As the year goes on, I am becoming more aware of the importance of Phonological Awareness and Concepts of Print to the Prep child. Phonemic awareness was my focus for term one and as I look at my reading data – I’m glad it was! There are still children having difficulties with these skills so I decided to research the topic. I found a wealth of information and thought I’d share the most relevant to Prep here.

What is Phonological Awareness?
What is Phonemic Awareness?

Phonological awareness is an awareness of the ways in which words and syllables can be divided into smaller units. There are three levels of phonological awareness: syllable awareness, intra-syllable awareness, and phonemic awareness.

Syllable awareness consists of the segmenting of syllables in words and the blending of syllables together to form words.
Intra-syllables are the units we often refer to as onset and rime. This level includes the blending of sounds to form words, segmenting the sounds in words and adding, deleting, or changing the sounds in words or in a sound cluster.

"Phonological awareness is an awareness of the ways in which words and syllables can be divided into smaller units."

Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is the awareness that words are composed of phonemes or sounds and that those sounds have distinct features. Phonemic awareness consists of four major skills which involve hearing, focusing on, and manipulating the phonemes in spoken syllables and words. Phonemic awareness may sometimes be confused with the teaching of phonics.

Phonics refers to teaching the letter-sound relationships. Children can be taught to manipulate sounds in speech without any phonics or letter knowledge and therefore phonemic awareness instruction is not phonics instruction.

These terms can be illustrated in the word: fishing. The syllables are fish and ing. The intra-syllables are f(onset) and -ishing (rime). The phonemes are /f/i/sh/i/ng/. Note that phonemes in fishing are different from letters and the spelling of the word. Phonemes represent sounds and although a letter (or grapheme) represents a sound, there is not always a one-to-one correspondence. In the word fishing, there are 7 letters but only 5 phonemes.

"Phonemic awareness is the awareness that words are composed of phonemes or sounds and that those sounds have distinct features."

How does Phonological Awareness develop?
Is there a suggested order to teach the skills?

Phonological awareness skills develop along a flexible continuum. Children rely on their auditory skills for the development of the phonological awareness skills of syllable segmentation, blending, and rhyme. Then they rely on their speaking articulation skills for the next stages of phonological awareness where they demonstrate sound blending and sound segmentation. In the final stage of phonological awareness, children are relying on their orthographic knowledge for the higher level skills of sound manipulation and cluster segmentation.

Researchers conclude that there is a relationship between phonological awareness skills and literacy development. Phonological awareness is necessary for decoding text but the critical aspect of phonological awareness is that the child becomes aware words are made up of sounds. Graphemes or alphabet letters and the teaching of phonics makes no sense to a child who does not understand that words are made up of sounds. Once phonological awareness is established however, children begin to understand the relationship between speech sounds and print.

Key findings from the report of the National Reading Panel, “Teaching Children to Read” (NICHD, 2000) state that phonemic awareness can be taught and can be learned. Phonemic awareness instruction helps children learn to decode, read and spell. Phonemic awareness instruction is most effective when it focuses on only one or two types of phonemic manipulation at a time. Segmenting and blending are the most critical phonemic awareness skills. Phonemic awareness instruction is most effective when children are eventually taught to manipulate phonemes by using alphabet letters.

The report also supports the teaching of phonological awareness in the Prep classroom. Children need to be engaged in systematic, developmentally appropriate activities that are aimed at facilitating shallow levels of phonological awareness like rhyme and alliteration. By the end of the Prep year, activities that are aimed at deeper levels of awareness like segmenting and blending are appropriate. Therefore, those children who are not demonstrating phonological awareness by the middle of the year can be identified and targeted for explicit intervention.

Benchmarks for Phonological Awareness Achievement

Note. I do = teacher demonstrates skill; We do = students repeat with teacher; You do = student completes example independently

I designed these Initial Sound Picture Sorts to help build phonemic awareness with my Prep children. These fun, hands-on sorting activities help children develop an awareness of sounds that is essential to reading success. They help develop students’ understanding of alphabet letter sounds along with the beginning phonemes in words. Picture sorts ensure your students develop their phonemic awareness skills and lays the foundation for any Early Literacy Program.

The PDF file contains 31 pages. It includes up to 12 quality sorting pictures for each letter of the alphabet, matching alphabet letter labels, clear and detailed instructions for using the cards and learning activities in your classroom. I have been using these for some time now. I love them, my children love them and I don’t know how I did without them.

Something valuable from the research that spoke to me is the fact that Teachers need to teach not test. Often our teaching looks more like testing where we ask a child a question rather than modelling, giving feedback and scaffolding. Teaching is helping a child do something that he or she was not able to do before. I was happy to find that the most effective instruction of Phonological Awareness involved The Gradual Release Model.

Teachers need to teach - not test.

The Gradual Release Model

Steps for teaching phonological awareness skills:

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