Teach Phonemic Awareness without Teaching Phonics


Teach Phonemic Awareness without Teaching Phonics

Posted on January 18, 2010

Teach Phonemic Awareness without Teaching Phonics


How can I teach phonemic awareness (sounds), without always teaching phonics (the letters that make those sounds) at the same time?


This is a tough question. Current reading research shows that the method most of us learned to read (solely using phonics) is handicapping students. When they learn that a letter makes a particular sound, then they assume there are 26 sounds. In fact, with all the exceptions and letter combinations, there are more than 40 sounds in the English language.

With just a phonics understanding, then students understand the "p" says /p/. But then Sophie and Phillip sitting in your class wonder why their names aren't pronounced So-p-hie or P-hillip. When we announce that a "c" says /k/ like in "computer" or "cat," then students wonder why "city" isn't pronounced as "kitty." They need to know the /s/ sound is often made by the "s," but it could be the "c," like "circle" or "city." When students realize there is not always one letter that makes a particular sound, they will also be better decoders and word attackers in their reading.

What we've learned through research is that students need a strong phonemic awareness foundation initially. We need students to understand sounds first before we associate a single letter or combination of letters that could make that sound. Students need practice hearing sounds, counting sounds, sliding sounds, blending sounds, and stretching sounds. Let kids have a lot of practice hearing and saying the sound. Then, reveal the letter(s) or letter combinations that make that sound.

Here's an activity to try. Have students cut images out of magazines that all start with a certain sound. In other words, have students make a /k/ sounding page. On that page, they adhere any picture that starts with a /k/ sound. They may cut out a kite. But it's also typical they will use a picture of a cookie. Kids are practicing hearing the /k/ sound; that's the focus of the phonemic awareness lesson. Later, after revealing that the /k/ sound could come from a variety of letters, the students go back to the same cut-and-paste pages and label the pictures with "k" or "c" or even "ck" words.

By starting with phonemic awareness students learn more than just every sound they hear is represented by a single letter. They also learn that there is potentially more than one letter/letter combinations that could create the same sound. We make our students much stronger readers and word attackers when they know that sounds and letters don't follow a single rule.