Reading First: A Guide to Phonemic Awareness Instruction
Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate the individual sounds in spoken words.
In order for children to learn to read print, they must be aware of how the sounds in words work. They must understand that words are made up of individual speech sounds, or phonemes. Phonemic awareness involves segmenting (dividing spoken words into individual sounds), blending (putting these sounds together), and manipulating (adding, deleting, or substituting sounds). Although people often use the terms interchangeably, phonemic awareness is actually a subcategory of phonological awareness, which refers to a more general understanding of the sound structure of language.
Achieving phonemic awareness is not easy for many children. Without direct instructional support, roughly 25% of middle-class children - and substantially more children from less economically advantaged homes - fail to develop this crucial understanding. Fortunately, phonemic awareness can be developed through instruction, and doing so significantly accelerates students reading and spelling development.
Assessing Phonological Awareness
Children's phonological awareness includes a continuum of skills that develop over time. From the simplest to the most complex, these include rhyme and alliteration, word and syllable awareness, and onset-rime and phoneme awareness. A careful assessment of your students' phonological awareness will enable you to identify the levels of development in your class and plan instruction that is appropriate for your students' needs.
Instructional Activities to Develop Phonological Awareness: Rhyme and Alliteration
The activities described in this section of the guide help to develop the broadest areas of phonological awareness - specifically, rhyme and alliteration. They are designed for emergent readers who need practice developing a sensitivity to sound.
Besides developing an ear for sounds, emergent readers need practice manipulating larger chunks of language - words and syllables. These oral abilities develop simultaneously with a child's concept of word in print.
Once children can orally blend and segment syllables in words, they are ready to focus their attention on the smaller units that make up a syllable. Onset-rime and phoneme level tasks are appropriate for beginning readers who are learning to decode and spell words. They include blending and segmenting tasks as well as manipulation tasks (deletion, addition, substitution). Instruction at this level is most effective when it is connected to letters.
Please feel free to download and use any of the activities and information that we have provided. You may contact the Reading First office at the University of Virginia if you have any questions.
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