Effective phonics lesson plans include phonemic awareness activities—these are activities that involve playing with sounds. They are phonics games without print. As soon as a student starts working on letter sounds, he can begin phonemic awareness activities.
WHAT IS PHONEMIC AWARENESS?
All effective phonics lesson plans include phonemic awareness activities. What is phonemic awareness?
Phonemic awareness is the ability to identify and “play with” sounds. Someone who is phonemically aware can think of what rhymes with “bat” or what happens if I replace the /ch/ in “screech” to /t/? “Screet.”
Once you teach a student letter sounds, you’ve started developing his phonemic awareness. Letter names DO NOT develop phonemic awareness. With letter sounds however, you’ve started telling the student, “Words are composed of sounds. Some of these sounds can be represented by a single letter.”
Students that receive phonemic awareness instruction perform significantly better in reading.
Teacher: “sssss-c-rrr-eeeeeee-ch. What is it?
Notice I hold the continuous sounds like “s” and “ee.” Be very careful to clip stop sounds like /c/. If you say “cuh” you’ve just made an impossible task. “Scuhreech” is not a word!
I also pause in-between sounds. To increase the difficulty, create longer pauses.
“Screech” is complex for a struggling reader. Most students begin blending words with three phonics sounds like “dog.” Some struggling readers must start off with only two phonics sounds as in: “on, at, in…etc.”
Thus, the teacher can level the phonics lesson plans to target the exact level of the student.
PHONICS LESSON PLANS AND PHONEMIC AWARENESS
When I first started reading tutoring, I didn’t have a deep appreciation for phonemic awareness activities. I did them because I was “supposed to.” However, my perception of them changed as I worked with more students. With experience, I realized these sound activities were the gateway to reading. Many struggling readers and dyslexic students simply won’t progress without these types of phonics games.
I remember when I had this epiphany. I was working with a second grader with a language delay. I started increasing the length of phonemic awareness activities. I added more phonics games that involve “playing” with sound. His rate of progress increased significantly. He started “hearing” the sounds well enough to read.
Certainly, many other reading professionals had this epiphany long before me: the importance of phonemic awareness activities is well-established in reading research.
PHONEMIC AWARENESS RESEARCH
You know that ability you have to identify sounds? If I were to say, “Tell me the sounds in cat?” You would say “c-a-t.” The ONLY reason you can do this is because you live in a literate society and you can read.
People in illiterate societies simply cannot segment the most basic words in their native language. They cannot easily switch out sounds. If I said switch the /th/ in “that” to /b/, you’d easily say, “bat.” Well, if you were raised in an illiterate society, you could not do this. How do researchers know this?
In one of these phonemic awareness studies, Jose Morais worked with Portuguese adults. Some were literate. Some were illiterate. They all came from similar backgrounds, but some of them left their home and learned to read. He asked each adult sound questions like, “Do ba and da share sounds?” or “What do you get if you remove the first sound in porto?” The illiterate adults failed to answer these sound questions correctly. The literate adults answered correctly.
Illiterate adults I’ve worked with show the same struggles with sound. As they learn to read, their phonemic awareness improves. Us literate adults often take for granted our awareness of sound.
WHY ARE PHONICS GAMES IMPORTANT?
When we speak, we don’t pause in-between sounds. We don’t even pause in-between words. Speech is fluid. We speak in an endless stream, linking sounds together so quickly there are no breaks or pauses. Sure, someone might pause to say “um” or to think before speaking. But in general, words are one utterance. We say “cat” in one breath. The idea that “cat” has three sounds, each which can be said in their own utterance, is groundbreaking to a beginning reader.
Most struggling readers I work with find these phonics games involving sound difficult. I often have to start with sound basics. Once the student masters one sound level, I slowly increase the difficulty. When a struggling reader becomes phonemically aware, his reading becomes more accurate. What better reason to incorporate phonics games into phonics lesson plans?
If you found this post helpful, check out What is Phonemic Awareness?