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The use of characters and actions to teach phonics is supported by scientific research. The Letterland system is also in line with research on memory and the way we learn, providing children with a systematic and motivating framework for learning all 44 sounds and their spellings and for developing full literacy.

Letterland and the Science of Reading (PDF)

Dr Linnea Ehri (2022)
'Learning to Read and Spell Words', AIM Institute Annual Research to Practice Symposium.

"In our studies we found that children learned grapheme-phoneme relations much faster with letter-embedded pictures..."

"To move children into the next partial phase, they need to acquire alphabetic skills. They need to learn letter shapes, names and sounds. Once they know letter names, it's easy to learn the phonemes contained in the names, for example: 'b' contains /b/, 'm' contains /m/, in fact most of the letter names contain their phonemes.

We've conducted studies to see how to help children learn grapheme-phoneme relations. We used embedded picture mnemonics like those shown in the slide. On the left are Annie Apple, Eddy Elephant and their letter friends from the Letterland program. The figures on the right are useful for teaching the five short vowel relations; Annie Apple says /a/, Eddy Elephant says /e/, [...] Uppy Umbrella says /u/. Short vowel phonemes are not found in letter names, so having a mnemonic is helpful for teaching them.
Why are these letter mnemonic especially effective? It's because the letter shape resembles the object, whose name begins with the letter's phoneme. When children practice these mnemonics a few times, they can look at the bare letter without its picture, be reminded of the object shaped like the letter, remember its name, and then say its initial sound. Soon the mnemonic drops out and the letter evokes its sound automatically.

In our studies we found that children learned grapheme-phoneme relations much faster with letter-embedded pictures than pictures that don't look like the letters."

Watch the full speech

Articles, Reports and Books

Theresa Roberts (2021)
'Learning Letters: Evidence and Questions From a Science-of-Reading Perspective' Reading Research Quarterly: 0(0) Pages 1-22.

"Children who received the explicit instruction with...[Letterland] learned almost twice as many letter sounds." p.7

"This finding suggests that... [Letterland] was protective against low performance." p.16

Theresa Roberts and Carol D. Sadler (2018)
'Letter sound characters and imaginary narratives: Can they enhance motivation and letter sound learning' Early Childhood Research Quarterly: Volume 42. Pages 97-111.

"To help children learn all of the letter-sound correspondences, some phonics programs teach mnemonic devices. For example, in the Letterland program (Wendon,1992), the shape of K is drawn as the body of "kicking king" whose first sound, /k/, is the sound of the letter. The shape of S is drawn as the body of "Sammy Snake." In this way, an easily remembered mediator is taught to help children connect the shape of the letter to its sound. Research shows that this makes it easier for the children to learn the correspondences (Ehri, Deffer, & Wilce, 1984)"

"Integrated, or embedded, mnemonics is a promising approach for teaching letter sounds (de Graaf, Verhoeven, Bosman, &Hasselman, 2007; Ehri, Deffner & Wilce, 1984; Shmidman & Ehri,2010). Integrated letter mnemonics are letter shapes embedded in a familiar action, object, or character. For example in the Letterland program (Manson & Wendon, 2003), the letter "d" is embedded in a picture of a duck named "dippy". The word "duck" contains the phoneme that the letter "d" typically represents. Three small-scale experimental studies have shown that integrated mnemonics promoted greater learning of letter sounds than did carefully matched alternatives (de Graaff et al., 2007; Ehri, Deffner, & Wilce, 1984;Shmidman & Ehri, 2010)."

Read the full article

Victoria Molfese, Dennis Molfese and Amanda Prokasky (2016)
'Identifying Early Literacy Practices That Impact Brain Processing and Behaviour', Perspectives on Language and Literacy, Volume 42, No. 1.

"One example of systematic phonics instruction cited in the report is Letterland developed by Wendon (1992). Although useful for kindergarten children, it is developed for children aged 3 to 8 years old and has activities involving letter names and sounds, phonological processing, and writing. Pictograms are used to represent alphabetic letters such that each letter is a character whose name aligns with the letter's sound (e.g., Clever Cat, Eddy Elephant, Munching Mike). Letterland activities include stories featuring the characters and their names/sounds, cards with pictures of the characters and manipulatives in the shape of the characters that can be combined to create words and to practice phonological processing skills (e.g., sound blending, segmenting and elision, for example, saying the word cat without its beginning sound—at). Letter writing skills are developed through the use of directional arrows embedded in the characters as guides to writing each letter. Letterland is cited by the National Reading Panel because of its value for engaging young children in activities that are fun and relevant for beginning readers."

Peggy McCardle & Vinita Chhabra (2004)
The Voice of Evidence in Reading Research. Paul H Brookes Publishing Co. Page 180.

"To help children learn all of the letter-sound correspondences, some phonics programs teach mnemonic devices. For example, in the Letterland program (Wendon,1992), the shape of K is drawn as the body of "kicking king" whose first sound, /k/, is the sound of the letter. The shape of S is drawn as the body of "Sammy Snake." In this way, an easily remembered mediator is taught to help children connect the shape of the letter to its sound. Research shows that this makes it easier for the children to learn the correspondences (Ehri, Deffer, & Wilce, 1984)"

Sally Shaywitz MD (2003)
Overcoming Dyslexia. Alfred A Knopf. Page 205.

"Another engaging and helpful phonics program ... is Letterland ... in which animate characters take on the names and shapes of the letters they represent as in Fireman Fred and Sammy Snake"

National Reading Panel (2000)
'Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and its Implications for Reading', National Reading Panel Report, Education Department, USA Government.

"In 1997 US Congress commissioned the National Reading Panel "to assess the status of research-based knowledge, including the effectiveness of various approaches to teaching children to read." The NRP report was published in 2000.The panel's research focused on a number of "topics for intensive study" including 'Phonics Instruction'. This included an examination of "the value of mnemonics for teaching letter-sound relations to kindergarteners". The report states that there was evidence to support the use of mnemonics in teaching letter-sounds."

"In a study by Ehri, Deffner and Wilce (1984), children were shown letters drawn to assume the shape of familiar objects, for example, s drawn as a snake, h drawn as a house (with a chimney) ...Memory for the letter-sound relations was mediated by the name of the object. Children were taught to look at the letter, be reminded of the object, say its name, and isolate the first sound of the name to identify the sound…With practice they were able to look at the letters and promptly say the sounds. Children who were taught letters in this way learned them better than:

  • Children who were taught letters by rehearsing the relations with pictures unrelated to the letter shapes…
  • Children who simply rehearsed the associations without any pictures."

The NRP reported, "application of this principle can be found in Letterland (Wendon, 1992), a program that teaches kindergartners letter-sound associations". Not only did the NRP cite Letterland as a programme where the use of mnemonics is prominent, but they also said that:

  • "The motivational value of associating letters with interesting characters or hand motions and incorporating this into activities and games that are fun is important for promoting young children's learning…
  • Techniques to speed up the learning process are valuable in helping kindergarteners prepare for formal reading instruction."

The secret to Letterland's success lies in its pictogram (mnemonic) characters and the emphasis on multi-sensory learning. The NRP has highlighted Letterland as a scheme where these techniques are used."

Lorraine Hammond (1998)
When Bright Kids Fail – How to Help Children Overcome Specific Learning Difficulties. Simon and Schuster Australia.

"Letterland is a highly sophisticated program that embeds letters in characters using pictograms and stories. This not only stimulates children's imagination, but gives children a visual cue to remember the letter shape and an auditory cue to recall the sound. For children with reading difficulties traditional remedial programs have rarely been so much fun or so attuned to the need to take a multisensory approach, that is, to involve more than just the eyes in the learning process. On one level teachers and parents can simply introduce each Letterland character through the storybook. However, the Letterland program also includes a highly systematic approach that teaches letter combinations and spelling rules through stories involving the original letter characters. Motivation is a critical factor in learning to read, so if children have already begun experiencing difficulty, a program like Letterland can switch them back on to reading. Whilst debate about how to teach reading continues in classrooms, the research is unequivocal in the need to teach both the traditional skills of letters, spelling rules and sounding out in a learning environment that emphasises reading as a meaning making process."

Lu-Anne McFarlane (1998)
'Resources for Phonemic Awareness and Early Literacy', Journal of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology: Volume 22, No. 4. Pages 276-282.

"Letterland is unique in providing resources for children as young as three and extending in to the early elementary grades...The materials have immense potential for integration into individual and group intervention for phonemic awareness, articulation, phonology, and expressing language. ...Their high degree of structure makes them appropriate for use by speech-language pathology assistants and families. I would highly recommend their use."

David Crystal (1996)
The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. Cambridge University Press, UK.

In Letterland, letter shapes appear as pictographic body shapes, and take on life as people and animals. Through storytelling, the characters talk about the sounds they make, and why their sounds vary in different contexts. Teachers who have used the system report that the children themselves also begin to talk about the sound-letter correspondences, and thus make progress in their metalinguistic skills, an important step in early first language acquisition."

© Copyright 1996 The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. Used with permission. All rights reserved.


"Very clearly, Letterland offers a systematic program of instruction for alphabetic and phonological knowledge that is critical for the early stages of reading development. The materials are well designed and highly attractive to children, serving to motivate them to spend more and more time learning to recognize and name the letters of the alphabet as well as learn the letter sounds AND develop their rhyming and rime skills. Researchers across the world have repeatedly found that these components are the literal building blocks that lead to reading success."

Dr Dennis Molfese PhD,

Chair & Professor, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of Louisville, Kentucky, Editor-in-Chief of Developmental Neuropsychology,

"Many children who are at risk for reading difficulties have serious problems learning the names and sounds for the letters of the alphabet. Letterland, with its engaging characters, stories, songs, gestures for each letter, provides a rich and effective system of cues for letter-sound associations. Use of these multiple cues as part of the Letterland reading program should ensure that all students develop mastery in this critical component of reading."

Rebecca H. Felton, Ph.D.

Reading Consultant, Author, Dyslexia Researcher and former Faculty member, Neuropsychology Department, Bowman Gray School of Medicine

"Letterland is the most effective of all the synthetic phonics programs for children that I have observed or worked with. This program is not only extremely well-thought out, it is highly imaginative and distinctly and usefully memorable. As a result, teachers and children alike take pleasure in carefully exploring the terrain in which letters and groups of letters live and interact. As a long term student of young children's writing and spelling development, I have been singularly impressed at the early start that children get with the aid of Letterland instruction. (This is something that teachers comment on with regularity.) I have consistently observed earlier, more accurate and more complete phonemic analysis in children's spelling under this system—Letterland's dramatic "live spelling" may be a powerful help in this--as well as a willingness to write among even the most shy and least secure children. Although I have focused my comments on children's writing, I see the same kind of excitement and progress in their reading"

Bob Schlagal, Ph.D.

Professor of Reading, Graduate Faculty and Senior Clinician, Department of Language, Reading, & Exceptionalities Appalachian State University USA, Board Member, North Carolina Branch of the International Dyslexia Association