Phonological Awareness

To become a good reader a child needs to know letters and corresponding letter-sounds. He/she also needs to retrieve these linguistic items from the memory (rapid automatized naming or RAN) and keep them in short-term memory. Finally, phonological awareness is a skill that is also needed.

Phonological awareness is a skill that includes identifying and manipulating units of oral language-parts such as words, syllables, and sounds. Also onsets and rimes in English. Children who have a good phonological awareness are able for example to identify and make oral rhymes, can clap out the number of syllables in a word, or can recognize words with the same initial sounds (some-sit).

Phonemes (letter-sounds) are the smallest units in spoken language. Phonemes can be combined to form syllables and words. For example, the word ‘sit’ has three phonemes: /s/ /i/ /t/. Phonemic awareness is important because it is the foundation for word recognition skills. When a person relates letter-sounds to letters he/she is able to form written words. This skill is especially useful in transparent orthographies like Bantu languages, Finnish or Spanish where the correspondence of letters and letter-sounds is very high and stable. English is not transparent because the spelling of most words is very different from the way they are pronounced (e.g. eye /ai/). Phonemic awareness is one of the best predictors of how well children will learn to read and spell.

 Phonological awareness includes the following skills:

  • Letter-sound correspondences
  • rhyming
  • blending
  • segmentation
  • manipulation.

When assessing and training phonological awareness it is important for the teacher or therapist to know what kind of skills the pupils already have and what kind of skills still need more practice.

The following tasks are useful for both assessment and training. Examples are in English, but you can see the tasks in local languages here.

  • Letter-sound correspondences (See more)
  • Rhyming:
    • recognizing when words rhyme: e.g., Do ‘cat’ and ‘chair’ rhyme?
    • coming up with a word that rhymes: e.g., What rhymes with ‘cat’?  (See more)
  • Blending:
    • blending syllables: e.g., I am going to say parts of a word. Tell me what the word is ‘Lin-da’
    • blending sounds: e.g., Put these sounds together to make a word: ’s/i/t’ what word do you get? See more
  • Segmentation
    • segmenting of syllables: e.g., Clap for each syllable you hear in the word ‘kindergarten.’)
    • segmentation of sounds: e.g., Tell me what sound is there in the beginning of a word ’pat’ or Tell me each sound you hear in the word ‘cat’? (See more)
  • Manipulation:
    • deletion of syllables: e.g., Say the word ‘strawberry.’ Now say it without saying ‘straw.’
    • deletion of sounds: e.g., Say ‘chair.’ Now say it without the ‘ch.’
    • addition of sounds: e.g., Say ‘cook.’ Now say it with an ‘e’ at the end.
    • manipulation of sounds: e.g., Change the ‘s’ in ‘sad’ to a ‘d’ and say the new word. (See more)

Training phonological awareness

 Start training from easy tasks like rhyming. Also, tasks with syllables are usually easier than tasks with phonemes.

  • Train both segmenting and blending skills to get better results.
  • Practice every day! A child with problems in learning to read and write needs a lot of practice.
  • Parent-based literacy activities makes training more effective. (More…)
  • Training should be motivating so that the child will continue training as long as needed. (More…)
  • Training is more effective when sounds with corresponding letters are present.
  • GraphoGame (see more)
  • Training with peers (see more)