Focus on individual phonemes. Children need to get a feel for each phoneme they will use in reading and spelling. Just as we do not expect children to learn to recognize all the letters at once, neither should we expect children to learn all the phonemes at once. Instead, we spend time with each phoneme they will need to read and spell words. Where to start? Continuants phonemes such as /f/, /m/, and /s/ are easy to stretch and pronounce by themselves. Unvoiced consonants like /t/ and /p/ can come soon after. We need vowels right away, because we can't put together any word without a vowel. Long vowels are easier to identify than short vowels. However, short vowels should come early because they are typically the first to be introduced in reading lessons since they have simple one-letter spellings. Children do not need to be taught every phoneme. As they get used to identifying a limited set of phonemes, they will learn how to identify others.
Select a good basic set of perhaps a dozen phonemes,
and introduce the phonemes one at a time,
setting aside a few days for each one. A good introductory
strategy is to use meaningful names, gestures, pictures, and
letters. Meaningful names provide a familiar
image of a sound similar to the sound of the phoneme in the world; for
example, /z/ sounds like a buzzing bee. Children readily
/a/ (short a) with a crying
baby. (Click here
for a list of ideas
for meaningful names).
Phoneme gestures are hand motions children can make to remember
phonemes; for example, a good gesture for /p/ is flicking open the
fingers on both hands like popcorn popping. Phoneme gestures
require no special materials--they are always at hand, and children
enjoy participating in lessons with hand motions. (Click here for
a list of ideas
for phoneme gestures.) Phoneme pictures capture an image of
the phoneme's meaningful name. (Click here for phoneme pictures
five short vowels.) Display the principal letter or digraph
for each phoneme, and teach children to recognize the letters by guided
printing practice. (Click here for instructions for teaching letter recognition.)
Once children learn a tongue tickler, have them have them practice stretching the sounds, e.g., "Nnnnnobody was nnnnnice to Nnnnnancy's nnnnneighbor Nnnnnick." Have them make the phoneme gesture as they stretch the phoneme, in this case, "driving a jet ski." Another good way to practice is splitting the target phoneme from the rest of the words, e.g., "N-obody was n-ice to N-ancy's n-neighbor N-ick." This is important with stop phonemes like /t/: "T-om t-ricked T-im and t-ook his t-rain off the t-rack." Children can compose their own tongue ticklers and write them with invented spelling. An excellent resource is a good alphabet book. Look for alphabet books that have multiple examples of familiar words to illustrate each letter, such as Dr. Seuss's ABC, with wonderful alliterations like "Silly Sammy Slick sipped six sodas and got sick, sick, sick."
Ask children to be scientists and figure out how
they are making
the sound with their mouths. They will need time to experiment
discover what their mouths are doing as they practice producing each
phoneme. For example, how do we make /m/? When children
learn that they must press their lips together and hum, they zero in on
the key concept for deciding whether /m/ is found in summer or winter.
As they say the words slowly, they will press their lips together and
hum when they say summer, but
not when they say winter.
In the long run, children need to learn letters and digraphs as symbols for phonemes. After students learn to print the most common letter for the target phoneme, have them invent spellings for words with this letter. To invent a spelling, you must stretch out the word, feel what your mouth is doing, and record letters for the mouth moves. Daily writing opportunities with invented spelling allow children to identify phonemes and practice using correspondences they are learning.
Find the phoneme in word contexts.
Phoneme awareness means recognizing phonemes in their natural
words. Children have not learned the phoneme until they can spot
it in words. For early practice, help them recognize the target
at the beginning of words. For this, you might have them pick out
illustrations of words beginning with the phoneme from a bulletin
Later have them search for the phoneme in the middle or end of a
them choose between words related in meaning to practice the switch
meaning to sound. For example, you might ask them to listen for
sound /s/, the "flat tire sound" in words related in meaning: "Do
you hear /s/ in mice or rat? In duck or goose?
In nest or cave?"
Only after children recognize phonemes
in words should we ask them to think of words that feature the target
For example, until they can readily find the phoneme in words, they
search magazines for illustrations that begin with the phoneme.
and Daisy's Castle are excellent computer games that use
animation and synthesized speech to help children find phonemes in word
contexts. (Click here
for these and other resources for teaching phoneme awareness).
Return to the Reading Genie.