TRT Podcast#16: How to build phonemic awareness
Did you know that a child’s level of phonemic awareness is the greatest predictor of future success in reading?
- Learn exactly what phonemic awareness is.
- Discover how much time you need to teach phonemic awareness daily (hint: it’s not much!).
- Learn how to teach the four elements of phonemic awareness.
- Get real-life examples for teaching phonemic awareness to the whole class and small groups.
Full episode transcript
You are listening to episode 16: How to Build Phonemic Awareness. You may have read that a child's level of phonemic awareness is the single greatest predictor of future success in reading. So it's no surprise that struggling readers are often weak in this area. That's why I chose this topic for the third in our eight-part series about reaching struggling readers.
First things first, what is phonemic awareness? Phonemic awareness is the ability to play with sounds in words. Here's a really great definition from the site homeschoolingwithdyslexia.com, "Phonemes are the individual units of sound that make up words. For example, the word sat is made up of three phonemes, /s/,/a/,/t/. Phonemic awareness is not only the recognition that words are made up of small sound units, it is also the ability to break down, manipulate, and blend phonemes. For example, being able to remove the s- and replace it with m-, to make the word mat. Young readers need to be able to apply their understanding of phonemes in order to begin to read."
It's important to understand that phonemic awareness has four parts. So we have phoneme isolation, phoneme blending, phoneme segmentation, and phoneme manipulation, and they start simpler with phoneme isolation and gradually get more complex. So let's take a look at each of those.
Phoneme isolation is simply the ability to identify where a sound appears in a given position in a word. It also involves having students identify specific phonemes in a word. So, for example, "What sound do you hear in the middle of the word mad?"
Phoneme blending is the ability to blend individual phonemes into words. So what you could say is, "Can you blend these sounds together to make a word? /k/ /a/ /t/," and the child should be able to tell you cat.
Segmentation is the opposite of blending because we're asking kids to break words apart. So you might say, "What are the sounds of the word cat?" And they could say, "/k/ /a/ /t/," taking the word apart into its individual phonemes.
Phoneme manipulation is by far the most challenging aspect of phonemic awareness, and it's something that we keep working on even after kids are readers. So it's probably not something most kids will have a strong handle on in kindergarten. Phoneme manipulation involves adding phonemes, deleting phonemes, and substituting phonemes. So you might say to a child, "If I have the word hat and I take off /h/ and put /ch/ in its place, what's the new word?" The word would be chat, but as you can see, there's a lot of thinking involved to figuring that out.
When it comes to teaching phonemic awareness, you should do two things. First, schedule quick whole class lessons, and second, build it into your small group reading lessons.
If you are teaching kindergarten or first grade, you should build whole class phonemic awareness instruction into your day, but the good thing is it doesn't have to take much time at all. It can literally be three minutes, maybe when you're transitioning to lunch, or the end of your calendar time, or when you're trying to get your kid's attention during the middle of the day and you need a little bit of a game break. Phonemic awareness is very playful and can be quite fun. Here are some examples of phonemic awareness activities that you could do with your whole class.
You could play I Spy, where you say "I spy something near Brandon's desk that starts with /p/," and they might see a pencil on the floor. That's an example of phoneme isolation. You could say a short word and have children stretch it like a rubber band by using their hands to stretch out the word and say it slowly. You could even give them a rubber band to stretch as you say the word. So you might say, "Let's get out our stretchy rubber bands. Let's stretch out the word fish," and they'd stretch it and say it with you, "Fffffffiiiiiish." You could play a mystery word game where you have a silly puppet who says mystery words very slowly and children have to say the word fast. So you might say, "Here's our silly snake. And today he's got a mystery word. Snake, what's the mystery word?" And then you have the snake talk and he says something like, "Paaaaaaack," and the kids can say, "Pack." So in that case, they are blending the sounds together to make a word; they're saying it very quickly. You could play a picture game where you put pictures of CVC words or other short words up at the front of the room, and then you say the sounds of one of the pictures, and then maybe you have one child come up and identify that picture. So you might say, "I'm going to say a word and I want you to find the picture. Here's the word, /h/ /a/ /t/," and someone has to find that picture. As you can see, there are many different ideas for building phonemic awareness into your day. I will link to a blog post that has a lot of ideas.
So this is a given, if you teach kindergarten or first grade, you should make time every day for two to three minutes of phonemic awareness games, but you should also include it at the beginning of your small reading groups for every group in kindergarten and for many groups in first grade, and then possibly even in second grade, if kids are still struggling with phonemic awareness. What you do in those groups is going to depend on the needs of the students in the groups.
You'll probably have your groups organized by ability if you're doing guided reading. And then at the beginning of that guided reading lesson, just save two minutes to do some phonemic awareness activity. If you have a group that's really struggling with phonemic awareness, it makes sense to me to take a few weeks and just do phonemic awareness activities during that small group, instead of working on reading actual books. It's okay to take that time to build the foundation. If you're not sure exactly what level of phonemic awareness to teach such as isolation, blending, segmenting, or manipulation, I have a great assessment inside my new bundle of Phonemic Awareness Games and Activities, and you can find that on my blog linked to in the show notes. In that bundle, there is a great assessment that you can use to find out exactly where your learners are with phonemic awareness, and it will help you realize what you need to work on in those small groups.
Once you know what work on, of course, the challenge is finding what to do in the small groups. And that's where this bundle really comes in handy because I spent a lot of time creating a pretty great variety of games and activities for phonemic awareness for all levels. So let's break down each of those four parts of phonemic awareness and I'll talk to you about things that you could do in your small group.
Let's say that you're working on a phoneme isolation. You can simply say a word and ask your students what sound they hear at the beginning, middle, or end. It's a good idea to have a set of words printed and ready to go so you're not trying to pull something out of your head when you're feeling stumped. I have a link to a blog post with a list of CVC words that you can just print. I'll leave a link to that in the show notes. I have a free game on my website called Say the Sound where kids take turns rolling a die and moving along a path, and when they land on the picture, they just say the picture and the first sound. So sun, /s/; that's something you could do in a small group. If you purchase the Phonemic Awareness Games and Activities bundle, you will find a lot of ideas for teaching phoneme isolation. There's beginning, middle, and ending sound tic-tac-toe, beginning, middle, and ending sound snakes and ladders, and some other fun activities.
Now let's talk about phoneme blending. If you want to do this orally, so maybe just two minutes without some kind of printable, you can just give your learners three sounds and have them blend them together to make a word like we talked about earlier. For example, "We're going to play Mystery Word today. I'm going to give you the sounds. I want you to tell me the mystery word, are you ready? /m/ /o/ /p/," and they would tell you, "Mop." Printables in the bundle include phoneme blending bingo, where you say the sounds of the word and they find the picture. So if you say, "/p/ /i/ /g/" they find the picture of pig on their board and cover it. And there's a similar activity called Cover 8. So instead of trying to get four in a row, they have a little board and they have to be the first to get all eight pictures covered.
Now we'll talk about phoneme segmenting. Remember, that's breaking the word apart into phonemes. Orally, you could say a CVC word and have kids break it apart like a robot. So you could say, "My word is pen, can you say it like a robot?" And your kids would say, "/p/ /e/ /n/." If you're ready to use some computer ink, Elkonin boxes are great for phoneme segmentation. So you may have seen the free Elkonin boxes on my website, which I'll link to. An Elkonin box has a picture on the top and boxes at the bottom, usually one box for each sound in the word. So for the word cat, you would have a picture on the top and then three boxes. And kids would move a manipulative forward for each letter and put one into each of the boxes. So /k/ /a/ /t/, pushing those forward as they go. Inside the Phonemic Awareness Games and Activities bundle, there is a game that includes Elkonin boxes. Kids draw the Elkonin box card, figure out the number of sounds, and move ahead that number of spaces on the board. There's another game in the bundle where kids roll a die, land on a picture, and say all the individual sounds.
Finally, let's talk about phoneme manipulation. I told you earlier that this is a tough one because it involves deleting, adding, and substituting phonemes. That's a tough one. To do it orally, you could say something like, "Take the word fish, take out/f/ and put /w/," and see if they can tell you the new word. Or, "Can you take the word wish and add /w/ to the beginning?" Then they would say, "Swish." It's a little tricky to find good phoneme manipulation printables, but I've created some and included them in the bundle. The games are called, Add a New Sound and Make a Sound Disappear. So it helps kids practice adding or deleting at the beginning of the word and at the end of the word. These are perfect for using with small groups. I also have some Change the Sound mats, which can be used individually or in a small group, where kids change either the beginning, middle, or ending sound of each word, matching the corresponding picture to the top.
So in a nutshell, phonemic awareness is the ability to play with sounds in words. You'll want to teach phonemic awareness in whole group reading lessons in kindergarten and first grade and at the beginning of small group reading lessons. When you teach it in small groups, focus on the skills particular readers need based on the phonemic awareness assessments you have given. And again, I have an assessment included in the phonemic awareness games and activities bundle. You can do strictly oral activities when building phonemic awareness, but I've found that it's helpful to include printable games and activities as well. I do have a handful of free games on my website, which I will link to in the show notes, but if you really want the motherlode of fun, engaging phonemic awareness activities, I highly recommend purchasing the Phonemic Awareness Games and Activities bundle. I have a secret for you though, if you are a member of my membership site, The Measured Mom Plus, all the things in the pack are included in the membership. So that might be something to look into if you're not sure about buying the pack, join the membership and you'll get those and hundreds more resources right your fingertips.
Links to all these resources are included in the show notes at themeasuredmom.com/episode16. Thanks for listening, and I'll talk to you again soon.
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Resources and links mentioned in this episode
- How to build phonemic awareness (from Homeschooling With Dyslexia)
- The Measured Mom Plus, my online membership site which contains hundreds of printables for teaching PreK through third grade (and includes the printables in my new product, Phonemic Awareness Games & Activities).
Free printables on The Measured Mom
- Which one starts with a different sound?
- Say the sound games
- Ways to build phonological and phonemic awareness
- Printable list of CVC words
- Elkonin boxes
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