Phonemic awareness (PA), defined as the proficient and automatic access to the sounds in spoken words, is necessary for efficient sight-word storage and phonics (Kilpatrick, 2016). Regretfully, many teachers are guilty of using practices that involve traditional sight-word activities, including the use of flash cards with high frequency words and word walls displaying thematic vocabulary that are often unrelated to student decoding skills. Relying solely on whole word practices neglects what struggling readers need in order to map words permanently into long term memory. The purpose of this post is to encourage a shift away from depending on visual memory tasks to learn sight-words by revitalizing dated practices in such a way to incorporate phonemic awareness. It’s time we all start redefining sight-words as words that are recognized without effort and modify our practices accordingly.
Transform your word wall.
Modification: Keep your word wall. In fact, we all know a print-rich environment is essential. However, instead of using words related to a study or theme, try incorporating familiar letter strings. During group activities, you can manipulate onset phonemes to the rime patterns shown to form a variety of both real and nonsense words which will promote efficient word storage for fluent reading. You can also map rime units. For example, have students practice saying a rime unit, then saying it again with instructions to either delete or substitute the initial phoneme within the rime unit.
Reorganize those Dolch lists by phonemes.
Modification: Rather than categorizing Dolch lists by grade or highest frequency, categorize them by phoneme manipulation groups or other word study rules to supply learners with meaningful exposure to printed words. Flashcards limit the amount of words that can be learned. Furthermore, flashcards can result in guessing and has the potential to create compensators, not readers. With that being said, word lists must be presented to students with careful thought.
Don’t be afraid to keep assessing beyond comprehension!
Modification: A position statement from the International Reading Association (1998) supports the notion that “the acquisition of phonemic awareness is highly predictive of success in learning to read”. Conversely, as students get older, reading tests focus more and more on reading comprehension despite whether or not a student is able to decode text. In order to provide remediation for a struggling reader, to plan intervention it is imperative to detect where the breakdown is occurring. The Test of Phonological Awareness (TOPA) and Phonological Awareness Screening Test (PAST) are examples of tests that should continue to be administered until no longer needed. Both contain components for phonemic awareness.
Download sample modifications for implementing Dolch lists and a word wall to get you started toward sound phonemic awareness instruction.
Print copies of the Phonological Awareness Screening Test (PAST) to administer with your struggling readers.
Checkout a comprehensive guide to developing phonemic awareness from the T-TAC ODU library:
- Equipped for Reading Success by David Kilpatrick
- Heggerty Phonemic Awareness Curriculum (Kindergarten and Primary)
- Phonics for Reading (Set of 3 Levels)
Cunningham, J. W., Cunningham, P. C., Hoffman, J. V., & Yopp, H. K. (1998). Phonemic awareness and the teaching of reading: A position statement from the Board of Directors of the International Reading Association. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Kilpatrick, D. A. (2016). Equipped for reading success. Syracuse, NY: Casey & Kirsch.