An Insightful Guide on Phonological Awareness for Teachers

One of the most important foundations of teaching to read is called phonemic awareness.  Phonemic awareness really comes down to hearing and manipulating sounds in words. Phonological awareness is to be able to manipulate syllables, onset-rime, and phonemes. Here is a blog post that can help you assess some phonemic awareness skills using a seesaw.

Defining Phonemic Awareness

Each word in our English vocabulary is made up of individual sounds called phonemes. Phonemic awareness is then defined as the ability to speak and hear these sounds in words. Unlike phonics, which has an emphasis on seeing the word itself, phonemes focus on how the word sounds like when read or spoken. Focusing on this skill properly will help our students become more fluent and confident in expressing themselves in the language and move into reading instruction with more ease.

Phonological Skills

All in all, there are six skills that children need to master. This includes hearing and manipulating phonemes, onset-rime, syllables, sentence segmentation, alliteration, and rhyming. Make sure to focus on each one equally for all students.

Phonemes

Phonemes are the sounds that make up a word. When it comes to teaching this, you would have to introduce your students to the vocabulary words: beginning, middle, and end. You can introduce the vocabulary beginning, middle, and end by using your head to mark the beginning, your belly to mark the middle, and your feet to mark the end. You can also use elkonin boxes. When helping students hear the sounds in the word, make sure to pronounce the word slowly and clearly enough to help them identify the sounds and where they hear the sound For example, with the physical head, belly, feet. You can touch your head for beginning and say /k/, then your belly and say /a/ and your feet and say /t/. Then glide your hands faster from head to feet and say cat! That is a simple and easy way to get your students started with hearing individual sounds in words and relating them to the beginning, middle, and end positions.

Rhyming

When anyone says that two words rhyme, that means that both words sound the same even if they are spelled differently. One of the many examples is fly and lie. When it comes to teaching students regarding the appreciation of words in rhyme is to read poems with them out loud. You can emphasize a rhyme but let them figure out by themselves which words rhyme to help them practice this skill. One of my favorite activities are erase poems. Here is a quick example of what I mean, draw a stick figure of a human. On the head, draw eyes, nose, mouth. Draw hands, fingers, arms, legs, feet, toes. Draw a hat. Then, to play the erase game. You will read the following poem and have students fill it in so you can erase the part.

This is a stick person, his name is Macpherson.

Let’s play a game of rhyme-erase, so…

First let’s start and erase his _______. (erase/face)

Don’t be shy, erase his ____. (shy/eye)

Everyone knows you smell with your ____. (knows/nose)

He fell out of his bed and hit his _____. (bed/head)

He stood up and walked a little shoddy, oops let’s erase his ____. (shoddy/body)

Now, they linger so let’s erase his ___ (linger, finger)

He still has some charm, let’s erase his ___. (charm/arm)

That is it, he dropped an egg, oh, let’s see – erase his ___. (egg/leg)

The picture is getting small, so let’s go ahead and erase it ___. (small/all)

Onset-rime

If rhyming focuses on two words that sound the same, onset-rime are word chunks. “Onset” refers to the initial letter or blend. “Rime” is the vowel and letters following it.  It really helps to teach reading in these word chunks, or word families. You can create onset and rime cards and help students blend the words. There are also many songs you can find on YouTube.

Syllables

This is defined as one part of a word that has one vowel sound. Teaching your students to learn how to split words into syllables and vice versa can be done in multiple ways. A great strategy to teach your students is the arm tapping method, where you pronounce each syllable while tapping your arm to each one. Another useful strategy is clapping the syllables.

Sentence segmentation

After learning word sounds, an important skill in phonemic awareness is identifying individual words in a sentence. For example, the sentence “Kyle ate an apple.” has four words in it. An activity you can do is say a sentence and have the students take a step for each word in the sentence.

Alliteration

Since rhyming is figuring out words that have the same ending sound, alliteration is the same beginning sound. This can include phrases such as “Terrific Tuesday” or “Festive Friday.” Naming your days of the week like this is a fun way to not only theme your school day but practice alliteration.

You can also introduce tongue twisters like:

  • Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
  • How much wood would a woodchuck chuck; If a woodchuck would chuck wood? A woodchuck would chuck all the wood he could chuck; If a woodchuck would chuck wood.
  • Silly Sally swiftly shooed seven silly sheep. The seven silly sheep Silly Sally shooed shilly-shallied south. These sheep shouldn’t sleep in a shack.

Other Activities

After learning the skills your students have to learn when it comes to phonemic awareness, let’s check out some activities that you can do. They will help make it fun and interactive for them so that they won’t get bored!

Reading various books to introduce students to language and rhyme

When it comes to showing how words can rhyme, the best medium is through books with lots of rhyme and word play. There are lots to choose from, such the classic Dr. Suess books, my absolute favorite The Wonky Donky, and Silly Milly the Dane — honestly there are so many great books to choose from!

Another Activity…

Scavenger hunts are fun! Use a picture scavenger hunt to reinforce phonemic awareness. Show them a picture of a busy market and have them find words that rhyme. When choosing an image make sure there are lots of rhyming words available that students can identify! 

Phonological awareness is an important precursor to reading instruction. Studies show that students with good phonemic awareness are stronger readers because they know how to manipulate the sounds in words. I would suggest using phonological awareness activities throughout the year not only are they fun they build strong literacy skills that just reading instruction alone can’t do!

What are your favorite phonological awareness activities?