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Young girl and adult learn letter sounds with flash cards.

For the LOVE of reading: A 4-part series with ideas to help develop strong literacy skills (Part 2 of 4)

Educators, parents and caregivers, literacy experts, and school leaders: This series is for you! Kids Read Now is thrilled to present this series on developing strong literacy skills from guest author Dr. Wendy Strickler, Assistant Professor in Reading Science and Director of Teacher Advancement Programs at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Diving deeper into early Word Recognition with phonological awareness — critical literacy skills

In the last blog post, I described the formula for thinking about parts of reading called the Simple View of Reading.

To build proficient reading skills, we need to help kids develop printed Word Recognition and Language Comprehension. Early on, these skills are developed separately because kids are working on “reading” (cracking the code) for smaller words than they are ready for in learning word meaning. 

This blog will focus on one early skill that is part of Word Recognition: phonological awareness – hearing and playing with words orally/auditorily (no print). 

Literacy skills - reading comprehension = word recognition x language comprehension - Kids Read Now

To work on the Word Recognition part:

In PreK – 2nd grade, practice playing with sounds out loud without any print. For example, when driving, you can make up words to play with in the car. Try a few and get a sense of whether your child is ready for them and enjoying the game.

This should be fun!

Word Recognition: Part One

Games: Only auditory/oral language practice

Earlier literacy skills:

  • Let’s see how many words we can think of back and forth that rhyme with ____________ (pan, pot, hip, cat….).
  • I’ll say a big word (compound word), you tell me the 2 word parts. (hotdog (answer: hot, dog), rainbow (answer: rain, bow). Use all the compound words you can think of. 
  • Say the 2 parts of the compound word as a “mystery word” and see if your child can put them together (rain….bow  = rainbow). 

More advanced literacy skills:

  • Whale talk: I’ll say a word really slowly like Dory talking to the whale in Finding Nemo and you see if you can figure out my slow whale word and say it fast. /mmmmmmmaaaaaaannnnnn/ (answer: man). 
  • Whale talk: Now you say a word slowly and I’ll see if I can figure out your word. 
  • Tricky changes: I’m going to say a word and then change the beginning sound. Let’s see if you can solve my riddle to figure out my new word. “Say the word pan. Now take off the /p/ and put on a /m/. What’s my new word? (answer: man)

For more fun and interactive Phonological and Phonemic Awareness activities, check out these fantastic freebies!

Cheer them on for every one they figure out! Make it fun! Remember this is all out loud – no looking at letters yet.

Dr. Wendy Strickler has a Ph.D. and Masters from the University of Cincinnati, with a Curriculum Instruction and Professional Development license from Miami University. She has taught courses at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Ohio and worked in PreK-12 education for about 20 years. She is currently serving as an Assistant Professor in Reading Science & Director of Teacher Advancement Programs. Her career began with teaching preschool for children with developmental disabilities in Montreal, Canada. More about Dr. Wendy Strickler

Literacy skills: Let’s put it all together!

So, what does Dory from Finding Nemo have to do with building strong literacy skills?

Now that you know the answer, warm up your voice (and maybe check over your shoulder) as you put these examples of phonological awareness activities into practice. The best part is they’re genuinely fun for both kids and adults, and they’re genuinely effective!

With the Simple View of Reading fresh in your mind from the first two blog articles in the “For the LOVE of reading” series, you understand the foundational factors that shape young readers’ literacy skills: Word Recognition and Language Comprehension.

You zoned in on Word Recognition, the part of early literacy that derives from speaking and listening. It might help to think of these phonological awareness activities as ones that theoretically “could be done in the dark” (though we recommend keeping the lights on for safety purposes)!

Spoken sounds and words lend themselves perfectly to games, and anyone can participate, so even PreK and kindergarten learners will thrive as they experiment to build a strong foundation of literacy skills. And what a great way to motivate students to get the most from their out of school time (OST)!

What’s up next?

Remember the formula for successful reading? It’s a multiplication equation: WR x LC = RC

You dove deeper into the first factor, Word Recognition (WR), and explored its most foundational set of literacy skills, called phonological awareness. Manipulating sounds and words out loud without print can feel abstract, but there are endless ways to make it fun for both adults and children. (You know you want to make those whale noises!)

At this point, you might be thinking, “But how can a student learn to read without print?”

If so, you’re on the right track!

Slide on over to the next blog in guest author Dr. Wendy Strickler’s series to explore the nuances of how oral/auditory language combines with letters on a page to create meaningful stories.

Whether you’re an educator, parent or caregiver, literacy expert, or school leader, you’ll love her tips on how to strategically facilitate this transition and develop strong literacy skills with science and joy!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the formula for the Simple View of Reading?

Word Recognition (WR) x Language Comprehension (LC) = Reading Comprehension (RC)

How do you teach phonological and phonemic awareness?

Phonological and phonemic awareness can be taught through various activities such as rhyming games, sound blending exercises, and segmenting words into sounds. These skills are typically developed through fun and interactive activities. To make these abstract concepts more concrete, nonreaders and emerging readers often require gestures, manipulatives, and visual aids. Bonus points if you can link those scaffolds to student interests!

Are phonological and phonemic awareness the same thing? 

No, they are not the same. Phonological awareness is a broader “umbrella” that includes various sound-related abilities, while phonemic awareness focuses specifically on the manipulation of individual phonemes, which are the smallest sound units in language. Phonemic awareness is a subset of phonological awareness.

How can parents and caregivers help their children develop phonological awareness?

Parents and caregivers can boost phonological awareness by playing word games, singing songs, and reading rhyming books with their children. These activities help kids become more attuned to the sounds in words, a crucial skill for reading.

How do rhyming and alliteration help kids read?

These activities require children to listen closely to the subtle differences in sounds. Sound discrimination is crucial for recognizing and decoding words accurately, which they will need to do in order to read successfully.

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