Phonemic Awareness By Sarah Blackburn
What? • Phonemic awareness – the ability to detect, identify, and manipulate phonemes in spoken words; the most important level of phonological awareness • Phoneme – the smallest unit of spoken language which makes a difference in the meaning of a word • It is different from phonics, focusing more on spoken language. It often overlaps with phonics, when taught with letters. • Segmenting and blending phonemes are the most essential phonological skills. • Two types of blendable sounds: • Stop sounds – sounds that can be pronounced for only a moment (i.e. /b/, /t/, and /c/) • Continuous sounds – sounds that can be pronounced for a few seconds without being distorted – these are easier to blend together (i.e. /f/, /n/, and /s/)
Why? • When a child enters school, their level of phonemic awareness is considered the largest determining factor of future reading achievement (Adams 1990). • Without the ability to focus on the individual sounds in words, it is very hard to decode words and match letters to sounds. • According to research, reading ability usually improves as a result of improving phonological awareness (Lane and Pullen 2004).
When? • Start with larger units of sound and move toward smaller. • Begin with easier skills and move toward more difficult ones. • Instruction in Phonemic awareness and the alphabet should be separate until students become stronger in each individual area. • Start assessment in the middle of Kindergarten, and continue assessment in early elementary grades when needed. • Time at each grade level • Kindergarten: 10-15 minutes each day • 1st grade: 10 minutes each day for first three months of school • 2nd grade and higher: only needed for students not reading at grade level or recognizing words automatically
How? Effective Instruction in Phonemic Awareness • It should be explicit, with the teacher explaining clearly, modeling tasks, and allowing for student practice. • It should move from easier toward harder tasks. • It should be taught in small groups (Foorman and Torgeson 2001; National Reading Panel 2000). • Lessons should not last more than 30 minutes. • Each lesson should focus on 1-2 skills. • Providing markers (i.e. blocks or cubes) for phonemes can make it more concrete (Ehri and Roberts 2006). • Using games and interactive activities will make it motivating and interesting. • Phonemes should be pronounced correctly in a way that makes them bendable.
How? Lesson Ideas • Four levels of phonological awareness: words, syllables, onset-rime, and phoneme. • The first three levels lay the foundation for phonemic awareness by helping children learn to focus on the way language sounds, not just the meaning. • Students can practice skills such as blending, segmentation, and deletion with the earlier levels of words, syllables, and onset-rime first, before moving to phonemes. • When working with phonemes, practice isolating initial sounds before final, and start with one-syllable words. • Make sure students know the meaning of words you are working with so they will be able to focus on the sounds.
Conclusion Phonemic awareness enables children to decode words and match letters to sounds, preparing them to be successful readers.