SoundTown FAQs

What do you mean when you say “letter names” versus “letter sounds?”  

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Letter names are what we use to identify written letters, for example, L = “el” or B = “bee.” Letter sounds are the actual sounds, or phonemes, made by each letter. For example, L = /L/ or /ul/ or B = /b/.

Note that the letter sound for L is not /Luh/ and the sound for B is not /buh/. We want to be sure we are modeling the actual sound the letter makes and not adding “uh” at the end of the letter sound. This may sound choppy before you get used to it, but this practice is greatly beneficial when the student starts blending.

Why do you focus on teaching the letter sounds before teaching letter names?

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This is a decision based on the research on phonological awareness, as well as on research in child development and focus. 

The research tells us that phonological awareness (the ability to recognize and manipulate the spoken parts of words) is strongly correlated with future reading ability. Without this skill, many children won’t ever learn to read well. 

But phonological awareness isn’t innate. It is something that needs to be explicitly taught and practiced. 

Many literacy programs may teach letter sounds and letter names simultaneously, but there is no evidence that learning letter names first helps with learning letter sounds. Letter sounds are what is used in learning to read words because letter sounds are most tied to speech and phonemes. Also, letter sounds are harder to learn, so more exposure for longer is helpful, especially if your core curriculum teaches letter names first. 

Children may test well on assessments that show they know all of the letter names, but still have underdeveloped phonemic awareness skills. If a child is unable to identify the unit of sound they’re hearing, how will they connect it with the written representation of that sound? They must first practice and gain a deep understanding of the sounds that make up words, before attempting to connect them to letters on a page.

Roberts, T.A., Vadasy, P.F., & Sanders, E.A. (2018). Preschoolers’ alphabet learning: Letter name and sound instruction, cognitive processes, and English proficiency. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 44(3), 257–274.

What are integrated mnemonics?

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A mnemonic is something that helps you remember something. 

When we talk about integrated mnemonics here in SoundTown, we are actually referring to an integrated mnemonic alphabet—letters that are built into an image meant to remind the reader of the sound. For example, we hid the lowercase letter m in this image of a monkey. 

Research has found that children who are taught letter identification with the help of integrated mnemonics learn to identify letters twice as quickly as children who are taught using simple letters. 

We use images of familiar animals and objects that start with phonemes the children already know, so they are able to quickly connect the written letter’s shape with the sound it makes.

Roberts, T.A. & Sadler, C.D. (2019). Letter sound characters and imaginary narratives: Can they enhance motivation and letter sound learning? Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 46(1), 97-111.
Shmidman, A., & Ehri, L. (2010). Embedded picture mnemonics to learn letters. Scientific Studies of Reading, 14(2), 159–182. 
Ehri, L.C., Deffner, N.D., & Wilce, L.S. (1984). Pictorial mnemonics for phonics. Journal of Educational Psychology, 76(5). 880-893.

Why do you focus on lowercase letters first?

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We focus on lowercase letters first because the majority of the letters a reader sees will be lowercase. Lowercase are also harder to learn and take more time to learn. Teaching both uppercase and lowercase letters at the same time increases the cognitive learning load, particularly for English learners.

What is unique about SoundTown’s methodology?

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SoundTown activities focus on these essential skills for reading: phonemic awareness, letter sounds, and blending.

Traditionally, this instruction is spread out over a 1-3 year sequence, with instruction in blending and word reading arriving at the end of the sequence.

SoundTown Innovation: Our research studies have shown that word reading is within the cognitive capacity of Pre-K children. We developed a novel configuration of this traditional sequencing to teach 4-year-olds to read with 10 weeks of instruction.

How did you choose the order of letters/sounds introduced? 

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We chose the letters/sounds order by looking at the most common phonemes. We also wanted to intentionally focus Module 1 on 8 unique sounds that are all made with different parts of the mouth.

For the 2023-24 school year, we’ve kept the same order of phonemes and letters as tested in our research studies.

We know that most teachers will be using SoundTown as a complement to another literacy curriculum, and that each curriculum has their own order of letter/sound introduction. In future use of SoundTown, you are welcome to change the order of letters/sounds you introduce based on your curriculum needs.

(Roberts, T.A., Vadasy, P.F., & Sanders, E.A. (2020). Preschool instruction in letter names and sounds: Does contextualized or decontextualized instruction matter? Reading Research Quarterly, 55(4), 573-600. (choice of alphabet content p578))
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