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Phonological Awareness Activities

Phonological awareness is the ability to identify and manipulate parts of spoken language. Phonological awareness skills include working with words, syllables, onset-rimes, and phonemes (the individual sounds in spoken words).

The objective of the Phonological Awareness sequence of activities is to teach students to identify and manipulate the sounds in spoken words.

Two important manipulation skills are:

  • Oral segmenting, which refers to taking spoken language and breaking it into separate parts. Phoneme segmenting, for instance, teaches students that words are composed of sounds, which they need to understand in order for sounding out to make sense.
  • Oral blending, which refers to taking a sequence of sounds and putting them together to form spoken language. Phoneme blending is what students will need to do when they sound out words to pronounce them correctly.

Since phonemic awareness (the subset of phonological awareness that deals with the individual sounds in spoken words) doesn't require any recognition of printed letters, and since it is a prerequisite for sounding out words, it can and should be taught very early in the reading program.

The National Reading Panel (2000) reached the following conclusions:

  • Phonemic awareness can be taught explicitly.
  • It helps all types of children improve their reading, including normally developing readers, at-risk readers, disabled readers, preschoolers, ELL students, and children from various socioeconomic backgrounds.
  • Instruction that focuses on one or two skills produces greater transfer than instruction that focuses on a greater number of skills.
  • Teaching students to segment and blend greatly benefits reading.
  • Phonemic awareness instruction is more effective when delivered in small groups than when delivered to the whole class.

(For more of the research on phonological awareness, see Intervention A, the research base.)

The sequence of instruction covered here moves through increasingly difficult activities, ending with phoneme manipulation:

  • Counting words in a sentence (a warm-up activity)
  • Blending and segmenting syllables (warm-up activities)
  • Identifying and generating rhyming words (warm-up activities)
  • Blending and segmenting onset-rimes
  • Blending phonemes
  • Identifying the first, last, and middle phonemes in a word
  • Using sound-it-out chips to identify phonemes within a word
  • Using letters to substitute one phoneme for another in a word

The last skill in this sequence uses printed letters as well as spoken phonemes, leading students from phonemic awareness to phonics.