Monday, June 18, 2012

Phonic Talking Letters from 1941

Here's a nifty yard-sale find: A 1941 set of "Phonic Talking Letters" produced by Ideal School Supply Co. of Chicago. The system is copyrighted in the name of Edith E. Stephens. According to the instructions:
"The sounds of letters should be taught after pupils have begun to read by word and phrase memory. If they stop to think about sounds before acquiring the habit of quick eye-movement, they will likely become slow readers. Any person who knows a little English can learn the sounds taught by these cards, if they are taught to him by one who believes in the pupil's ability to learn. Without this faith in him, a pupil can learn little (and he will know whether his teacher believes he can learn)."
I don't know about the first part of that paragraph, with regard to teaching the sounds of letters after students have already started to read. But I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment of needing teachers who believe in the student, and express that belief in their interactions.

Each Phonic Talking Letter is accompanied by a short story (on the reverse side) intended to help the student learn the sound associated with the letter. Here are a few of the cards -- which I chose for their interesting illustrations -- and accompanying stories.

"(11) One day Little Lady went swimming. She went under and got her mouth full of water. Then she caught onto her big ball. The ball held her up out of the water except for her legs. Whenever you see her holding onto the ball and with her legs below the 'water' line, you know she is trying to get the water out of her mouth, making a 'p-p-p-p' sound. Are you smart enough to make that sound without spitting? We shall see. Play you are Little Lady in the water."
So, to be clear, you learn about the P sound by pretending that you just nearly drowned.

"(3) Little Man and Little Lady have many pets. They have this big cat who is always angry. See his big tail is always curled up high above his head! He says 'f-f-f-f.' Play angry cat. Put your hands out from your head like his big ears and say 'f-f-f-f.'"

"(10) Mother made the children a doughnut with a face, and raisin eyes. The hole in the middle was his round, open mouth. He surprised them and grew in the hot grease until he was as large as the pan. When mother took him out, he was so glad to cool off that he said, 'Ahh ...!' (As a sigh of relief.)
  • 1. 'Ah ...!' was all he ever learned to say excepting
  • 2. 'Oh,' which is his name.
1. Come out of the hot pan 'Mr. Doughnut.' (Children say 'Ahh ...!')
2. What is your name, sir? (Children say 'Oh.')"
I guess that all makes sense. But it seems there might have been a better way to teach those two sounds than with a creepy talking doughnut.

Drowning, angry cats and doughnuts with faces. Learning is fun!


  1. 1972-73 I was taught how to read with phonics.I remember my mother talking about it with my father and other mothers because at the time the school systems were going to quit using phonics and move to another technique. They were all discussing what a great program they believed it was and how they would be creating a nation of complete dunces if they quit using it.

  2. Are these cards for sale. I would love to buy them!

    1. Gwynne: Email me at if you are still interested in these cards. I would be happy to send them to you.

  3. I was taught to read with these cards. At the time the preferred teaching method was the "look-say" model which was primarily memorizing words and word parts. My mom subverted that by using these to teach me to read with phonics. I started reading at age 3. Let me know if you haven't sold them. I remember these fondly and have a couple of grand babies that I hope to encourage to read

  4. I have been trying to describe these letters to people for years and have been looking for a set of these cards to help teach my grandkids to read, I only wish I could have found them when my sons were learning. If anyone has a set I would love to get even a photo copy of them. Please!

  5. I have been looking for these for a long time. Does anyone know where I can find them. Would like to buy them.