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Phonemic Awareness Leads to Reading Success (Part 5 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Rooted in oral language, phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate all of the sounds that the letters make. Each individual sound is called a phoneme, and we have 44 phonemes in the English language. Studies show that,

“The two best predictors of early reading success are alphabet recognition and phonemic awareness.”

When children first learn their ABCs, they become familiar with 26 letters and letter sounds. (I recommend starting with the short vowels as are in my ABC resources.) Once they have mastered this, they are ready to move on to identify the rest of the sounds. This can be tricky to teach because as adults, we may not even know how to identify the remaining sounds ourselves. Since I have a Master’s level education with an emphasis on language acquisition, this information was a little more easily identifiable for me, but I still had to do some research to get all of my ducks in a row.

The Remaining Sounds

These are the remaining sounds in the English language.

  • Long Vowels – In addition to teaching children about the long vowel sounds, I also want them to be introduced to common spelling patterns.
  • Long and Short oo – The oo in moon is long, and the oo in  book is short.
  • R Controlled Vowels – When a vowel is followed by an r, it makes a different sound.
  • Diphthongs – These gliding vowels start with the sound of the first letter and glide to the next.
  • Digraphs – Digraphs are two letters that come together to form one single sound.

Age to Start

Wait until your child has mastered the letter names and sounds from my ABC resources and has become familiar with my words and vocabulary resources before introducing these phonemic awareness resources. I would recommend starting these resources when your child is between 18 months to 24 months.

How to Teach

It’s really best to start gradually. With my children, once I saw that they had a solid understanding of the short vowels, I started to sneak in some long vowels too. So, for example, when we were reading through my ABC flashcards and we would say that “a is for apple”, I would also add “and a is for apron and ape too”.

I love resources like this Leapfrog Fridge Phonics Letter Magnets and this Preschool Prep Letter Sounds dvd because they teach children all of the sounds that each letter makes at once. While this is too overwhelming for your 6 month old baby who is just starting to become familiar with the alphabet, it’s great for your toddler who is ready to master a deeper level of understanding about ALL of the sounds that letters can make. Preschool Prep also makes a really engaging Meet the Digraphs dvd that is a GREAT way to introduce your child to digraphs.

Teaching the remaining letter sounds can seem overwhelming, but if like the rest of my resources, you start young and do a little bit at a time, your child will master the remaining letter sounds and have a great foundation for learning how to read. I do not have any books or videos with these resources, just flashcards and posters. I recommend introducing one set of flashcards at a time and putting up the posters where your little one can see and touch them, but most importantly, get to know these flashcards YOURSELF so that you can point them out while reading quality literature together.

It’s very important to have regular reading time when your child is at this stage. Reading should be fun, not a “set your timer” sort of chore. I find that by having a reading ready environment with tons of books in baskets easily accessible in every room, it makes reading easy to do. I love cuddling up with my little ones, getting some snacks, covering up with a favorite blanket, and getting really animated while we read our favorite books. This is the perfect time to start pointing out long vowels, the long and short oo, r-controlled vowels, diphthongs, and digraphs.

Reading with Elliot

Reading with Elliot

My Resources

I have hand drawn and digitized each of these resources to specifically fit the needs of my own children. Someday, I would like to create a “Teach Your Child to Read Kit” that will bundle everything together in one package, but for now, I want to get this information and these resources out there. Please feel free to print as many copies as you would like for your own personal use.

If you are going to be making these, I highly recommend getting the following supplies:

  • Printer – A good basic printer like this will do the job, but if you’re going to be doing a lot of printing, I would recommend something like this.
  • Card Stock – I like to make sure I always have plenty of this around for all of my flashcards, posters, and other needs.
  • Laminator – I have a basic laminator like this, and it works great for all types of paper and projects.
  • Laminating Sheets – I like buying this big pack because it’s good to have plenty of laminating sheets for flashcards, posters, art projects, and more.
  • Three Hole Punch – This hole punch is really sturdy and can handle a whole stack of paper.
  • 1/4 Inch Rings – When making flashcards, I have found it’s best to use two rings on top to keep everything organized and easy to flip through, and this size is best.

To Make the Flashcards

  1. Print – Select “Print on Both Sides” and “Flip sheets on short edge” to print. Print on card stock.
  2. Cut – Use a paper cutter to cut in half horizontally and vertically.
  3. Laminate – Arrange four cut out pieces into the laminate pouch. Make sure there is a bigger space between the cards in the middle since it will need to be cut horizontally and vertically again. (If you don’t leave extra laminate around all sides, it will peel.)
  4. Cut Again – If you stayed pretty consistent with the positions of the cards in the laminate, you should be able to cut a big stack of them at once.
  5. Assemble – Put them together in order.
  6. Hole Punch – I like to angle each corner into the three hole punch and can do several cards at once with a heavy duty hole puncher. Put two holes on top in the corners.
  7. Rings – I like using the 1/4″ rings.

To Make the Posters

  1. Print – Print on card stock. *You can also bring a digital version into a print store like Kinkos and they can enlarge it to a poster size. 
  2. Laminate – Laminating this will ensure that it will last for a long time, but you don’t have to.

Long Vowels Flashcards

Long vowels are tricky because in our English language there are soooooooo many ways to spell them. Teaching children the common ways to make these long vowels will help them immensely as they start to read. When you start using these flashcards, focus first on the the picture and the word. Once your child is familiar with the picture and word, then you can start talking about the rule that makes the vowel long. If your child is ready for a challenge, start talking about other words that fit that rule. It’s all about layers, and teaching a little bit at a time over a long period of time.

Long Vowels Flashcards

Long Vowels Flashcards

Inside Long Vowels Flashcards, a_e Page

Inside Long Vowels Flashcards, a_e Page

Get a PDF of the flashcards here: Long Vowels Flashcards

Long Vowels Posters

I have created one poster for each of the long vowels as well as one poster with all of the long vowels together. I like putting these on the wall in multiple locations, using them as placements, bringing them with us in the car, and really anything that will encourage repeated exposure. *Scroll down below all of the images to get the PDF that will have all posters in one file.

Long a Page

Long a Page

Long e Page

Long e Page

Long i Page

Long i Page

Long o Page

Long o Page

Long u Page

Long u Page

Long Vowels All Together Poster

Long Vowels All Together Poster

Get a PDF of the posters here: Long Vowels Posters

Other Vowels Flashcards

These other vowel sounds are tricky because they don’t really fit into the short or long vowel categories. First, there’s the long and short oo, followed by r-controlled vowels, and finally diphthongs. These vowels sounds aren’t something that most adults know how to properly name, so you may be learning alongside your child, and that’s okay!

Other Vowels Flashcards

Other Vowels Flashcards

Inside Other Vowels Flashcards with Diphtongs

Inside Other Vowels Flashcards with Diphthongs

Get a PDF of the flashcards here: Other Vowels Flashcards

Other Vowels Posters

I have created one poster with all of the other vowel sounds together. I like putting this on the wall in multiple locations, using it as a placement, bringing it with us in the car, and really anything that will encourage repeated exposure.

Other Vowel Sounds Poster

Other Vowel Sounds Poster

Get a PDF of the poster here: Other Vowel Sounds Poster

Digraphs Flashcards

Digraphs are tricky because they are two letters that come together to form one single sound. When children don’t know about digraphs, it can make sounding out words like phone and them very difficult. As with the other vowels, you may not be familiar with all of the digraphs, and so once again, it’s totally fine to learn alongside your child!

Digraphs Flashcards

Digraphs Flashcards

Inside Digraphs Flashcards, ph

Inside Digraphs Flashcards, ph

Get a PDF of the flashcards here: Digraphs Flashcards

Digraphs Poster

This digraphs poster has all of the digraphs from my flashcards in one location. I like putting this on the wall in multiple locations, using it as a placement, bringing it with us in the car, and really anything that will encourage repeated exposure.

Digraphs Poster

Digraphs Poster

Get a PDF of the poster here: Digraphs Poster

In Conclusion

By learning about ALL of the sounds in the English language, children will have the code to unlock reading, and they don’t need to wait until they’re school aged and do piles of worksheets to do so. By using these flashcards and posters, both you and your child will learn how to name and identify the common spelling patterns with long vowels, the long and short oo, r-controlled vowels, diphthongs, and digraphs. When children are familiar with these sounds and how they are presented in text, it is best to reinforce this understanding by pointing them out while reading quality literature. So make reading fun, fill your house with quality literature with easily accessible books, and read often. (See blog 7 in this series, Encouraging Children to Read Independently for suggestions on quality literature.)

Check out the next blog in my Teach Your Child to Read series: Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words