Children begin to read by listening to others read aloud, then recognising sounds in words, sounding words out for themselves, recognising familiar words, and so on. Children with good phonological skills are children with good listening skills. By engaging in word play, children learn to recognise patterns among words and use this knowledge to read and build words. Having good phonological awareness skills means that a child is able to manipulate sounds and words, or “play” with sounds and words of spoken language. Phonemic awareness is usually the last of the phonological awareness skills to develop.
When children have this skill, they can hear and “play” with the smallest units of sounds (phonemes) in words and syllables. The two most important phonemic awareness skills are segmenting and blending. Segmenting is breaking a word apart into its individual sounds. Blending is saying a word after each of its sounds are heard. Children need these skills to learn the connection between word sounds and written letters or words. A good phonics teaching programme is essential. At Dover Court we use an established, structured scheme called Read Write Inc, written by a trusted educator, Ruth Miskin. She is one of the UK's leading authorities on teaching children to read. She has many years of experience as a head teacher, teacher trainer and consultant in phonics and literacy, working with primary and secondary schools throughout the UK.
Phonological awareness teaching includes the following skills:
• Recognising when words rhyme and generating rhymes:
e.g. “Do ‘cat’ and ‘shoe’ rhyme? (Identifying rhymes is easier than generating rhymes). Then, give me a word that rhymes with…." e.g “What rhymes with ‘key’?” This is an auditory exercise, therefore spelling is not important. So “sea, tree and me “, all rhyme with “key”. Acquisition of this skill allows children to generate new words from a known word.
• Segmenting words in sentences:
e.g. “Clap for each word you hear in the sentence 'The cat is furry.'” Young children are not aware that a sentence is made of individual words.
• Blending syllables:
e.g. “I am going to say parts of a word. Tell me what the word is. 'Pan-da'." Being able to mentally join speech sounds together to make words helps students to decode unfamiliar words using letter-sound patterns when reading.
• Segmenting syllables:
e.g. “Clap for each syllable you hear in the word 'refrigerator'." Syllable division helps with spelling. Children can be taught to recognise closed and open syllables: pen/cil
(2 closed syllables) – fi/nal ( 2 syllables – first open ; second closed )
• Identifying sounds in words:
e.g.“ What sound do you hear at the end of 'tulip'?"
• Blending sounds:
e.g.“Put these sounds together to make a word. 'sh-u-t'." The skill of reading.
• Segmenting sounds:
e.g. “Tell me each sound you hear in the word 'cat'? " c…a…t : This helps to link oral language to written text.
• Deleting syllables
e.g “Say the word ‘strawberry.’ Now say it without saying ‘straw'.”
• Deleting sounds
e.g. "Say 'chair'." "Now say it without the 'ch'."
• Adding sounds
e.g. "Say 'cook'." "Now say it with an ‘e’ at the end."
• Manipulating sounds
e.g. "Change the ‘s’ in ‘sad’ to a ‘d’ and say the new word."
The following is a list of ways to encourage your children to develop their phonological awareness. These activities will help them to play with sounds and words by practising different types of patterns (e.g. ones you see, one you hear, or ones that involve movement, counting, and imitating).
• Play traditional hand-clapping games such as “Patty Cake” and “A Sailor Went to Sea.”
• Gather paper and crayons and have your child draw a picture of a rhyming sentence such as “Dad is glad,” or “A frog sat on the log.” Talk about the rhyming words and how they sound alike. Have the child think of other words that rhyme and make up his/her own sentence using new rhyming words.
• Give the child four words, three of which rhyme. Ask the child to identify the word that does not rhyme. For example: if you said “bell, box, fell, tell,” the child would identify “box” as the word that does not rhyme with the others.
• When reading books to your child that contain rhyming words, emphasise the rhyming words and alliteration (words with similar initial consonants) and repeated phrases as you read. Dr. Seuss books are great for this activity. After reading a book, ask your child to remember as many of the rhyming words as he/she can.
• While sitting around the dinner table, play a game of “Telephone.” Whisper a 5–7 word sentence in the person’s ear to your right and have that person whisper in the ear of the person to his/her right. Continue until each member of the dinner table has a chance to listen and whisper. The last person to hear the sentence says it aloud.
• While riding in the car, say a sentence to your child but leave the last word blank. Ask your child to provide a rhyming word. For example, say “I see a dog on a _______.” Your child could say, “log,” “hog,” “bog,” or “frog.” This teaches predictable word patterns. At a later stage it can help children to make links. Reading, “d-og” – “ fr-og” and if I know the spelling of “dog”, I can have a go at “frog”.
• Tap out the individual words in a sentence. For the sentence, “The sun is shining,” you would tap or clap four times. When the child is able to count the words in a sentence, clap out the syllables in a word and then the sounds in a word.
• Buy inexpensive beads and string at a craft shop. Give your child some string and beads and have him or her tie a knot at one end. Say a word and have your child string one bead for each sound he/she hears in the word. You could also use this activity and have the child put beads on the string for each syllable he or she hears. For example, the word “can” would receive three beads when counting sounds and one bead when counting syllables. The words “ t-ea-ch-ing ” would receive 4 beads for sounds t-ea-ch-ing and 2 beads for syllables teach/ing. As with any out-of-school learning activity; keep it light and make it fun!
Takeaway: Research has shown that phonological awareness e.g. manipulating sounds, is the most powerful predictor of success in learning to read and spell competently, i.e. Students who have strong phonological awareness skills, demonstrate better literacy skills.
Learning Support Teacher
Montgomery, Judy (2004). Funnel Toward Phonics! Greenville, South Carolina: Super Duper Publications.
Chard, D. J. & Dickson, S. V. (1999). Phonological Awareness Instructional and Assessment Guidelines. LD online. Retrieved July 10, 2008, from http://www.ldonline.org/article/6254
Leu, Donald (2006), Kinzer, Charles (2006). Phonics, Phonemic Awareness and Word Analysis for Teachers: Pearson.