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More on Phonemic Awareness
August 14, 2018
Because phonemic and phonological awareness are two concepts that I know many children struggle with, leaving many parents wondering how on earth their child just can't seem to realize that dog does not rhyme with cat, I am writing a continuation for more tips and tricks on how parents can work on effectively building this skill in their struggling reader.
As mentioned before, students with poor phonemic awareness with have trouble telling you that there are three sounds in "cat" (/c/ /a/ /t/). Once this skill has been developed to a basic level, students should be able to identify the first sound, /c/, or the last sound, /t/. However, the trickiest part will almost always be in identifying the vowel, that sneaky middle sound of /a/. Vowels are, already, much more difficult to identify, as an A has many sounds (just think about the word "banana"). A 'b' will always say /b/, but an 'e' can say /ee/, /e/, or simply be completely silent and magically make other letters "say their names."
Therefore, when I am working with struggling students, I first ensure that all simple consonants are stable--the sounds that are static, that don't change. Only then do I bring in the initial vowels - a, e, i, o, u, and oo.
One of the ways that I work on this skill, this identification of sounds that is so integral to phonemic awareness, phonological awareness, and eventually reading and writing as a whole, is to play games. For example, you and your child can play "Mystery Word." It starts with you, the parent or guardian, saying a word--we'll start with "dog." Then, you have to manipulate it to create a "mystery word." First ask your child what sound they hear in the middle. Likely they'll say /d/ or /g/ as this is a particularly tricky question, as previously stated. However, I always like to give my students the chance to answer even the hard questions! If they struggle, ask, "In 'dog' do you hear the /a/ or the /o/ sound?" This way, they are still able to feel successful.
Once they have correctly identified the /o/ sound (or you have supplied it), tell them they now have to figure out the Mystery Word. Say, "What if I change that /o/ sound to /i/? What word would we create? What would the Mystery Word be?" Once they have correctly identified "dig," change it up again! "What is the first sound you hear? Let's change that /d/ to a /b/. What word would that be now?" Keep in mind that asking what letter makes that sound is, at this point, a secondary question and can be saved for later. Phonemic awareness is an auditory skill.
You can also read Dr. Suess with your child, stopping every now and again to have him or her create their own words that would continue the rhyme. Or you can play "Odd One Out" and supply your child with three words, only one of which doesn't rhyme. Ask, "Which is the odd one out? Cut, ban, or but?" Keep in mind that these questions will be much easier than a production question like, "What word rhymes with 'cat'?"
Or you can play the "Who lives in your shoe?" game. You can say, "I think a bear lives in the chair. I think a zair lives in my hair! What lives in your shoe?" This might be a tad harder as it has to do with production as opposed to simply choosing from multiple choices.
If these games are particularly tricky for your kindergartener to second grader, please feel free to reach out to me! There are also many resources online--check this Reading Rockets website for a deep dive into these activities and many more.