Introduction to phonemic awareness teaching strategies
In this article we will discuss phonemic awareness and teaching strategies to facilitate this skill in children. Previous articles on phonemic awareness can be found in our child reading category.
What is phonemic awareness and why is it important?
To simplify, phonemic awareness helps readers to separate a spoken word into distinct phonemes. For example, the word “cat” can be separated into three distinct phonemes. These phonemes are /k/, /æ/, and /t/, The ability to identify distinct sounds in words requires phonemic awareness.
Phonemic awareness is a subset of phonological awareness. Phonological awareness refers to the ability of individuals to identify the sound structure of words. The ability to distinguish the sound structure of words (phonological awareness) is an important skill in reading. A child’s phonological awareness is a reliable predictor of later reading ability (wikipedia, 2019).
There are 3 skills required for phonological awareness. These are:
– onsets and rimes
– and phonemes.
What is a phoneme
Phonemes are the smallest and distinct mental units of sound in specific languages. Each of phoneme or distinct unit of sound helps listeners to identify the differences between words.
In the English alpabeth, the letters p, b, d, and t are examples of phonemes. This is because each of these letters has different sound. Words with the letters p, b, d and t appear in words, the word will sound different from another one because of the phoneme.
For example, the English words pad, pat, bad, and bat are made up of phonemes. Each of these words sounds different because of the phoneme or sound of the letter.
What is the difference between phonics and phonemic awareness?
In a previous article, we explained that phonics is the study of sound.
In contrast, phonemic awareness focuses specifically on recognizing and manipulating phonemes. We explained previously that phonemes are the smallest units of sound.
Phonics requires students to:
– know and match letters or letter patterns with sounds.
– learn the rules of spelling.
– use this information to decode (read) words.
– use this information to encode (write) words.
Phonemic awareness relates only to speech sounds and not to alphabet letters or sound-spellings. In phonics, children do not need to possess alphabet knowledge in order to develop a basic phonemic awareness of language.
It seems to me that hairs are being spilt too finely. Obviously, phonemes need to be taught in phonics. How else would they learn the sound of the different letters.
I wonder if babies can be taught some phonics during the babbling stage. For example, one of the first words babies say is “da da.” Will a child at that age be able to repeat words with similar sounds?
Having watched the videos of two year olds learning to read, it seems to me to be the ideal approach. The children using this approach are fast tracked into reading. The testimonials show that they are able to read far in advance of their grade.
What are the 5 levels of phonemic awareness?
The University of Oregon (2019) also identified 7 and not 5 levels of phonemic awareness. Beginning at easy and ascending to difficult, they are:
– word comparison.
– sentence segmentation.
– syllable segmentation and blending.
– onset rime blending and segmentation.
– blending and segmenting individual phonemes.
– phoneme deletion and manipulation.
The University of Oregon (2019) paradigm explains that phonemic awareness instruction progresses from kindergarten into first grade. In kindergarten, oral activities focus on:
– matching words with beginning sounds (can be taught earlier in my opinion)
– blending sounds into words (children begin to do this by about 18 months).
Phonemic awareness in first grade focuses on:
– blending (“Blend these sounds together “mmmm-aaaa-nnnn).
– segmentation (“What are the sounds in man?).
– substitution and manipulation of phonemes (Change the first sound in man to /r/. What word do you have?”).
This example of phonemic awareness comes from the Faribalt Public School (nd). Obviosuly, they merged the disciplines in a manner that is sensible and facilitates teaching:
Sound and Word discrimination
What word doesn’t belong with the others: “cat”, “mat”, “bat”, “ran”? “ran”
What word rhymes with “cat”? bat
The onset of “cat” is /k/, the rime is /at/
What word is made up of the sounds /k/ /a/ /t/? “cat”
What are the sounds in “cat”? /k/ /a/ /t/
What is “cat” without the /k/? “at”
What word would you have if you changed the /t/ in cat to an /n/? “can”
At what age should children begin to learn reading?
Maybe we need to begin to explore the age at which child reading should begin. It seems to me that age 5 is too late. Jim Yang has shown anecdotally, with a population of over 78,000 children, that child reading can begin as early as 18 months.
Phonemic awareness teaching strategies
Knowledge of the elements and stages of phonemic awareness helps us to identify the types of activities for teaching them. These include rhyming games; matching letters with sounds games
Here is one example from Jim Yang:
“…one of the best strategies that we like to use to teach phonemic awareness to our children, is to mix in word segmenting and oral blending when we read bedtime stories for our kids…this is an exceptional method, because it doesn’t take any extra time or effort…
Let’s say that you’re reading a nursery rhyme “Jack and Jill”:
Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown
And Jill came tumbling after.
Instead of reading each word straight through the rhyme, you can randomly mix in oral blending on various words in the rhyme…
You can read Jack and Jill like so:
J-ack and J-ill went up the h-ill
To fetch a p-ail of water.
J-ack fell down and broke his crown
And J-ill came tumbling after.”
A 2017 research study titled Fetal rhythm-based language discrimination shows that language development begins in the womb (Minai, Gustafson, Fiorentino, Jongman abd Sereno, 2017 as cited in Science Daily, 2017).
The study found that 8 month old unborn fetuses of twenty four pregnant American females can distinguish between someone speaking to them in English and Japanese.
Researchers used a non-invasive sensing technology called a magnetocardiogram (MCG) to test brain activity during the study. One of two in the entire United States, researchers fitted the fetal biomagnetometers over the abdomen of the pregnant women.
The sensor functioned by detecting small magnetic fields around electrical currents originating from the bodies of the mothers and their unborn children. The machine also sense heartbeats, breathing and other body movements.
As an aside, this research provides evidence that humans are electromagnetic in nature. This has implications of electrical and magnetic stimulation theraoy
Lead researcher Minai made two recordings of the speech of a bilingual Japanese and English speaker. Each recording was played in succession to the fetuses. English speech has a dynamic rhythmic structure resembling Morse code signals, while Japanese has a more regular-paced rhythmic structure.
Results showed that the fetal heart rates changed when the unfamiliar, rhythmically distinct language (Japanese) was played to them. In contrast, there was no change in heart rate when they listened to a second English recording.
Lead researcher Minai also reported that the results were statistically significant. She concluded that
“These results suggest that language development may indeed start in utero. Fetuses are tuning their ears to the language they are going to acquire even before they are born, based on the speech signals available to them in utero. Pre-natal sensitivity to the rhythmic properties of language may provide children with one of the very first building blocks in acquiring language.”
According to researcher Gustafson (2917)
“The intrauterine environment is a noisy place. The fetus is exposed to maternal gut sounds, her heartbeats and voice, as well as external sounds. Without exposure to sound, the auditory cortex wouldn’t get enough stimulation to develop properly. This study gives evidence that some of that development is linked to language.”
This research supports biblical records that the unborn hear:
– John the Baptist leaped in the womb when he heard Mary speak – Luke 1: 41 & 44.
Phonemic awareness resources
Faribalt Public Schools. (nd). Examples of phonemic awareness skills. Retrieved from https://www.faribault.k12.mn.us/UserFiles/Servers/Server_3060715/File/Phonemic%20Awareness%20Skills.pdf
University of Oregon, (2019). Phonemic awarness. Retrieved from http://reading.uoregon.edu/big_ideas/pa/pa_sequence.php
University of Kansas. (2017, July 18). Language development starts in the womb. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 19, 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170718084600.htm