Phonemic Awareness Teaching Tips
Phonemic awareness lessons are easy to add into your regular schedule of activities. Effective instruction takes just 15-20 minutes per day, and it doesn’t all need to be in a classroom setting. For example, you can add phonemic awareness practice to other activities — picking out words that rhyme, counting syllables, and thinking of words that start with a particular sound can be done while running errands, at the playground, just about anywhere!
We recommend this approach to planning a lesson:
- Introduce a new activity or game
- Practice the activity repeatedly
- Extend the activity by making it more complex (if the child has grasped the basic concept)
- Revisit the activity occasionally after you’ve moved on to more advanced activities
Again, keep your lessons short (15-20 minutes per day). You don’t want to overwhelm your child, causing him/her to lose interest.
2. When to Start Teaching Phonemic Awareness
Teachers generally start this curriculum with four-year-olds, but if your child is receptive, there’s no reason you shouldn’t introduce the first few modules (A: Listening, B: Rhyming, and C: Sentences & Words) at age three.
Prepare yourself to teach phonemic awareness, especially in F: Word Familes and later modules, by learning how to pronounce the letter sounds correctly. Refer to our videos and chart so you can be sure to model the correct pronunciations for your child.
Phonemic awareness before reading is like training wheels before riding a bike. It makes learning easier, more enjoyable, and leaves the child with fewer bruises.
NOTE: Don’t force the issue if your child is not interested, especially if he/she is at the young end of the age range. Children’s brains develop at different rates, and “normal” covers a wide range. It’s better to wait a few months than to unintentionally teach your child that learning is a punishment!
Our Phonemic Awareness Curriculum is specially designed and organized to lead your child from toddlerhood to full readiness for reading. Just go through the games and activities in order, making sure your child has a good handle on an activity before you move on to the next one.
Use our Pacing & Assessment page to get an idea of where to focus your lessons for kids at different age levels.
3. Scaling & Scaffolding
Every child is unique and will progress through our Curriculum at a different speed. Some kids find the Rhyming games super-easy but get hung up on Syllables. Others may struggle with Words & Sentences but breeze through the Compound Words activities games. A teacher may have all these children in the same classroom.
Many of our activity pages feature recommendations for adjusting the activity to the needs of your particular child or classroom:
- Confidence Builders suggest ways to simplify an activity for a struggling student.
- Extensions offer tips for challenging the advanced students who are a little ahead of their classmates.
- Variations suggest ways to change up the game a little, by tailoring it to a child’s special interests or making it “portable.”
- Small Group Adaptations offer ideas for scaling up from an individual child to a small group (2-5 children), ensuring that every child is engaged and learning.
4. Teaching Small Groups
We recommend that preschool teachers work primarily with small groups (2-5 children) to teach Phonemic Awareness. To aid teachers, every activity in our Phonemic Awareness curriculum has a Small Group Adaptation with tips for adapting the game from an individual child to a group.
Small group instruction of 2-5 children has proven to be the most effective size for an adult to be able to monitor the understanding and correct the responses of group members.
Teachers should form their small groups based on individual assessments of their students. You can find several assessments on the Pacing, Assessment, & Fast Track page. Place children with similar levels of skill in your small groups. Some children with very limited skill in an area may need to be in groups of 2 or 3. Other children may not need any instruction in a specific skill.
Change the size and composition of your small groups periodically as you teach different modules of the curriculum. Individual assessment results and observing children’s performance are the tools you need to help you arrange and rearrange your small groups as you teach the curriculum lessons.
4.1 Turn-Taking Strategies
A collection of Turn-Taking Strategies is designed to give teachers options for calling on children during small group lessons. These techniques help teachers to call on children in random order, so every child gets to participate equally in the activity and to learn the concept being taught.
4.2 Reinforcement At Home
Even in small groups, teachers simply cannot provide the same amount of one-on-one attention as a parent can. We strongly recommend that teachers involve parents, guardians, and caregivers in the process of teaching their children Phonemic Awareness. For each of our twelve modules, we have created a Reinforcement At Home form. Teachers should send this form home with all students with a check mark for the activities they have been working on in the classroom. The form should be accompanied by strong encouragement that parents play the same games at home, in order to reinforce the child’s education and to notice (and inform the teacher) if there are concepts the child is struggling with. Teachers should also make a special note on this form of any activities that a particular child needs extra practice on.
5. Frequently Asked Questions
Q: My child has already started learning Phonics at school. Should I still try to teach him Phonemic Awareness?
A: Yes! If your child is old enough to be learning phonics at school, he may already have pretty good phonemic awareness. But phonemic awareness is vitally important as the foundation on which to build his reading skills, so you can still go through our curriculum with him, if only to confirm that he has already developed these skills. Start with some Syllables games, and if he does them easily, just move on to the next module. You may discover some sections where he struggles — be sure to help him master those skills before he gets too much further with phonics. To sum up, it can’t hurt, and it might help a lot!
Q: I’m a teacher. How long will it take to get my students back up to speed after summer vacation?
A: Encourage the students’ parents to go to our website and play phonemic awareness games with the kids over vacation. But of course, some will and some won’t. Plan to spend up to one month at the beginning of the school year reviewing material from the spring. Remember, we are building a foundation, and we want to be sure that foundation is solid. Once you’re sure the kids have retained (or re-learned!) last year’s material, start introducing brand new activities.