Blog Post

Add Sparkle to Phonological Awareness

Susan Van Zant

Nancy Volpe

by Susan Van Zant and Nancy Volpe, Senior Literacy Specialists, CORE

As the current school year comes to an end, primary teachers are beginning to look ahead to the fall and plan for filling in the gaps of any unfinished learning. They may need to review the basics of phonological awareness with students. Phonological awareness is an umbrella term that includes the awareness of the larger parts of spoken language as well as the smaller parts. It can be broken into four developmental levels: word, syllable, onset-rime, and phoneme. Phonemic awareness is the understanding that words are made up of individual sounds, or phonemes, that can be isolated and manipulated. Students need to have well-developed phonological skills, especially phonemic awareness, to be successful readers and spellers as they progress through the grades.

This blog provides teachers with a series of fun activities and games designed to add sparkle to a foundational skills review. All activities are more fully explained in the CORE Teaching Reading Sourcebook. This blog will help to refresh your memories of the many phonological awareness How lessons found in this useful reference. Some favorite activities were selected. They are listed in sequential order because instruction should be explicit and sequential.

Bridge Game:

Phoneme Isolation. Ability to isolate the initial and the last sounds in one-syllable words.

This game is designed to help students distinguish between the initial and final sounds in a one-syllable word. To prepare for this game, the teacher should create a bridge of chairs or other props. Each student is given a toy animal or the picture of an animal that has a name that is only one syllable long. Students stand in a line on one side of the bridge. To cross the bridge, the student must answer two questions: “What animal are you?” and “What is the first sound in your name?” If the answer is correct, the student is allowed to cross the bridge. To return across the bridge, the student must say the last sound in the animal’s name. (Sourcebook pages 143–145) Note: Because it is difficult to work with sounds in an unfamiliar word, it is important that students know the names of animals used in this activity. Animal ideas: bear, moose, bird, rat, mouse, deer, dog, cat, bat, bird, horse, duck, goose, bee, cow, fly, ant, lamb, wolf, goat.

Sound Match:

Phoneme Identity. Ability to recognize and match the same sound in different words.

This activity asks students to identify a common sound in different words. The teacher holds up an object such as a book and carefully pronounces the first sound. The teacher then asks students to determine whether the first sound of other objects matches the sound of the initial object. Students then match objects that begin with the same sound. (Sourcebook pages 146–148) As a follow-up, students can play the game I Spy. The teacher shows students an object, and they look around the room to find other objects that begin with the same initial sound.

Odd One Out:

Phoneme Categorization. Ability to recognize the initial sound in a set of three one-syllable words.

Students select the picture/word that does not belong based on the initial sound (e.g., mop, milk, cup, mud) (Sourcebook pages 149–150) In addition to learning how to listen for individual sounds, this lesson is an introduction to understanding how to answer negative multiple-choice questions (e.g., “Which one does not belong?”).

Simon Says:

Phoneme Segmentation. Ability to segment sounds in a word.

As a variation to Simon Says described in the Sourcebook on pages 151–153, students segment all the sounds of the body parts (e.g., “Touch your /t/ /õ/ or touch your /l/ /e/ /g/.”). This activity gets students up and moving whether they are at home or in a classroom.

Say it Move It:

Phoneme Segmentation and Blending. Ability to segment and blend spoken phonemes to form a one-syllable word.

This activity is based on the say-it-move-it activities described in Road to the Code (Blachman et al., 2000). Each student is given a Say-It-Move-It card (an 8ʺ by 12ʺ card with a large circle and a line drawn at the bottom of the card). Students are given three or four buttons. They place the buttons in the circle. When the teacher says a word, students move a button down to the line to represent each sound. For example, if the teacher says /eee/, students move a button to the bottom of the card on the left-hand side of the line. Next the teacher would say /g/. Students move another button. They are then asked to blend the sounds to determine a one-syllable word (e.g., egg). (Sourcebook pages 154–155) This activity also stresses the left-to-right reading of words.

Elkonin Sound Boxes:

Phoneme Segmentation and Blending. Ability to segment and blend spoken phonemes in one-syllable words.

Students identify the sounds in a word and move objects (e.g., self-stick notes, pennies) to boxes as they segment the phonemes within the word. (Sourcebook pages 156–158) This is a great activity because when students have progressed to phonics, they can use the same boxes but now as Elkonin Sound/Spelling Boxes.

Each of the activities from the Sourcebook includes specific corrective feedback. It is always important to remember to provide corrective feedback. If a student responds incorrectly, the teacher should immediately model the correct response. For example, “Let’s try this again.” Model the correct response. Then ask all the students to say the answer correctly with you. Next, ask individual students to respond independently.

It is even more important to remember that these activities should be fast-paced and fun.  Students, and all of us, need a little bit of fun after our challenging year.

Other Useful Resources

Phonemic Awareness in Young Children (1998) by Marilyn Jager Adams, Barbara Foorman, Ingvar Lundberg & Terri Beeler. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

Phonemic Awareness: Playing with Sounds to Strengthen Beginning Reading Skills (2005) by Jo Fitzpatrick & Catherine Yuh. Cypress, CA: Creative Teaching Press.

Picture Sorting for Phonemic Awareness: Reproducible Picture Cards with Hands-on Sorting Games and Activities (2003) by Nancy Jolson Leber. New York: Scholastic.

A Sound Start: Phonemic Awareness Lessons for Reading Success (2015) by Christine E. McCormick, Rebecca N. Throneburg & Jean M. Smitley. New York: Guilford.

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