Reading - Part Two: Oral Awareness, Book Awareness, Print Awareness, Phonemic Awareness and Phonics
The foundation of oral awareness starts from pregnancy. The introduction of different sounds and subsequently learning to combine those sounds into meaningful information is the basis of oral awareness. This meaningful information is expressed through vocabulary, which is considered to be the primary element of oral awareness. Children who are exposed to a wider range of vocabulary develop stronger listening and speaking skills.
Children are not aware of this initial step in learning to read. Their knowledge of words means they develop communication skills essential to learning the correct grammar and structural concepts needed for reading. Additionally, the ability to converse effectively means a child is able to hear the sounds being used and mentally combine them to create words, forming a sentence which they are able to comprehend. Oral awareness is defined by these distinct features: phonology, grammar, morphology, vocabulary, discourse and pragmatics.
Tips for promoting oral awareness
- Encouraging active listening
- Introducing new words (for younger children using images with the word is beneficial)
Book awareness is the concept of book orientation. This includes holding the book the correct way (not upside down) and understanding that the writing (in Latin-based languages) goes from left to right and top to bottom. Furthermore, that the left page should be read first and that the pages are turned with the hand on the right side of the book.
Learning steps: Show the child the different parts of the book, i.e. the spine, the cover, the title page, right and left page, and let the child orientate themselves to the book and position the book i.e. the spine, the cover, the title page, right and left page. Books can be opened or positioned incorrectly and the child allowed to correct it. When reading, hold the child's hand and move their hand in the direction of what you are reading, moving the index finger of the hand over the words as you read them (preferably use their dominant hand - the hand they use the most, whether it is left or right), and allowing the child to turn the pages. Eventually, they should be able to hold the book or position the book and point as you read to them.
Children should learn to define the following terms:
The person who writes the book.
The person who draws (illustrates) the pictures.
The front of the book.
The back of the book.
The page inside the book that shows the title.
- Try to find books with short, simple and clear titles
- Try to choose books with easily distinguishable titles and author’s/illustrator’s names
- Use books that are printed on both pages
- Choose books that follow the left to right reading pattern (initially avoid books with speech bubbles, curvy text, text that changes sides or that uses only capital letters)
Once book awareness has been established, the child will start to show a visual understanding of writing. Print awareness overlaps slightly with phonemic awareness. The development of both can be done together, however some teachers prefer the child to have a stronger phonemic awareness first. At EduHelp we combine the two when teaching our learners how to read.
Children need to know that a word has a beginning and an end, and that they have spaces between them, in other words that a word is a single unit physically set apart from other words on the page. They need to learn which is the first word on the page, which is the last word on the page, and know that (in Latin-based languages) writing moves from the left to the right and from top to bottom. They must also be able to identify the starting word and the ending word of a sentence, differentiate capitals from lower case letters, notice when two words are the same, and indicate the first and the final letters of a word. They also have to develop an understanding of the basics of so-called long stops:
full stop . question mark ?and exclamation mark !
Learning steps: Start by pointing out the beginning and the end of each sentence (discuss how a full stop, question mark or exclamation mark show the end of the sentence). Then start putting a finger between the words and show how they are separated by a space, continuing by asking the child to circle the individual words with their index finger.
Tips for print awareness:
- Print awareness can be practiced everywhere: food packaging, newspapers, books and road/facility signs - when you and your child come into contact with various printed objects, discuss them.
- Making letters and words out of dough to match a letter or word in a book. You can also make the long pauses.
- Be careful of tracing or writing letters without knowing the correct letter formation and correct sound and name for each letter. EduHelp is publishing a book on this soon!
- Remember reading lessons are to be kept short and repeated a little later (delayed repetition). For example, show the front and the back of a book and later that day ask your child to show you the front and the back of the book again. The older your child, the more advanced your print awareness practice can be - for example, asking them to identify the title.
Phonemic awareness refers to the ability to realise that oral words are made up of individual, discernible sounds. In other words, it is the ability to understand that sounds combined make a word, which is used in our spoken language. A child must have phonemic awareness in order to learn to read. Phonemic awareness is related to phonics, but they are not synonyms.
A phoneme is a single sound that refers to a specific letter, for example the letter “b” refers to the /b/ sound in English. As we all know, English has 26 alphabet sounds. When teaching phonemic awareness it is the sound that is the focus and not the symbol of the letter.
The steps and strategies to developing your child’s phonemic awareness:
- Phonemic isolation is the ability to recognise the sound at the beginning, middle and end of a word. Initially start with 3 letter words only. An example is the word “cat” – the first sound is /c/, the middle /a/ and the end /t/. Please remember to say the word slowly, “ccccc aaaaa ttttttt”.
- Phoneme identity is the ability to identify the same sound in different words. An example is recognising which sound is the same in the words “hat”, “hall” and “hit”. The matching sound, of course, is /h/.
- Phoneme categorisation is the opposite of phoneme identity. It refers to the ability to identify the word that does not belong. An example is, which word doesn’t belong: “bug”, “bag” and “hat”? The sound that does not match is /h/.
- Phoneme blending is the ability to combine and blend phonemes to create bigger sounds and eventually words. The child should understand that single or smaller sounds can be put together to make bigger sounds, or words. The ability to sound a word out is different to the ability to blend the sounds together. For example, a child may say, “cat” /c/ /a/ /t/ (sounding the word out), whereas in blending the word “cat” would look and sound like this: /ca/ /t/ - the first two sounds have been blended. This is how a child learns that sounds work together to form a word. A useful technique is to slowly stress the sounds together without seperating them: “ccccccaaaaarrrrr” and then ask the child to say the word. Blends and recognition of syllables are central to phoneme blending.
- Phoneme segmentation is when a child is able to break a word into its seperate sounds. A useful technique is tapping out the sounds as the child hears them. For example, when you say the word “ran” and repeat it slowly, “rrrraaannn”, ask the child to tap each sound out, in response to which the child should tap 3 times. This also will assist when a child needs to recognise syllables.
- Phoneme deletion refers to the ability to drop initial letters from a larger word to make a smaller word. An example is the word “rand” - if we drop or remove the /r/ sound, the word becomes “and”. This is a fairly difficult skill to learn so be patient with your child.
- Phoneme addition is the ability to create new words by adding a phoneme. An example is when pronouncing the sound “an” slowly to the child. Then say, “If I add ‘ccc’ to the beginning of the word what word does ‘ccc’ and ‘aaannn’ make?”
When first attempting this exercise, we suggest helping the child to combine the sounds. As they progress allow them to combine and sequence the sounds independently.
- Phoneme substitution is using another letter in place of that used in the previous word. For example, if I say “rat” and you take away the “r” it gives you? /at/. Then ask your child to add /b/ to /at/ - the new word is “bat”.
- Phoneme manipulation is the action of manipulating sounds in words. A child’s phonemic awareness is more developed at this stage.
Tips for encouraging phonemic awareness:
- Use dough to build pictures to relate to the single phonic sounds, for example, /b/ can be "ball". This exercise is great as it addresses four types of learning: movement (building the ball with dough), touch (feeling the dough as we say the sound), hearing (saying/repeating the sound after the parent has said the sound) and visual (seeing the "ball" as they say the sound).
- Using taste is also beneficial. For example, tasting a piece of apple for the /a/ sound.
- Walk the letters out as you say them - use rope to shape the letters on the floor for your child to walk on as they say the letter. This is wonderful for movement learners. Remember to say the sound, not the name of the letter.
Phonics teaches your child that there is a connection between the sounds (phonemes) and the written letters representing the sounds (graphemes). Graphemes are described as the letters that symbolise the written form of the spoken word. This means that when we learn phonics we are taught the letters and the relationship between the sounds and the symbols for the letters: the sound of the letter and the letter’s name.
The most effective method of reinforcing this is called ‘synthetic phonics’. This is when singular sounds are combined to create blends and syllables of two or more letters. This skill is essential to developing a child’s word-attack skills and is also used to decode unknown words.
Tips for practicing phonics
- Phonics and books: Using books based on patterns and rhyming is a very good starting point, reinforcing their awareness by asking your child if they can identify the patterns or rhymes. This develops your child’s understanding of the relationship between what is spoken and what is written, and also helps define phonetic relationships. Remember when reading to point at the words - asking where the word starts and ends, and asking your children to spell the word out loud using the previous foundational reading skills we have discussed. Please read the books repeatedly, but also be aware that a child who has learning challenges is quick to memorise the books, so cover the pictures, ask them to identify words, match words and identify words that have similar sounds.
- Purchasing a set of phonetical alphabet or phonetic flashcards is recommended.
- Look out for the soon to be released EduHelp Nonsense Word Game.
- Parents often have difficulty in selecting appropriate books according to reading readiness. When visiting your library or selecting books to buy the general rule is that the book should be easy enough for your child to read, but also have a few challenges on the page. For example, a couple of new words that your child may have to sound out, or longer sentences, or slightly smaller print. Please make sure that the experience is not stressful - reading must be easy and fun! We suggest not selecting books by grade level, but rather based on the level that is best suited to your child.
It is vital that these skills are in place and properly reinforced, practised and absorbed. As indicated in Part One, these skills should be in place by grade 3. If your child is in grade 2 and is struggling with these it is recommended to get assistance as soon as possible.