Teaching Strategies

Playing With Sounds
Successful reading and spelling begin with phonemic awareness

By Wiley Blevins

Young children who have difficulty learning to read and spell may be hampered by poor phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness is the understanding that words are made of discrete sounds (not the same as phonics, which involves the relationship between sounds and written symbols.) If youngsters cannot distinguish individual sounds, or phonemes, within words, they will have difficulty as they learn to read and write.
Giving pre-readers in kindergarten and first grade a solid foundation in phonemic awareness is crucial to ensuring their later success in phonics-based reading and spelling instruction. Fortunately, it's easy and fun to integrate phonemics into your classroom routine. The following are aimed at teaching two basic phonemic awareness tasks: oral blending and oral segmentation. In each one, begin by breaking down words according to onset (the part of the syllable that comes before the vowel; for instance, the sound /k/ in cat) and rime (the vowel and any consonants that follow it in a syllable; e.g., at in cat). As children master this, move on to phoneme-by-phoneme blending and segmenting (/k/ /a/ /t/).

Oral Blending

Oral blending exercises help children hear how sounds are put together to make words so that they can begin sounding out words independently as they read.
Guess It In this activity you orally segment words and have the class try to guess what they are. For example, you might tell children that you are thinking of the names of farm animals. Teacher: "I'm thinking of an animal. It's a /p/... ig. What am I thinking of?" Children: "A pig!" Continue with other categories such as zoo animals, classroom objects, numbers, colors, or household items.
Blend Baseball Divide the class into two teams. As the "pitcher," you say aloud a word in parts, such as /s/ /a/ /t/. If the child who is "at bat" can successfully blend the word, he or she goes to first base. Proceed just as in baseball, with each team earning a point when a child makes it to home plate.

Oral Segmentation

Oral segmentation activities help children separate words into sounds, helping kids build skills that will support spelling.
What's the Sound? Write the song "What's the Sound?" (below) on chart paper. Singing to the tune of "Old MacDonald," point to the words as you say them. Sing the song several times, encouraging the class to join in.
What's the sound that these words share?
Listen to these words.

Sad and silly are these two words.
Tell me what you've heard. (ssssssss)
With an /s/, /s/ here and an
/s/, /s/ there.
Here an /s/, there an /s/,
everywhere an /s/, /s/.
/S/ is the sound that these words share.

We can hear that sound!
As you continue to sing the song, replace the words "sad and silly" with other pairings such as "mop and money"; "leaf and lucky"; and "ten and table."
Where Is It? This activity helps youngsters differentiate sound position in words. Have children draw three boxes, connected horizontally, on a sheet of paper. Distribute some sort of counter or marker to each child (bottle caps or checkers will do). Explain that you are going to say a list of words. Each word contains the sound /s/, some at the beginning, some in the middle, and some at the end. If students hear /s/ at the beginning of the word, they are to place the counter in the first box; if they hear it in the middle, the counter goes in the second box; at the end of the word, in the last box. Begin with the following word list: send, missing, sock, bus, less, passing, messy, safe. Continue the game with other sounds.
As you integrate phonemics into your teaching, you will be taking a vital step toward ensuring your students' long-term reading success.


This lesson is adapted from Phonemic Awareness Activities for Early Reading, by Wiley Blevins (Scholastic Professional Books, 1999). To order this book, phone 1-800-SCHOLASTIC.

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