TRT Podcast#30: 5 Important things you may not know about phonological awareness
What’s the difference between phonological and phonemic awareness, and why are they so important for reading success?
- Learn exactly how old our readers should be when they develop phonological awareness.
- Find out why phonemic awareness helps build a sight word vocabulary.
- Begin to understand orthographic mapping and the science of reading.
Listen to the episode here
- Free phonological awareness assessment
- Phonological & Phonemic Awareness Super Bundle
- Equipped for Reading Success, by David A. Kilpatrick
Full episode transcript
What exactly is phonemic awareness, and why is it vital for future success in reading? Today's episode will uncover the difference between phonological and phonemic awareness, we'll discuss the age range at which we want to see them develop, and we'll explain exactly why one very specific part of phonemic awareness makes all the difference when it comes to future success in reading.
Today's episode is going to be a little bit different. I recorded it last week as a Facebook live. As I recorded it, I was using slides, and you'll see me reference them throughout the presentation. Don't worry, you will still get a lot out of this episode. If you'd like to check out the slides, you can find those linked in the show notes. We've got a lot of exciting things to talk about today. Let's get started.
Hello, my name is Anna Geiger, and I want to thank you for joining me for this live presentation. I am a former teacher currently serving parents and teachers on my blog, themeasuredmom.com, my membership site, The Measured Mom Plus, my Facebook groups, my two online courses, Teaching Every Reader and Teaching Every Writer, and my podcast, Triple R Teaching. In my podcast I help educators reflect on what they're currently doing, refine by making small simple changes, and recharge, so they're excited to get into their classroom the next day.
If you're watching this with me on Facebook, you are seeing a live recording of a future podcast episode. When we're finished with this live video, we'll take the audio and put it on the podcast. What you're actually listening to is episode 30 of Triple R Teaching, and this kicks off a podcast series all about teaching phonological awareness. If you're listening to this on the podcast in the future and you would like to see the visual slides that go with the presentation, just head to the show notes and I'll link to the video. You can find the show notes at themeasuredmom.com/episode30.
With that, we're going to get started with the presentation. We're on episode 30: Five Important Things You May Not Know About Phonological Awareness.
We'll start with this one. Phonological awareness is NOT the same as phonics. If you hear that and say, "Well yes, I knew that already," hang with me here. I just gave a survey to my email audience and over 3,000 people responded. Many of those people were unsure of the difference between phonological awareness, phonics, and phonemic awareness. There's just so many words that sound the same, so let's go ahead and give some definitions here before we get deeper into the presentation.
Number one: phonics, as you know, refers to letters and their sounds, and it involves teaching children to blend the sounds of letters together to form words. Whereas, phonological awareness is the awareness of sounds in spoken words and the ability to manipulate those sounds. Phonics refers to printed words, whereas, phonological awareness has to do with spoken words.
Now if you're hearing that and wondering, "Okay, but where does phonemic awareness fit in?" you may have heard me share the umbrella analogy before. Phonological awareness is like an umbrella because it covers a variety of skills, and those include rhyming, alliteration, syllables, concept of word, onset and rime, and phonemic awareness.
By alliteration, I mean kids can hear that two words start with the same sound. If you said, "Do 'bear' and 'ball' start with the same sound?" they would say yes and they could tell you they both start with /b/. Now, they could not necessarily tell you that they start with the letter B, but that's okay, this is an oral skill we're talking about right now.
Syllables, we know what those are, and this involves being able to put them together to make words and take them apart. If a child can clap the syllables of her name, Sa-man-tha, she has this skill.
Concept of word is another important piece of phonological awareness. That would be if you can give a child a very simple sentence like, "I have a new dog," and they could break it apart into words.
Then we have onset and rime. If you're looking at the slides with me and you're thinking, "She's spelling rhyme wrong," I'm not, but this is the way you spell it when you're talking about an onset and rime. An onset is the first sound in a syllable before the vowel and the rime is the second part. In the word "bike", /b/ is the onset and /ike/ would be the rime.
Finally, we get to phonemic awareness. As you can see with this visual, phonemic awareness is a piece of phonological awareness. The definition of that is the ability to recognize and manipulate individual phonemes in words. A phoneme is an individual sound. In the word "cat", we have three phonemes, /k/, /a/, /t/. Whereas in the word "fish", which has four letters, we still have three phonemes, /f/, /i/, /sh/. Phonemes don't have to do with the letters, they have to do with the individual sounds that we hear. Phonemic awareness is very important when it comes to future success in reading, and we're going to get into that quite a bit in today's presentation.
Number two: the second thing you might not know about phonological awareness is that there are developmental levels of it. In the survey, one of the big things that people asked was, "Can you give me a scope and sequence for phonological awareness?" What I have for you now is this staircase, and this shows you the progression from simple to more complex phonological awareness skills. They don't always occur in this order, but this is a general idea.
First we have rhyming, then the alliteration piece where I talked about how kids could hear that words start with the same sound. Possibly, if you gave them a group of words like "ball", "bat", and "car", they could tell you which one doesn't start with the same sound. Then we have word awareness, which is being able to break a sentence apart into words. Syllables, taking words and breaking the syllables apart, and then putting syllables together to make a word. Then we have onsets and rimes, so here's where we're getting even deeper. This could be parts of a syllable, so the first sound of a word before the vowel and then the second part of a word.
Then here, we finally get to phonemic awareness, and I have divided it into two levels here on the staircase, basic phonemic awareness and more advanced phonemic awareness. The reason I've done that is because often we get stuck on the more basic skills, like blending and segmenting, and forget to spend some time on the more advanced phonemic awareness skill of manipulation, which, as we'll get into later, is really key for helping students become strong readers.
If you're wondering when these things occur for different grade levels, pre-K to kindergarten typically is when children develop rhyming, alliteration, word awareness, and syllables. They develop onset and rime knowledge in about early kindergarten to early first grade. Then the phonemic awareness happens first in mid-first grade to early second grade, and then the more advanced skill is not until late first grade to third grade.
If you're wondering where I'm getting these grade levels from, I want to share a book with you. I'm going to switch here to my face so you can see what the book looks like. This book is by David Kilpatrick. It is really excellent for helping break down all the things I'm explaining today, and at the end he's got a whole bunch of one-minute activities you can do to build phonemic awareness. It's a really good book to add to your library, "Equipped For Reading Success".
The next thing we want to learn today, number three, is that when it comes to predicting future success in reading, phonemic awareness trumps all! It really is the key. If you go back and look at this previous staircase slide that I was sharing, you'll notice that phonemic awareness doesn't usually occur until later. I think a lot of times, certainly when I was a teacher, I had this idea that phonological awareness is for the preschool and kindergarten teachers and now that I'm teaching first grade, I don't have to do much with it. But as you can see in this chart, it's really important that we continue that instruction, especially phonemic awareness instruction, up until early third grade, and for some struggling readers, past that time.
Phonemic awareness really is important when it comes to future success. Here's a quote from David Kilpatrick from that book I just shared. "Unless students master the skills at the phoneme level, you will not see the desired effect on reading."
One thing you might be wondering is that if kids need phonemic awareness to do well in reading, is it really important that they have all those other earlier skills? That was a question that I received in my survey. Some people said, "Well, I've heard that rhyming is really important for learning to read, but now they're telling us it's not that important, and phonemic awareness is more important."
Well, that's a really good question. Rhyming is important, because as you can see here, it's part of the staircase that leads to phonemic awareness acquisition. It is important because it leads to phonemic awareness! It's an important foundation, but if you want to directly point an arrow to which one has the most direct effect on reading success, that would be phonemic awareness.
You should know that there are distinct levels of phonemic awareness, and I'm going to talk about those with you right now. I'm going to use this ladder visual to explain the levels of phonemic awareness.
The first one is phoneme isolation. This brings us back to the alliteration piece in the phonological awareness staircase. Phoneme isolation has a lot to do with that. It's when kids can hear individual sounds and words, including the first sound, as we did with alliteration, but it also includes middle sounds, ending sounds, and being able to tell whether a word has a different sound in the middle, end, and so on.
Next, we have phoneme blending. If you said to a child, "I have these sounds, /m/, /a/, /t/. Put them together to make a word," they could tell you the word "mat".
Segmenting is taking that same word apart into its individual sounds or phonemes. If you've seen Elkonin boxes before, you've certainly seen this in action. It's a card where there's a picture on the top, and on the bottom, there are spaces for children to put little counters for each sound. I have a set of these for free on my website. One picture might be a picture of a bee, and even though "bee" has three letters in its name, there are only two phonemes, /b/ and /ee/.
Finally, we get to phoneme manipulation. This is the biggie according to David Kilpatrick and some other researchers. It includes things like adding phonemes, deleting phonemes, and substituting phonemes. This is definitely an advanced skill. Many children who are later readers, maybe in fifth grade, and who really struggle, it's very possible that they don't have phoneme manipulation in hand. They're going to need phoneme manipulation instruction too.
For an example of a phoneme manipulation activity, if I said to a child, "Take the word 'bug' and change the /b/ to /r/," they could tell me "rug". That would be an easier one. It would get more difficult if you start adding things like blends. If I said, "Take the word 'stem' and change the /t/ to a different sound," and they would have to change it, then it gets a little more complicated. Then you start working into the vowels and ending blends. Start simple, but there's a lot of levels within this skill as well. So phoneme manipulation is the big thing when it comes to helping students be successful as readers.
The last thing I want to talk about today, the fifth thing you may not know about phonological awareness, is a biggie. Phonemic awareness is central to developing a large sight word vocabulary! This is kind of a new concept for a lot of us, certainly for me, and it's being shared by researchers like David Kilpatrick. It's important to understand, because it's kind of hard at first glance to figure out why phonemic awareness would be important for reading, and, for that matter, why would it be important for developing a sight word vocabulary. Phonemic awareness is oral, what does it have to do with reading words? That's what I want to talk to you about here.
The first thing is to know about some mixed case studies that David Kilpatrick references. That means that they gave students words in all lower case, as in the slide here, "apple", and then they gave them the same words in mixed case, like "ApPLe". Once the students were used to reading words in mixed cases, they could read words on slides with no problem, just as fast, whether they were lowercase or mixed case. I'm sure you can also think about how you can read words in any different font. You can read words in cursive, and you can read them in print just as quickly. It's not that we made this perfect exact visual image of words in our brain. A lot of us might think that students have developed almost a catalog images for all the words they know. That's really not the case.
Instead, David Kilpatrick tells us they have a skill called orthographic mapping. It's a process in their brain. Orthographic mapping is a little bit hard to wrap your brain around at first, if you're new to the term, so I'm going to try to make it really simple for you. It is a mental process, according to Kilpatrick, that we use to permanently store words so that we can recognize them instantly. It's a mental process, so you could not go to your lesson plans and write down, "Today we're doing orthographic mapping." It's not an activity, and it's not a teaching technique. It's a mental process. It's something we do in our heads, and our students can do orthographic mapping if they know how to break a word apart into its sounds. In other words, if they have phonemic awareness.
To get a little deeper on that, according to Kilpatrick, "Letter strings in a meaningful order (written words) can be anchored into permanent memory if the reader is able to recognize why those letter strings are meaningful and are in that particular order."
"Children," this is another quote from David Kilpatrick, "who struggle with phonemic awareness, struggle with reading. Why? Because they do not notice the logical/meaningful relationship between the word's pronunciation and the letters used to represent that pronunciation in print."
Okay, I'm going to switch to my face a minute here. How's it going? Is that making sense to you? I think I had to read that quite a few times to nail it down in my brain. But the idea is that the word "bat", for example, /b/, /a/, /t/. If a kid can look at a word and in their brain subconsciously somehow know that each of those letters has an individual sound and they go in that order, then they have an anchor to remember that word in their head.
I watched a webinar by David Kilpatrick, and one thing that really stuck with me was when he talked about how kids who have the skill of orthographic mapping only need to see and read a word one to four times and then they can just instantly have it. That's true for us too, even as adults. If you read a new word in your reading, it only takes a couple of times of seeing it before it instantly is part of your sight word vocabulary.
There's one thing I forgot to mention before, but it's really important. When I talk about sight words here in this context, I'm talking about words that when you read them, they are automatic in your brain. It doesn't matter if they're phonetic or if they're not phonetic. If you see those words and know them, you don't have to sound them out, you just know them instantly! They are in your sight word vocabulary. That's what we want for our readers. We want them to have a big sight word vocabulary, because kids with a big sight word vocabulary are fluent readers. Then if they are fluent, fluency is the bridge to comprehension, so then they can understand what they read. Building up this large vocabulary of words you can read right away leads to fluency, which leads to comprehension, which is the goal of reading.
Maybe these slides will help you to understand those concepts a little bit more. Phonics is decoding, it's taking a word and breaking it apart into individual sounds. Whereas, orthographic mapping is encoding, it's taking the pieces and putting them together. According to Kilpatrick, phonics is part to whole, phonemes to words. Orthographic mapping is whole to part, it's thinking about the oral words and the individual phonemes that make up the words. Now, to be clear, kids are doing this automatically, but we want to give them the foundational skills so they can do this automatically. We need both phonics AND orthographic mapping to both read and store words, to create sight words from words that were initially unfamiliar.
Let's go ahead and review the five things we talked about today in the podcast; five things you may not know, but now you DO know, about phonological awareness. Number one, it's not the same thing as phonics, because phonological awareness and phonemic awareness are oral skills, whereas, phonics is something that has to do with written words and sounding out words. Number two, there are developmental levels of phonological awareness. I shared that staircase with you and talked about the approximate age range that average readers acquire those skills. Number three, when it comes to predicting the future success in reading, phonemic awareness trumps all. It is the biggie! We talked about the distinct levels of phonemic awareness. We talked about isolation, blending, segmenting, and the big one, manipulation. Finally, phonemic awareness is central to developing a large sight word vocabulary. The reason for that is because when you have phonemic awareness, you are able to do orthographic mapping, this mental process in which you store words so that you can read them in the future effortlessly.
If you want to learn more about this big topic, I'll be sharing more about it in future weeks. One more thing you could do if you'd like is get your hands on this book, "Equipped For Reading Success" by David Kilpatrick. Also, stay tuned for future episodes because each week I'm going to be coming to you with another visual presentation, as well as podcast episode, all about phonological awareness. Stay tuned for that coming next week.
I also want you to know about a free offer for you, my Phonological Awareness Assessment. You can get that by going to my website, themeasuredmom.com/assessment. If you do that, you will find yourself on this page where you can sign up below for the assessment. It assesses all of these pieces of phonological awareness, and it's free!
When you do that, when you sign up for my newsletter and get the assessment, you will get a special offer for my Phonological and Phonemic Awareness Super Bundle. This includes rhyming activities, syllable activities, a huge bundle of phonemic awareness activities, a nursery rhyme pack that helps kids get excited about reading and matching words to print, my second nursery rhyme pack, which was just recently published, as well as personalized emergent readers. With these you can type in student names and then their first name is always the first word on each page. That's a great resource also for developing concept of word. Go head over to get that free assessment, and then after you do that, you'll be given this special offer to get the bundle for 70% off!
I want to remind you that if you're listening to the podcast, the show notes will be at themeasuredmom.com/episode30. If you're listening to this right away, live, those aren't ready yet, but they will be ready very soon. Thank you so much for watching. I'm really glad you're with us today, and I will be with you again next week.
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Link to original Facebook Live presentation
Images from the video presentation