dee Lohman and Phillip J. Belfiore (1997) Learning Disability Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 1, pp. 33-42.   [Abstract:  The effects of an integrated picture mnemonic strategy on the letter-sound acquisition of three transitional first-grade students with special needs were investigated using a multiple-baseline-across-students design. Following a baseline period, 20 consonant letters were presented using integrated picture mnemonics. Data were also collected on letter recognition, and students were questioned to determine if they were aware of their strategy use. Results indicated that integrated picture mnemonics were an effective instructional technique for increasing letter-sound acquisition and letter recognition. Follow up data collected at two-week and four-week delay intervals demonstrated that results maintained over time.]

 Note that cues need to include a directional orientation from left to right (i.e., "driving down the road" from left to right) because directionality matters in differentiating many English graphemes.  (Don't forget that research guides us to teach each letter as a movement path as opposed to as a static image!)

Here is an article with Questions & Answers about the Lexercise Scope & Sequence: Speech sounds (phonemes) & letter symbols (graphemes).




Lexercise includes a colorful Letter-Sound Association Deck, with memorable, research-backed cues for letter-sound association.  Lexercise therapists can access it for use in assessment under Tools, for face-to-face therapy on the objective picker  and for guardian assisted practice on the practice plan builder.











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