Jake came home from his 2nd grade class in tears. “I’m stupid ! I can’t read like the other kids in my class. I’m not going back there.” Jake’s mom argued that her son was again placed in the lowest reading group in his class. His school career has just begun and Jake’s already behind the other students. Mom asks “What can I do so that he will be on level and what can I do so that my younger child is not put in the same situation?”

Many parents are very familiar with this scenario and are rightly concerned. Research tells us the 74% of the children with reading disabilities at third grade will still be reading disabled by ninth grade. The myth is that children will grow out of these reading problems with time. These struggling readers at a young age are already labeling themselves as failures. Intervention is a necessary component to future success.

After many years of failure, it is often difficult to motivate an older student, but anyone at any age can be successful. Of course, there are numerous factors that determine whether a child will be reading at their grade level including but not limited to IQ, motivation and interest, ability to attend and focus, family history of reading disabilities, accompanied language disorders, visual and hearing acuity, visual and auditory perceptual difficulties, socioeconomic status, learning disability and phonemic awareness ability.

This article will focus on phonemic awareness which is one of the five areas of reading. The other four being, vocabulary, fluency (rate and accuracy), phonics and comprehension which will be addressed in upcoming issues. In order for a child to experience success, these areas need to be addressed in the proper order with a program designed specifically for your child. Your child’s individual needs in terms of reading should be uncovered during assessments that offer a differential diagnosis of their reading problems.

Phonemic Awareness separates “normal” from “disabled” readers. A predictor a success for kindergarten and first grade students is how they perform on assessments of phonemic awareness. So, what does this mean and does my child have this ability? 

Phonemic Awareness is the ability is manipulate sounds in words in a variety of ways. Ask yourself these questions if you have a child of any age who is experiencing difficulty reading:

  • Can my child count the number of words in a sentence?

  • Can my child match sounds to a word ( is there a /g/ in dog)

  • Remember do not ask for the letter, only the sound of that letter.

  • Can my child produce simple rhymes, and answer correctly when asked if two words rhyme?

  • Can my child recognize individual sounds in a word? (what is the first sound in the word fish, the last sound in the word bench)

  • Can my child tell if two words begin and end with the same sound or recognize the same sound in several different words? (fix, fall, fun or like, click, sick)

  • Can my child determine which word in a group does not belong because it begins or ends with a different sound? (mash, judge, wish)

  • Can my child tell me the middle sound in a consonant-vowel- consonant word? (cot, cat, cut)

  • Can my child identify syllables in a word, and segment a word into syllables?

  • Can my child blend sounds together to make a word?  (the child listens to separately spoken sounds in a word and combines them to make a word).

  • Can my child separate the sounds in a word? (Here the child  breaks the word into each individual sound).

  • Can my child add or delete sounds and syllables from words? (what is smile without the /s/ sound or what word do you have if you add /s/ sound to the beginning of top).

  • Can my child think of a number of words that begin with a particular sound?

  • Can my child substitute one sound for another to create a new word (say “man” change the /m/ to a /c/?

These phonemic awareness exercises should be played as oral games using appropriate vocabulary for your child’s age and ability.  It is important to point out that these are not paper and pencil exercises.  This is not an easy task for some as sounds in speech are coarticulated with sounds that are adjacent and two sounds are often perceived as one. The easiest task should be the rhyming and the most difficult the phoneme substitution, addition and deletion.

The good news is that most children can sit in a classroom of  25 children or more and learn to read regardless of the method used. There is a percentage of children who require specific strategies in order for them to be as successful as their peers. Phonemic Awareness is a pre- reading skill that can and should be taught at an early age so that all children will experience success in reading.  For further information on Phonemic Awareness contact the National Institute for Literacy and request a free Put Reading First Parent and Teacher Guide (1-800-228-8813).

Weston Reading Tutor
Phonemic Awareness

by: Jamie C. Bott