Monday, July 14, 2008


A Little About the
Mnephonics Approach...


Mnemonics + Phonics = Mnephonics!

Mnephonics incorporates visual, kinesthetic and auditory mnemonic devices that create memorable associations between the lower case letter symbols of the English alphabet and the pure, authentic sounds that they represent. Students are immersed in a language rich environment, and are given an opportunity to acquire the sound-symbol relationship through a natural, integrated structure---students learn the sounds of letters through real words found in real literature for real purposes!

Why Mnemonic Devices?

The alphabet or the sound symbol relationship of the letters of the alphabet is an abstract concept. It appears that incorporating mnemonic devices to represent this sound symbol relationship actually makes the abstract concept more concrete. Mnemonic devices actually help make quick, effective associations in memory that may not develop so quickly and effectively without them.

Mnephonics employs multiple mnemonic devices that train the brain to master the sound-symbol relationship between the lower case letters and the pure, authentic sounds that they represent.

Mnephonics encorporates similar mnemonic devices that were used by the Phoenicians, the inventors of the first alphabet...

  • The symbols look like objects in the environment whose names start with the same sound that the symbol represents
  • The symbols are refered to by their object name, not by their traditional letter name

Mnephonics encorporates auditory, visual and kinesthetic mnemonics that cue the brain to the shape and sound of the letter simultaneously...

The symbols look like an object whose name starts with the sound of the letter, but more importantly, look like an object that naturally makes the pure sound of the letter

  • Each symbol has its own physical action that actually looks and sounds like the object that it represents, cueing the sound and shape of the letter simultaneously
  • The auditory, visual and kinesthetic associations are automatic and memorable

Mnephonics incorporates mnemonic devices that cue the brain to the graphamotor skills required to "illustrate" or write the letters...

  • Each symbol represents an object that can be "sketched" logically
  • The logical sketch of the object reproduces the exact shape of the lower case letter
  • Letter symbols can be distinguished from one another based on the logic of their shapes
Why Lower Case Letters?

The words found in books are composed mostly of lower case letters. Ironically, the common instructional practices of today focus on the capital letters or the capital and lower case letters simultaneously. This practice often causes confusion for those students who have not yet made a connection to print. By acquiring the sound-symbol relationship of the lower case symbols, the at risk student can make immediate connections to print that will allow them to proficiently scan text and glean meaning.

Dr. Montessori also focuses on teaching the lower case letters first due to the fact that text writing contains majority lower case letters. For more information on the Montessori approach to teaching letters, check out the Background Information on this webpage:

Why Pure Sounds?

Most students are taught that the letter 'w' makes the /wuh/ sound---when in actuality, the symbol 'w' should trigger the brain to produce the pure sound /w/---dropping the added "uh". For example, when students blend the sounds /wuh/, /e/, /tuh/, the word produced is actually something like wuh-e-tuh---a nonsense word. When students blend /w/, /e/, /t/, the word produced is the actual word---wet! In the Mnephonics approach, the shape, name and "action" of the letter actually cue the pure sound!

For example, the letter 'w' is actually shaped like wings! When the students see the wings, they can actually hear the /w/ sound as they visualize the wings swooshing up and down. As the students make the action of 'w' ---flapping their arms up and down in the shape of a 'w'--- they make the /w/ sound. With this approach, the sound and shape of the letter 'w' are associated in deep memory---via visual, auditory and kinesthetic modalities!

Why Object Names Instead of Letter Names?

When reading and writing, it is the sounds of letters blended together that produce words. However, current literacy practices teach students the names of letters before their sounds are introduced or teach the names and sounds of letters simultaneously. As a result, at risk students often "mis-associate" the name or parts of the name with the symbol. For example, students who have acquired the name "double-u" for the letter 'w' will often "mis-associate" the sound /d/ with the symbol.

As an intervention for these students, Mnephonics uses actual object names instead of letter names. The object name cues the sound and the shape of the letter simultaneously, helping the at risk students acquire accurate sound-symbol knowledge that can immediately be applied to reading and writing.

For example, the letter 'w' is called 'wings'. The name 'wings' triggers the shape AND sound---/w/. As mentioned earlier, the name "double-u" actually confuses students who have not made connections to print, and most often triggers the /d/ sound. Using the object name is an intervention that helps at risk students immediately apply their knowledge of letter sounds and symbols to reading and writing---without interferences that delay the process.

Ironically, this is the same science used by the Phoenicians to create the world's first alphabet! The Greeks borrowed the letters and maybe a few names from the Phoenicians, but not the science! Mnephonics actually brings the logic of the Pheonician alphabet back to the English sound-system, making it possible for students at risk to make immediate connections to reading and writing. Here in lies the missing link!

Dr. Montessori's approach to teaching reading also focuses on sounds of letters first, leaving the letter names to be taught once the child has mastered the sound-symbol relationship. Check out more in the Background Information on this webpage :

Why Through Real Words?

Mnephonics teaches the sounds of letters using an integrated approach. Letters sounds are taught through real words that are found in real texts. A word is "pulled" from a poem, song, story, or student's writing. The teacher teaches the sounds of the letters found within the target word. Once the individual sounds of the letters from the word are introduced, the students then blend the sounds together to read the original word!

For example, let's say that the students are reading a poem that contains the word 'wet'. The teacher pulls the word 'wet' from the poem and writes it on the board. The teacher then discusses the student's knowledge of the individual letter sounds. If the students are unaware of the sounds, the teacher uses the Mnephonics strategies to help students acquire the sounds. Once the individual sounds of the letters are introduced, the teacher brings them back together and helps the students to blend the sounds and "read" the new word!

For more information on this phonics approach, email Alisha Das at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am so excited to share this program with my colleagues. I can't wait to see how excited they will be when they realize how well it works. I know, I am constantly amazed! Most of my kindergartners this year were reading at least a grade level ahead of expectations and almost all of my special needs children were reading on grade level. The best part was that they were able to enjoy learning to read. It wasn't a stressful experience for them. Without this program I don't know how I would have been able to keep up with the increasing expectations from the state. You said at our training that this program helps teachers to "teach smarter, not harder" and that quote has stuck in my head the past few years. Once again I want to thank you for helping me to become a better teacher and for allowing me to pass this gift on to other teachers, so they can pass it on to their students. I know the children at our school will greatly benefit from your generosity.