The Missing Link for Reading Success

Posted by Brainspring on 20th Feb 2014

Hi everyone!  Thank you so much for taking the time to visit.

I’d like to start off this blog centered on teaching reading by talking about something else.  Well, the something else is essential to reading, so it’s actually a great place to start.  I’m talking about phonological awareness.

Have you ever been puzzled by a student who knows all the letter sounds in isolation but can’t seem to blend them together to read a word?

Has a bewildered look ever crept across your face as a student writes “fqpotn” when the spelling word was “home?

What about a student who says “fish” rhymes with “fat”?

Or a student who guesses “doughnut” as a word that starts with the /h/ sound?

The root of all these issues (and more!) is probably a lack of phonological awareness.  Phonological awareness is a general term that refers to a student’s ability to focus on certain units of sound in language.  When it comes to phonological awareness, it is all about sounds and oral language; true phonological awareness doesn’t involve print.  What it does involve is the awareness of rhymes, words in sentences, syllables in words, and finally, individual sounds.

That final step, the awareness of individual sounds, is phonemic awareness- the doorway to reading.

(Insider Info: a phoneme is the smallest unit of sound that affects the meaning of a word: Hence, the term phonemic awareness.  There are about 44 phonemes in the English language.)

Knowing how to segment, blend and manipulate individual sounds unlocks the door to connecting speech and print.  Before any reading program can be successfully used, students must be able to blend and segment phonemes.

Research has shown that Phonemic Awareness is one of the Strongest Predictors of Reading Success.  Thankfully, research has also shown that phonemic awareness can be directly taught.  This is great news because “without direct instructional support, phonemic awareness eludes roughly 25% of middle class first graders and substantially more of those who come from less literacy-rich backgrounds (Adams).”

So, what can we do to make sure our students are ready for the reading and spelling or blending and dictation in Phonics First?

Before I get started, phonological/phonemic awareness is a huge topic.  I know I’m just barely scratching the surface here.  Never fear!  There will be much more about phonological awareness to come.  Please post questions and comments about what you’re most interested to know more about!

Blending (Reading)

First, if your students are having trouble blending words, try the game Guess My Word.  Tell the students you are going to say a word in parts and you want them to guess what word you’re trying to say.  For example, if you say /m//a//n/, the student should say “man”.  If they aren’t able to do this, take a step back and try onset-rime or body-coda, instead of 3 separate sounds.  An example of onset-rime would be /m/-/an/.  Body-coda would be /ma/-n/.  Keep practicing with the students at the level they are comfortable with; then build up to separate sounds before returning to the blending board.

The complete process and more ideas are in your course manual on pg. A-14.  I suggest making a copy of the sample words to use in class.  Sometimes it’s difficult to think of words off the top of your head.

 Segmenting (Spelling)

Before students can spell words, using finger tapping or the tap mats, they have to be able to separate the sounds they hear in the word.  To see if your students can segment words, try playing Head-Shoulder-Knees.  This game is essentially the opposite of Guess My Word; you are going to say a whole word and the students are going to separate the sounds as they touch their head, then shoulders, then knees.  (You may want to add Toes for advanced students and give words with 4 sounds.)  For example, if you say “hat”, the students should touch their head saying /h/, then touch their shoulders saying /a/, and finally touch their knees saying /t/.  They can say the whole word, “hat”, as they stand back up.  If this is too difficult for some students, try a game where words are slowed down, like Turtle Talk.  It often helps students hear individual sounds if they slow down and stretch out the word.

Check pg. B-9 of your course manual for more details and another handy list of words that work well for this activity.

Once your students can blend and segment phonemes, they are ready for reading instruction!  Taking the time to develop and strengthen phonological awareness skills will help your students be ready to transition to using text, meaning they will be more successful at learning to read.  And that’s what I’m all about!

These 2 activities are a great place to start, but as I mentioned, this was only an introduction to phonological awareness.  What activities related to phonological awareness do you and your students enjoy?  Or, what aspects of phonological awareness are you interested in learning more about?