A Taste for Mnemonic Instruction

The Stevenson Program uses visual clues to help teach the full range of word attack skills, from learning letters to recognizing vowel patterns to unlocking multi-syllable words. Below, you see the mnemonic clue that teaches the letter c.  Along with this clue Stevenson provides multi-sensory activities and direct instruction to elicit the  hard sound of c and associate it with the letter shape. This approach to sound/symbol correspondence is thorough, but not unique. The Stevenson Program, however, takes this approach a step further.

After mastering only five letter sounds, students are ready to read two words and decode their first vowel pattern. The program personifies the letters o and a and presents a brief, mnemonic story that depicts these letters as friends. Through the story, students draw on their own personal experience to determine which letter makes a sound and which is quiet. Pupils then combine the oa friends with consonants to make words. A special decoding strategy is taught to help students resolve crucial blending difficulties. Students continue to learn new letters using mnemonic pictures, and each time they do, they also use the letters in context with the oa friends to make new words.

After a few lessons, students are ready to generalize. More than one hundred words fit into a structure that is illustrated by a single mnemonic – the crunchy peanut butter and jelly sandwich pictured at the left. Here the vowels are sandwiched between the consonants. You can hear the crunchy peanut butter (the letter that is sounded out) as you chew, not the smooth jelly (the silent vowel). In addition to words that contain oa, words like rain, feed and heat also fall into this category.  Other reading programs call such words “long vowel CVVC” words and then expect students to memorize and apply rules in order to decode the words accurately.  The sandwich is a mnemonic image of a concrete reality that is already stored in the student’s long-term memory. It is easy to retrieve and easy to understand.  It also lends itself to an easy – and tasty – multi-sensory lesson.