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The Speech Sound Pics® (SSP) Approach

Launched in Australia in 2012 by Emma Hartnell-Baker aka The Duck Hands Lady


The Speech Sound Pics® (SSP) Approach, launched in Australia in 2012, rapidly became one of the most popular linguistic phonics programmes, developed by a neurodivergent educator to ensure teachers could meet the needs of all learners. It introduces IPA-aligned phoneme characters, known as Speech Sound Monsters, to facilitate orthographic learning : building bigger brain words banks faster!

SSP Training

SSP Info for Parents

SSP Phase 1

SSP Green Code Level

SSP Purple Code Level

SSP Yellow Code Level

SSP Blue Code Level

SSP Duck Level (HF) Words

"The addition of the Speech Sound Monsters in 2015 made all the difference to children with learning differences!"

Miss Emma
Neurodivergent Reading Whisperer

While living in Queensland, Australia, Miss Emma designed a whole-class approach for children in their first year of school (aged 4 - 6), enabling every child to progress through the 4 phonics 'Code Levels' (approximately 100 Grapheme-to-Phoneme Correspondences tested in the UK Phonics Screener Check) and 7 'Duck Levels' (400+ High Frequency Words) before the end of the year, ensuring they pass the PSC before entering Year 1.


This approach is effective because children are not following a pre-determined timetable (e.g., Week 1 - specific correspondences, etc.); instead, they work at their own pace, using personalised tech lessons with 'spaced repetition'. They learn from the tech lessons, then demonstrate mastery of skills through Code Level readers and a range of activities that expose them to a wider range of correspondences with guidance. They focus on three aspects: the sounds of the words, the spelling of the words, and the meaning of the words. This process stores those words in their orthographic lexicon for easy recognition (by sight) and retrieval while writing.

The Speech Sound Pics Approach teaches children to form letters and numbers swiftly in term 1, given daily practice using phrases to ensure correct starting and exit points, preparing children to form these important shapes with confidence.

The approach includes innovative IPA aligned speech sound monsters to ensure that teachers understand the sounds children are hearing, evoke discussions about accents, and encourage children to pay close attention to the structure of words. As and when appropriate, SSP teachers confidently discuss other 'parts', e.g., morphemes, and the history of words (etymology). One difference that sets SSP apart is the depth of knowledge teachers receive when training with Miss Emma, aka The Duck Hand Lady. The recent 'Orthographic Interference' training is further evidence of how SSP teachers are ahead of existing research, exposed to words in ways that evoke that interference, so they can identify and address it. No other phonics teacher trainer offers this. Miss Emma is so committed to sharing her insights that the Level 1 Training is now open to any phonics teachers, even those using other phonics programmes. This could help bridge the gap in the UK, where 1 in 4 children, despite being taught phonics, are unable to read when they leave primary school.
Could the missing link be teacher awareness of 'the whole code' and how to teach word mapping (orthographic knowledge) across the whole curriculum, not restricting the exploration of words, and the building of the orthographic lexicon, to phonics lessons? Could her work help bridge the gap between reading decodable readers and authentic texts, and raise the number of children reading for pleasure, because her tech allows them to explore words they would not otherwise be exposed to, as the words do not align with a phonics programme scope and sequence?


Because Emma Hartnell-Baker is in England undertaking doctoral research into phonics teacher phoneme-to-grapheme awareness—and cannot return to Australia regularly to support and train teachers—and because UK teachers are directed to use synthetic phonics programmes, she had thought she would have to let the approach go. However, after delivering PATOSS training in the UK and elsewhere, it seems that KS1 teachers and school leaders recognise what the approach offers in terms of neuro-inclusivity, and a publisher has offered to create a teacher guide/handbook.

Emma Hartnell-Baker is also an Innovate UK winner, poised to utilise her Speech Sound Monsters to empower non-speaking children by giving them a voice. The capacity of these phoneme characters to support learners, including those with additional speech, language, and communication needs, while engaging all children, is truly exciting.

Watch this space!

"This is my experience over three years of SSP in a school with 72% EALD and each year two or three children beginning the year with no English. Children began school as long as they were turning five by 30 April, so some started at four years old. Always more boys than girls, as in most classes, and all the usual disabilities, learning difficulties, behaviour issues, under guardianship etc.

Average PM level at the end of the reception year was steady between 17 and 18. Around one-third of each class reached Blue Level, reached the highest PM level tested (25) and could recognise, read and spell all 450 or so Oxford List words (mandated check by school) by year's end.
I worried about those students who did not reach PM 15 by year's end.
Students at my current (different) school undertook the UK Phonics check as part of a pilot in South Australia.

In 2018 only 51% passed, and so I supported the introduction and implementation of SSP. After using the approach for 7 months testing was undertaken again in South Australia. This time students achieved an 85% pass. The average was 34 correct answers out of 40. Gains within learning support were as impressive. 
The approach is now being used school wide."

Teacher in South Australia

My school is in **** ********** and we’ve been using SSP with amazing success since the end of 2014. I’m more than happy to chat (in the support group) and share our results. We don’t use PMs until they are working in the SSP Blue Code level, but we see an average of PM 17-18 by the end of Kinder. Student phonemic awareness and ability to decode texts is amazing - no guessing strategies etc.

Teacher in NSW 

I found SSP as a Reading Recovery teacher who was questioning the way I was being taught. I knew there had to be more than the 3 cueing system. I found Miss Emma! I started teaching the children in my class with the poster and with Fitzroy Decodable Texts. It had a profound effect in a low socioeconomic school. I no longer allow anyone in my room to answer “how do I spell .....?” I teach them to say “what can you hear?”
Students that struggled soon understood that all the answers were in the word and they started to crack the code.
I see a lot of information around now about the Science of Reading and I nod in agreement thinking Yes, that’s what Miss Emma says.
Th/a/n/k Y/ou M/i/ss E/mm/a

Jody – SSP Teacher & SSP Parent - I discovered SSP after feeling desperate when my prep age son said he was dumb and didn't want to go to year 1. I was devastated that prep was not the fun positive experience it was supposed to be and that as a teacher myself I could not help him - my usual teaching methods did not work (nor were they working for some of my students). I've been using SSP for a year now and in my enthusiasm and with my results I have many others excited about it too! My school included!

Sharon – SSP Teacher - I am definitely a huge fan of Miss Emma and the wonderful work that she and her SSP team have been doing for the children of this great nation. I began my introduction to SSP in late 2014 as I was looking for ways to support students who were experiencing difficulties with their literacy skills. I am a NSW teacher so have also been down the (another program) road with minimal success. Last year I coordinated the implementation of the SSP program at my school in 5 K-2 classes.

Julie – SSP Teacher - I came across SSP about 2.5 years ago when I was doing Learning Support with children and felt like I was failing the children. I started to look into Dyslexia specific literacy and came across SSP. Have attended a number of the PD's, completed the Conductors Course, seen Emma in action at local schools and helped out on occasions when I worked part-time. I've used SSP in a Learning Support role and last year our school did SSP in Prep all year and 1 and 2 for part of the year. Our Admin is supportive and has invested in SSP and all teachers have been amazing willing to give something new a go. This year all our Prep, 1 and 2 classes will be doing the SSP 2 hour block and each class has a box set of resources along with decodable readers.

Carole – Year 4 SSP Teacher - I have been using SSP since T4 2014 in a Qld school North of Brisbane. Last year was a fantastic journey with my year 4's and I'm so looking forward to another great year. Thanks SSP team for your devotion to us. 


Sarah – SSP Teacher - I found SSP about halfway through 2014, in my first year of teaching. I was teaching Year 2 and had a significant number of students who were well under the expected level in literacy and were affected by a number of learning difficulties including dyslexia, ADHD and ASD. As I was essentially 'riding solo' in using SSP, I had to run it alongside the literacy curriculum that the school had in place. I saw so much improvement in the confidence of my students when it came to all areas of literacy which in turn saw excellent growth- with all students reaching or exceeding the expected standard at the end of year 2. This year I am working in special Ed with a challenging class. I am especially keen to implement SSP in my classroom this year and encourage other staff to begin using it too!! I'm excited to see how a whole year of SSP will see my students grow and develop!


Amanday – SSP Parent - I have a beautiful, courageous son with multiple disabilities who was so discouraged and anxious at school during his first term. There were many reasons, but one of his areas of anxiety stemmed from him only recognising a few letters and sounds, despite working incredibly hard. I withdrew him from school and homeschooled for a term using SSP. He's now back at (a different) school part time, and is at the expected level in his reading! We still use SSP at home. He's starting to love learning now. 


Zoe – SSP Teacher - I'm head of inclusive education at my school in Qld and have been using SSP as intervention with the children I support after experimenting with it as a classroom teacher and following the SSP journey for about 18mths. I am absolutely obsessed after seeing the amazing progress of my Students and results first hand. However my favourite thing about SSP is watching the children's confidence and self efficacy grow day after day. I am so excited as my school has agreed to implement it next year.


Tinity – SSP Teacher - I'm a Primary teacher who started using SSP in my Kinder class at the end of 2014 after attending a workshop. 
I used the full SSP approach with my K/1 class in 2015 and saw amazing results. Our school uses SSP from years K-4. I will never go back to teaching reading and writing the old way. 


Robyne – Teacher - I have been using SSP for the last year. I started just about as sceptical as possible and now I am like a crazy preacher lady  just ask anyone who raises the topic of early literacy in my presence. I have been teaching for almost 30 years and SSP has completely rejuvenated my teaching. It makes me excited to go to school and see what will happen next!


Helen – Prep SSP Teacher - I am a prep teacher on the Gold Coast. Our Prep team used elements of SSP last year and will be fully implementing in 2016. Been busy over the hols accessing the training videos, video clips, resources, etc The more I’m ‘getting it’, the more passionate I’m becoming!!

More testimonials from Aussie teachers can be seen here- there are hundreds!

Testimonials from parents will be added to a different page: most using SSP with school aged children found the Speech Sound Pics Approach as their children was struggling to read and spell. 

I have a beautiful, courageous son with multiple disabilities who was so discouraged and anxious at school during his first term. There were many reasons, but one of his areas of anxiety stemmed from him only recognising a few letters and sounds, despite working incredibly hard. I withdrew him from school and homeschooled for a term using SSP. He's now back at (a different) school part time, and is at the expected level in his reading! We still use SSP at home. He's starting to love learning now. 



Contact us to request details of the new SSP Teacher Handbook!

SSP - Speech Sound Pics Approach
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