If you’re a teacher or parent that has been working on bringing your struggling readers up to grade level, phonological awareness will be of some help to you. Oftentimes, phonological awareness seems to be a bit of a mystery… or it may be confused with phonemic awareness and phonics. Lots of times people ask, “What is phonological awareness?”
In this article, we will dive right into:
- What phonological awareness is
- Why you should be teaching it… and
- How you can go about doing so
Let’s get started!
What is Phonological Awareness?
Phonological awareness is the overall concept of kids listening and manipulating sounds on an auditory level. It can include counting words and sentences, rhyming and breaking words into individual sounds. This is a key skill that kids must have to get them on the path to becoming a fluent reader.
There are four levels of phonological awareness that must be understood in order to properly teach this skill:
- In this stage, you will begin by helping students work with and manipulate words. You might begin by having students count out how many words are in a sentence and then move up to blending words. Then give them a compound word such as “butterfly” and have them break it into “butter” and “fly” and ask what word that is. This helps them to practice blending words.
- You would then move up to a more difficult task, which is segmenting. A teacher may ask the students to say what words they hear in the word butterfly. This, of course, would be “butter and fly.” This is an easier level because kids are managing larger chunks of words.
- At this level, students begin to break down words and the skill of blending syllables is being taught. An example of this would be blending the word “picnic.” You might show them the words “pic” and “nic” and ask what the word is. Then you would ask what syllables they hear in the word picnic.
- This is a bit more difficult than blending, but students should be able to master these skills.
3. Rhyme Level
- At this stage you’re taking chunks of sounds, which is the onset from the rhyme. An onset would be the consonant that comes before the vowel. The rhyme is going from the vowel to the rest of the word. Take the word “pack.” If students are asked what is the first sound they hear in the word pack, they should say “p”.
- As they go through this onset and rhyme level, students should be able to generate rhymes and recognize them.
4. Phoneme Level
- The phoneme level is by far the most difficult level. At this level, students are learning individual sounds. An example of this would be the word “flop.” If a teacher were to ask what sounds are in flop, students should say “f-l-o-p”. If asked what is the first sound they hear, students should say “f”.
- By identifying, blending, categorizing and segmenting, students are now able to move up and through the phoneme level.
Phoneme Blending and Segmenting
Out of these four levels, there are two skills the National Reading Panel found to be of utmost importance for students as they start to learn to read and fall under the phoneme level. These two skills are phoneme blending and phoneme segmenting. If students are able to master these skills, students are not able to blend individual sounds together. If students are able to hear a word spelled and then say the correct word, they have mastered this skill.
By working on these skills, it enables students to decode words.
With phonemic blending, we’re not putting sounds to print yet, but this is still phonological awareness. Another example of this would be if students are given are a word and told to segment it, they should be able to say what letters form the word. By segmenting sounds in a word, students are building their decoding. This, in turn, helps with their spelling.
Often times in classroom settings we see the teacher spending a lot of time on teaching rhyming. While this is important, we want to make sure we have kids who are strong in phoneme blending and phoning segmenting skills. If schools are not seeing good test results, we often find that the program’s materials they’re using are not following any sequence. They simply are not teaching important skills.
When students are starting out in kindergarten and first grade, we want to start with the easier skills first and work our students up.
Examine Your Programs
- Where are these skills being taught?
- Where am I having kids chunk words and sentences?
- Where am I having students segment syllables?
- Where am I having students blend onset and rhyme?
If you notice that your program is skipping steps or jumping to different levels, that may be an indication as to why some of your kids may be struggling.
There’s a chart that’s included in this blog post as a freebie. What this chart does is help you to see where these skills are falling in your program. This chart will be a benefit to you and your students. By working your way from the bottom to the top you’ll be able to see a huge difference.
When you begin implementing these skills you’ll see a huge improvement and your students as well as your teaching skills!
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