Teach your child phonological awareness

Published: 31st August 2006
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Phonological awareness skills are key to reading success

Phonological awareness is an important foundation for learning to read. Scientific research has documented that phonological awareness is a better predictor of reading success than IQ, vocabulary, or socioeconomic level of the family.

Research has shown that children who begin reading instruction with sufficiently developed phonological awareness understand the instruction better, master the alphabetic principle faster and learn to read quite easily.

Children who will later be identified as being dyslexic often do not have phonological awareness skills. Teaching these skills has been shown in research to prevent the occurrence of dyslexia in many children. Accordingly, many school systems now follow a program of early screening for phonological awareness skills.

No area of reading research has gained as much attention over the past two decades as phonological awareness. Perhaps the most exciting finding emanating from research on phonological awareness is that critical levels of phonological awareness can be developed through carefully planned instruction, and this development has a significant influence on children's reading and spelling achievement.

Why Is Phonological Awareness So Important?

An awareness of phonemes is necessary to grasp the alphabetic principle that underlies our system of written language. Specifically, developing readers must be sensitive to the internal structure of words.

If children understand that words can be divided into individual phonemes and that phonemes can be blended into words, they are able to use letter-sound knowledge to read and build words. As a consequence of this relationship, phonological awareness is a strong predictor of later reading success. Researchers have shown that this strong relationship between phonological awareness and reading success persists throughout school.

Early reading is dependent on having some understanding of the internal structure of words, and explicit instruction in phonological awareness skills is very effective in promoting early reading. However, instruction in early reading — especially instruction in letter-sound correspondence — strengthens phonological awareness.

Success in early reading depends on achieving a certain level of phonological awareness. Instruction in phonological awareness is beneficial for most children and critical for others.

What Is Phonological Awareness?

Phonological awareness is the ability to break words into separate sounds. A child who has phonological awareness can tell you when two words rhyme and when two words start with the same sound. Further development of phonological awareness will allow the child to tell you when two words end with the same sound. For example, they can tell you that "bat" and "sit" end with the same sound but "bat" and "sad" do not end with the same sound.

Phonological awareness is a broad term that includes phonemic awareness. In addition, to phonemes, phonological awareness activities can involve work with rhymes, words, syllables, and onsets and rimes

The key to the process of learning to read is the ability to identify the different sounds that make words and to associate these sounds with written words. In order to learn to read, a child must be aware of phonemes. A phoneme is the smallest functional unit of sound. For example, the word cat contains three distinctly different sounds. There are 44 phonemes in the English language, including letter combinations such as /th/.

In addition to identifying these sounds, children must also be able to manipulate them. Word play involving segmenting words into their constituent sounds, rhyming words, and blending sounds to make words is also essential to the reading process. The ability to identify and manipulate the sounds of language is called phonological awareness. There are five levels of phonological awareness ranging from an awareness of rhyme to being able to switch or substitute the components in a word.

Children generally begin to show initial phonological awareness when they demonstrate an appreciation of rhyme and alliteration. For many children, this begins very early in the course of their language development and is likely facilitated by being read to from books that are based on rhyme or alliteration.

Teaching Phonological Awareness

Early experience with nursery rhymes can help children begin to notice and think about the phonological structure of words. Several research studies have shown that the children who know more about nursery rhymes at age 3, are those that tend to be more highly developed in general phonological awareness at age 4 and in phonemic awareness at age 6.

You don't have to stop with nursery rhymes though. Read rhyming books, sing rhyming songs and chants. Have children identify the rhyming words using picture cards and do rhyming sorts with picture cards.

Also play games that teach children to isolate individual sounds in a word. For example, this game can be played with the "BINGO" song. There was a letter had a sound and you can say it with me b,b,b,like ball…… Play the game – "What's the First Sound in this Word" This can be done orally or with picture cards

When children learn how to "listen to language", they are also learning to connect oral language with the written word. Once they hear, know, and are able to manipulate sounds, they begin to realize how words work.

Deanna Mascle writes many articles on preschool education and emergent literacy for her newsletter Preschoolers Learn More. Visit Teach Phonological Awareness at http://TeachPhonologicalAwareness.info for more information and articles.



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