‘Chest of sounds’ – a useful visual metaphor for understanding the Alphabetic Code

Tami Reis-Frankfort, one of the founders of Phonic Books has been thinking of how to organise a complex Alphabetic Code.


The English Alphabetic Code is complex. How can we help children learn a code that has 176+ spellings for 44 sounds that uses only 26 letters of the alphabet?

If we understand the alphabetic code as a writing system that is used to represent sounds in words, then we can narrow down the categories to only 44 sounds (this depends on one’s accent). We can organise all the spellings in the code by sound and this way we reduce that amount of learning by teaching words according to categories of sound. This is called a schema when a large body of knowledge is organised and categorised so that the learner can understand what the categories are and how they relate to one another. This is an effective way to build complex knowledge and store it in long term memory in an organised way so that we can find it when we need to retrieve it.

Here is a visual metaphor for the ‘Chest of sounds’:


Speech sounds image 1

We teach children that sounds can be spelled in different ways, and we bunch these spellings together. This is achieved by sorting activities. For example, when we teach children about the alternative spellings for the sound /ae/ – we will start with the more common spellings: ai, ay, a-e, ea and a and as they learn to decode more words we can add the less common spellings, e.g ey (as in ‘prey’).

Have a peek into the /ae/ drawer in the ‘Chest of sounds’ below!

This way children know that learning the Alphabetic Code is finite and as they progress, they are simply adding more knowledge onto what they have already learned. An efficient way to understand, connect the parts and store the knowledge of the Alphabetic Code!

Copy of speech sounds blog





  1. Love the chest of Sounds concept! This is fantastic and something that would really resonate with many students!

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