Phonemes are perceptually distinct speech sounds that distinguish one word from another, e.g. the “p”, “b”, “t” and “d” in “pie”, “by”, “tie” and “die”. They’re also articulatory gestures.
A 2009 article co-authored by reading guru Linnea Ehri says “awareness of articulatory gestures facilitates the activation of graphophonemic connections that helps children identify written words and secure them in memory.” Melbourne Speech Pathologist Helen Botham (Hi, Helen!), lists a number of references on her Cued Articulation website indicating articulatory awareness facilitates phonemic awareness.
I sit right across the table from my clients, so we can see and hear each other’s articulation well. It must be a lot harder to teach a whole class about phonemes, in order to link them to graphemes. Videos on the internet (including my own) about phonemes seem to put them all in one video, making them hard to isolate and repeat on a classroom interactive whiteboard.
I’ve thus filmed my utterly adorable and orthodontically photogenic niece Vivien (thanks, Vivien!) saying each phoneme separately. The 44 videos are below, each with example words which link to the relevant spelling lists on my website.
I hope these are useful in developing kids’ phonemic and articulatory awareness, as well as in teaching adults to say consonant sounds crisply and correctly (without adding a schwa vowel or voicing voiceless consonants) when teaching blending, segmenting and more advanced phonemic awareness.
Finally, I should say (for the linguistic purists) that there is more than one way to slice and count sounds, and how you do this is also affected by your accent. However, slicing and counting them this way (24 consonants, 20 vowels) seems to me to make the most sense of our complicated spelling system for speakers of General Australian English.
The Speech Pathology purists will also notice that Vivien’s alveolar fricatives are slightly fronted (i.e. she has a very tiny lisp) but it’s not noticeable to most people, so I think the /s/ and /z/ recordings I’ve made still count as allophones of /s/ and /z/. People who don’t like them can get their own niece, or someone else, to face the camera.
In fact, teachers might find that kids enjoy making videos of each other pronouncing the phonemes, and find doing it and watching the results helps get everyone thinking and learning about speech sounds. Why use my videos when you can make your own?!
A decodable book is a book for a beginning or struggling reader which contains words she or he can sound out.
In practice this means it contains sound-letter relationships and word types its reader has been taught. It doesn’t include patterns not yet taught.
Decodability thus describes how well a book/text matches its reader’s decoding skills. It gives us a proper, objective way of identifying a just-right book, by ensuring lesson-to-text match. Continue reading →
This is a summary of the second half of an online video seminar entitled “Assessment and Highly Effective Intervention in Light of Advances in Understanding Word-Level Reading” (the first half I recently summarised here), which I hope encourages you to watch the whole thing.
It’s by Dr David Kilpatrick, was recorded at the 2017 Reading in the Rockies conference, and is on the Colorado Dept of Education website. Thanks so much to all those involved in putting this great information in the public domain.
The talk’s summary and conclusions are a good place to start:
We have not been working from a scientifically-established understanding about how words are learned.
Our intervention approaches have been around for decades, but are not informed by word-learning research.
The “culprit” in poor word-level reading is phonology.
Skilled readers have letter-sound proficiency and phonemic proficiency, weak readers do not.
Interventions that address these skill deficits have the best results, by far.
Spelling tests are boring, right? The teacher reads out a word, everyone writes it down, then it gets marked. Ho hum. Nobody really likes them except annoying pedants and teacher’s pets.
Quizzes, on the other hand, are fun. They have quizzes on TV and in pubs, board games and apps. Quizzes are about thinking laterally, friendly competition, and having a bit of a laugh. They can even be done in teams, if collaborative learning is the main aim. You can ham it up with a top hat and some pictures of typical quiz prizes (you win the steak knives!).
Here’s an example beginner’s quiz for a six-year-old. She is working on three-sound words with “short” vowels, and starting to learn about consonant digraphs like sh, ch and th. She was keen to write on a whiteboard rather than use pencil and paper, but whiteboards aren’t necessary. My questions were something like:
I’m like a really big car that lots of people can fit in, and I drive on the road, and stop to pick people up, and I start with the sound “b” and I rhyme with “fuss”.
The opposite of the bottom is the “t…”
I am an animal that says “woof, woof” and I like to go for walks, and when I was a baby I was called a puppy.
When I need to buy something, I go to a “sh…”
I am a thing you can wear on your head to keep the sun off or keep your head warm, and I start with “h” and I rhyme with “cat”.
One of my fun summer activities has been refreshing and editing the free spelling lists on my website (yeah, weird, I know).
I hope teachers find them useful when teaching spelling, I know some already do. Other free spelling lists on the internet tend to focus on what words look like, but not what they sound like, or how they’re constructed, or they tend to reflect UK or US accents, not Australian English.
My lists menu allows words to be looked up in three different ways:
Looking for a fresh early-level spelling activity? Inspired by the old board game “Backwords”, lately we’ve been having competitions to write words backwards.
For example, I say “write nip backwards” and learners have to write “pin”. This requires and builds awareness of the sounds in words (phonemic awareness) which is crucial for spelling.
Sometimes we use paper and pencil, and sometimes mini whiteboards, which are often somehow more exciting (novelty, I guess). For the hardline “I’m not picking up a pencil” brigade I also have an embarrassment of colourful and novelty pens and pencils, and coloured paper.
If working on four sound words, words like “spin” (nips) and “nuts” (stun) can be reversed. Continue reading →