By: Lori Furgerson
Phonological awareness is an umbrella term that includes the awareness of the spoken parts of language. It is part of the foundation children need to have in place in order to become a successful reader. This foundational skill comes before reading. Phonological awareness involves manipulating sounds and is broken into four developmental levels. As students move through the levels they learn how to blend, segment and manipulate words, syllables, onset and rimes and phonemes. Let’s take a look at the levels.
The first level of phonological awareness is the word level. During this level students work on breaking sentences down into words, blending two smaller words together and segmenting (breaking apart) compound words. One blending activity to do is give the child two smaller words, like up…stairs, taking a break between each part, and then asking them to put the two together to form a new one. For segmenting, you would do the reverse. Give the child the word upstairs and ask them to separate it into two parts.
The next level is the syllable level. Two activities to focus on with children are blending and segmenting. A blending activity to do with children is to give them a word that is broken up into syllables, for example, rock-et. The child needs to blend the syllables together and say the word rocket. A segmenting activity would be the reverse. Give the child a word and have them tell you the parts. For example, you say to the child the word rock-et and they tell you rocket.
The third level is onset and rime. These activities focus on the beginning sound of a word. For example, if you are working on having a child blend onset and rimes you would ask them what the whole word you are trying to say is: /b/ ig and the child says the word big. You are saying the sound for b and then say the rest of the word, ig. A segmenting activity involve the adult giving the whole word big to a child and they respond by saying the first sound, /b/ and the rest of the word, ig.
The final level, the phoneme level, the National Reading Panel found to contribute more to learning how to read and spell more than any of the other levels. When working with these levels, you want to focus on blending and segmenting. A blending activity at the phoneme level involves the adult giving the child just the sounds in the word and the child needs to put those sounds together to form the word. For example, the adult says the sounds /t/ /o/ /p/ and the child says top. A segmenting activity involves the adult giving the child the whole word and the child breaks it up into sounds. For example, the teacher says big and the child says /b/ /i/ /g/.
A few reminders, these phonological awareness activities are imperative to the future reading success of a child. They are foundational skills that all children need in order to be a successful reader. I have had struggling 5th graders who lacked in this basic skill. Once they were explicitly taught phonemic awareness, they began to immediately improve. The other key point is that when teaching children, the most important of all the four levels is the phoneme level. This is the area we need to make sure children have in place to ensure their future reading success.