Possessing phonemic awareness when a child starts school greatly assists in producing a proficient reader. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate the individual sounds in spoken words. Whereas phonological awareness refers to a general understanding of our language – noticing word features and patterns. A child has mastered both of these skills when she can perform the following:
- Differentiate between beginning and ending sounds.
- Identify and produce rhymes.
- Segment sentences and syllables.
- Segment a word into its individual sounds.
- Blend sounds together to form a word.
- Manipulate sounds within a word to form new words.
Phonological and Phonemic Awareness
Both phonological and phonemic awareness are fundamental concepts that a child must learn. If a child does not adequately develop these skills, she is more susceptible to becoming a poor reader. Expose your child to these skills gradually. Once a child has masters a skill quickly move to next one until reaching the critical skills of segmenting, blending and manipulating – these skills will greatly assist your child in decoding words. If your child can read more than 20 words in a minute he most likely does not need assistance in this area. However, if your child can not read 20 words in a minute she will need additional instruction in this area.
Identify What Your Child Knows
The following activities can assist in determining what your child knows about the sounds of our language.
Differentiate Between Sounds
Determine if your child can identify the beginning and ending sounds in words. Using pictures or objects, help your child select those with the same beginning sound, e.g. car and cat.
Perform a similar exercise with ending sounds. Sort pictures, e.g. cat and hat, with the ending /t/ sound from pictures with the /s/ sound, e.g. bus and eggs.
Create Word Families
Determine if your child can recognize and create rhyming word families. Using pictures or objects, sort by chuck sounds. For example, sort the pictures and words, e.g. cat and hat, with the chuck sound /at/ from pictures and words that have the chuck sound /ug/, e.g. bug, rug, and mug.
When reading rhymes, ask your child to create rhyming word families. For example, after reading Humpty Dumpty, ask your child what else rhymes with wall and fall? Answers: ball, call, hall, mall, tall, small, squall, stall.
Identify Sentence Structure and Syllables
Determine if your child can recognize both sentence structure and syllables. Clapping for each word in a sentence is a great way to determine if your child grasps this concept. Once a child understands sentence structure, determine her awareness of syllables. Clapping the syllables in compound words is a great exercise, e.g. cup-cake, gold-fish. Once a child can clap for each word in a sentence and syllable, she is ready to clap for each sound, e.g. cc-uu-ppp which is covered in the next section.
Segment, Blend and Manipulate Words
This skill involves breaking down words into individual sounds (segmenting), combining sounds into words (blending), and adding, removing or changing (manipulating) sounds in a word.
Playing with words, literally are great activities:
- Say the first sound in cat – /c/.
- Say each sound in cat – /c/, /a/ and /t/.
- Say cat without the c – at.
- Say an. Now put a /c/ before an. Say the word.
- Say sounds and have your say the word, e.g. /h/, /a/, /t/ said quickly is hat.
- Put an /s/ at the end of hats. Say the word.
- Change the medial sound from /a/ to /u/ in hat. Say the word.
Blending, segmenting and manipulating are critical skills that a child must acquire to become a proficient reader. While working on both these skills, try to match the letters with the sounds. When a child makes a connection between the letters and their sounds, they are well on their way to becoming a good reader!
Knowing what skills your child has not mastered, assists in determining what exercises to focus on to ensure an awareness of the sounds of our language.
Implementing Appropriate Exercises
As with anything in life, we want to do continually do things that are enjoyable. Teaching phonemic awareness can be a lot of fun. Playing with the sounds of our language does not need to be approached as an arduous task but rather one filled with entertaining rhymes, silly sentences, and over exaggerating each sound when blending or segmenting.
Use body movements and/or fingers to visually illustrate a concept. For example, do a silly dance for each sound in the word fun, /f/, /u/, /n/ – wiggle both your arms and legs as you step to the right and say the letter /f/ sound. Wiggle to the left as you say the next letter and so on.
As your child begins to master each skill, determine if you have achieved your desired results. Once a child masters a skill, move quickly to the next. A child typically has four years to master our language, which is not a lot of time if you think about the intricacies of our language. Once a child obtains phonological and phonemic awareness, she can begin to learn phonics which uses letter-sound relationships to identify written words. Phonemic awareness and phonological awareness are critical components that a child must master when learning to read.
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