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Why start with S A T P I N? Why not A-Z?

Updated: Feb 28, 2023

Learning to read is not as easy as ABC. Read on to discover why a systematic sequence is the best way to support phonics teaching and learning. This is a post about the initial code.

Starting at A and finishing at Z might seem like a good idea, but it doesn’t quite work that way for effective practice. The English alphabet code is not the easiest to learn. A systematic sequence that works in tiny, incremental steps from simple to complex is best. Many programs use the letters S A T P I N to introduce the alphabet code. Why not A-Z?

Why use S A T P I N?

The use of these six letters is all about frequency. This combination of letters generates lots of words for sound manipulation activities. The letters S A T P I N also include two continuous sounds /ssssss/ and /nnnnnn/. Continuous sounds are a good starting point for blending because they can be stretched and held for a long time. To learn more about blending, click here.

The image shows just a fraction of the words that we can build with this cumulative sequence that starts with S A T P I N.

It’s all about the sounds — not letter names.

As children build words, they link sounds to spelling, which links reading to spelling. Reading, spelling, and writing support each other, yet they are often taught as separate areas of the literacy curriculum—linking them together helps children to see how reading and spelling work. Teaching the sound-symbol correspondence through word building provides all children with the building blocks they need to learn to read and spell successfully. Word building shows how sound manipulation creates new words, providing a context for learning. To read more about word building— read some earlier posts here, here, here, and here.

The fastest way to reach the end goal is to link phonemes to graphemes!

Children need lots of playful practice — it is essential! Games, playful activities, short decodable sentences, and texts that use previously taught code are ideal for repeated practice. Effective programs control the sounds and letters taught in a sequence because students are more likely to experience success if it is cumulative. To read more about the sequences of some popular and effective programs, click here to read more.

Students should get as much repetition and consolidation as they need so no gaps appear along the way.

A cumulative structure ensures continuous reinforcement of previously learned letters and sounds. Almost all students need repeated practice. If you have a reluctant learner — games are always a winner. I have never met a student who doesn’t love to play games. Everything we do in a session is playful. It may be hard, but there is always a playful element to ease the load.

Just perfect for home practice, intervention and after explicit instruction in the classroom. Develop phonemic awareness and phonic skills through explicit, playful, repeated practice.

Use the books to teach code knowledge or for revision and homework.

Where to from here? Once your child knows the initial code and reads words with 4 or 5 sounds in the initial code, it is time to move on. The advanced code also requires a systematic sequence. I work on common digraphs first, followed by CVCe words, before looking at advanced code vowel and consonant sounds and spellings. This is a post for another day…


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