CHAPTER ONE – HEARING THE SOUNDS IN WORDS
In this chapter, I’ll share: 1) why phonemic awareness is important, 2) many fun ways you can help your children build their awareness of phonemes, and 3) how these skills will impact reading and spelling success.
I want you to know that demonstrating an awareness of sounds in words can be a little tricky. If you find that you’re not quite hearing all of the sounds in words, don’t be concerned. Phonemic awareness in not necessarily a prerequisite for learning to read and spell, but it is a very strong predictor of reading and writing achievement, and it is certainly worthwhile for us to engage our kids in fun-focused explorations of the sounds we hear in words.
Remember, the English language is code-based. For us, that simply means that we have symbols, the letters of the alphabet, and that those letters that represent sounds or phonemes. We won’t be addressing letter names in these first lessons. We’re just going to think about and play with sounds in words. Understand that when students can hear, repeat, and manipulate sounds in words, they are setting up for reading and spelling success and thereby strong academic achievement. If your kids struggle a bit, it doesn’t, necessarily, mean that they are going to struggle to learn to read and spell, but it’s certainly something we want to notice.
As you begin to heighten your children’s awareness of sounds in words through playful, foundation-building interactions, your soon-to-be-readers will become better equipped to connect those sounds with letters. That’s what we call phonics. Again, since we’re focusing on the sounds without addressing letter names, we’re working on building phonemic awareness.
I will be providing several different Building Block activities, that will equip your children to become successful readers, and YOU will be in the front seat to watch the magic. I would love for you to do all of the Building Block activities for each lesson over a couple of days to a week or more. Each activity in this section serves to promote phonemic awareness. Each of the Building Blocks will help to build a solid foundation for literacy.
Tips for Successful Practice
Here are some suggestions for success across every lesson:
• Schedule your Building Block activity time for when your children will receive it best. Make it a date! (Asking kids to come in from playing with friends or to turn off the video game to “get this stuff done” isn’t inspiring.)
• Smile a lot. Laugh. Give words of encouragement, but keep it real. (Kids know when we’re faking!)
• Avoid saying, “You’re so smart.” If children hear these words when they do something well, they may be less inclined to take risks the next time because they don’t want to loose their “smart” status.
• Avoid saying, “No.” If your children do something incorrectly, recognize that you understand why they thought that (if it’s true), then provide the correct response, and give a quick tip so they can get it the next time. (Ask someone to watch you to be sure you’re not furrowing your brow or shaking your head –no– when you’re working with your children. Sometimes we don’t even know that our very demeanor appears negative.)
• If your children don’t get it, spend some time modeling correct responses. Remember, we’re teaching not quizzing.
• Continually monitor your children’s levels of engagement. Quit before they lose interest. Leave them eager to begin again the next time. Do not set a timer or make bribes. This time should feel like it is the reward. It should not require one.
• Repeat lessons if additional practice is needed. Keep coming back to the tricky ones.
• Remember that you don’t have to be captivating. Strive instead to be captivated (by your children). They truly are marvels. Am I right?
• Finally, share your successes! Have your children show off their new skills with others. Genuine praise is pure glory!
BUILDING BLOCK #1: Rhyming Words
One fun way to build your children’s phonemic awareness is to read books with strong rhyming patterns. Words that rhyme are words that have the same sounds from the final vowel (a, e, i, o, or u), on. Actually, those are considered perfect rhymes. If you listen to music in most any genre, you recognize that many lyricists also use imperfect rhymes, where the words are “close” to rhyming, but the sounds aren’t exactly the same.
In this lesson, we’re going to think about perfect rhymes.
There are lots of games for you to play throughout the upcoming days to promote your children’s sense of rhyme. I suggest that you read at least one rhyming book a day.
Also, Dr. Seuss (and others) uses crazy, made-up words to make rhymes, and you can, too! We don’t want all of the words to be nonsense words, but certainly some of them can be. It’s fun!
Make it your diligent aim to engage in one of these Building Block Activities, each day:
BUILDING BLOCK #1a: Fill in the correct Rhyming Words
To begin, read a book with a strong rhyming pattern. You may wish to choose one of these:
Bear Wants More, Karma Wilson
Each Peach Pear Plum, Allan Ahlberg
Little Blue Truck, Alice Schertle
Giraffes Can’t Dance, Giles Andreae
More Spaghetti I Say, Rita Golden Gelman
That Cat Can’t Stay, Thad Krasnesky
There’s a Wocket in My Pocket, Dr. Seuss
The Pout Pout Fish, Deborah Diesen
Get started reading and enjoying many books’ rhythm and rhyme. Stop, on occasion, to see if your children can fill in the second word that completes the rhyme that you strategically omit.
For example, in the Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle, you might say,
“Neigh,” said the horse.
“Quack,” said the duck.
“Beep,” said the friend-ly
little blue tr______.
You do want to include all of the sounds before the final vowel, as I’ve demonstrated with tr____. Our kids only need to fill in the ending part of the rhyme. Otherwise, it’s just a guessing game. We definitely want our kids to focus on the missing ending sound. We don’t want them to guess what word it could be. It’s not a little blue bird. Though that would make sense, it doesn’t fit in with the rhyming pattern. We don’t want them to even think of what rhyming word it could be. It’s not a little blue stuck. That rhymes, but it doesn’t make sense. By making the initial sounds tr, we’re focusing on the rhyming pattern and providing enough support so it’s not a guessing game. It’s hearing the pattern, and completing the pattern when provided the initial sounds.
For further practice of this type-
“I’m a little tea pot
short and stout.
Here is my handle,
here is my sp_______.”
or, you could sing, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, but instead of singing all of the words, you could say,
“. . . Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sk____.”
Can your children fill in the correct word endings? If they can, that are indicating that they have a good sense of rhyme.
BUILDING BLOCK #1b: Recognizing the Rhyming Words
Here’s a movement activity that my students love. I ask your children to stand up and to march in place as you say lots of rhyming words, keeping the marching beat. You might say a word, for example, on each right-footed step. Then, when the kids hear a word that does NOT rhyme with the others, they are to plop down on the floor right away. I often begin like this:
rub, tub, stub, flub, club, sub, dub, cub, rub, chub, feather, grub, hub . . .
Hopefully, the kids plop down when they hear feather. If they don’t, read the words again, and YOU plop down. Explain that the word feather doesn’t sound like the other words. All of the words end with /ub/, but the word feather has a different ending. Tell them that they, too, are to listen for words that don’t follow the rhyming pattern, and that when they hear a word that doesn’t have an ending sound like the others, they should plop down right away.
You will be reminded, when you observe the word lists below, that we absolutely cannot depend on spellings to determine whether words rhyme. Though your children won’t see the words as they’re playing this game with you, you can make note of this fact with your kids, today or another day. By the way, we will have explicit lessons teaching the varied ways to spell sounds in upcoming lessons. (And don’t worry. It’ll be fun!)
Remember to say the words fairly slowly and to speak very clearly correctly enunciating the sounds. Here are some lists of rhyming words along with one non-rhyming word to use as you play the marching game:
Words for you to Use:
rot, bought, caught, tot, lot, thought, not, dot, spot, fought, camera, pot, got . . .
hip, sip, trip, flip, ship, rip, drip, snip, grip, lip, rooster, slip, zip . . .
week, peek, freak, bleak, flipping, beak, sneak . . .
lend, bend, tend, mend, pool, send, blend . . .
start, chart, dart, cart, smart, game, tart, art . . .
blue, chew, glue, new, stew, shoe, boo, crew, do, goo, who, clue, dog, through, true . . .
bat, cat, that, spat, mat, chat, horse, sat, flat . . .
cab, flab, tab, paper, slab, grab. . .
core, snore, door, store, more, chore, oar, pour, shore, adore, four, ignore, man, roar, war . . .
sock, chalk, dock, flock, mock, talk, shock, man, crock, block . . .
car, star, bar, wind, far, jar . . .
ice, mice, twice, dice, nice, dirt, rice, vice . . .
goat, float, boat, smote, note, wrote, coat, vote, moat, gloat, throat, kind, bloat, tote . . .
trees, fleas, bees, knees, wheeze, please, glove, he’s, seize . . .
sun, done, nun, stun, won, pun, ton, shun, gun, fun, whack, bun, run . . .
bit, knit, fit, smile, hit, split . . .
BUILDING BLOCK #1c: Do These Words Rhyme?
• “Do these words rhyme?”
Say a word (e.g. shot), and then, another word (e.g. caught). Ask if the words rhyme. Your children will respond saying either yes or no.
If they respond incorrectly, repeat the words landing on the final sounds a little harder. Make the final sounds in both words and say, “Yes, they do rhyme. I can tell because…” or “They don’t rhyme. I can tell because… Now, you try the next one. Listen carefully to the ending sounds in each word.”
• __(action) __ if these words rhyme.
For the next game, you simply name an action, “¬___(e.g. smile)___ if these words rhyme. (e.g. love/glove)
My students love this one! You can think of your own actions, depending on where you are. If you’re outside, you could come up with many other things to do! If you are doing this at home, your child could even be in the bathtub! (e.g. “If these words rhyme, wash your toes!”)
Action Ideas- smile, wink, high five, tap your head, jump, blow a kiss, touch your toes, rub your belly, clap one time, clap two times, wave, give a thumbs up, stand on one leg, wiggle your nose, snort like a pig, spin in a circle, etc.
Below is a word list, for your convenience. For non-rhyming words, simply mix two non-paired words like had and egg. You may use this list of rhyming words for any of the games.
BUILDING BLOCK #1d: Fill in the Blank With a Rhyming Word
• Finish this rhyme. red/bed- blue/(e.g. glue)
In this game, you say two rhyming words to offer some support, and then you say another word (that’s easily matched for rhyming) and encourage your children to fill in a rhyming word.
• clap, clap (clap hands together) snow – slap, slap (slap hands on legs) grow
This game has some action, so it may be more engaging. Also, the more senses we involve, the more likely it is to stick with our kids. Clap your hands together twice, and say a word. Then slap your hands on your legs, twice, and have your children fill in a rhyming word. Try to keep it going without breaking the beat! It might help to have a list of easy rhyming words nearby. I have provided one, above. Don’t worry. I’m not trying to insult your mad rhyming skills! I can tell you from experience that sometimes it’s difficult to think of words on the fly.
Of course, your kids will not have to name the provided rhyming words. Any rhyming words will do.
• What rhymes with __miss__ and starts with __ /k/__? miss – __k(iss)__.
This game is a fun one, too. You want to try to keep it going— to keep a steady beat. Again, that rhyming word list above will be helpful. Of course, you can certainly make up your own rhyming words.
You simply say the first word, then you make the first sound of the second word, and the kids fill in the rime. (Yes, that’s how it’s spelled!)
e.g. You say: What rhymes with fly and starts with /tr/? (That /tr/ is called the onset. It’s the part of the word that comes before the rime, which is the rhyming part of the word.) The child will say try.
My friend’s daughter still talks about her mom posing this one:
What rhymes with art and starts with /f/?
Whatever it takes to captivate your child, right?
BUILDING BLOCK #1e: Rhyming Word Videos
If you search for videos on the web that feature rhyming words, may I suggest that you choose those that do not show the word spellings and that do provide the correct definition of rhymes? The top video in my most recent Google search was not one I would recommend, so don’t lean on popularity to make your choices. But, I liked the second one. It provided an accurate definition of rhymes, it focused only on the sounds- not the spellings, and it was not terribly annoying. That sure helps!
Rhyming Word Video on YouTube Try this one!
I hope you enjoy playing with words along side your soon-to-be readers. Remember, as you play these games together, you are adding building blocks that provide the foundation for your children’s literacy.
Now, we’ve spent a lot of time learning about and playing with rhyming words. Next, we’ll move on to another foundational skill. Remember to keep coming back to your favorite rhyming words activities, as needed.
Any questions? Email me at [email protected].
Do you have any rhyming books you’d like to suggest? We’re always on the lookout for others!