The English alphabet consists of 26 letters each with a specific sound that students need to learn as part of their initial introduction to reading. There are also combinations of letters that make unique sounds. The smallest unit of sound that distinguishes one word from another is referred to as a phoneme. The kindergartener’s journey to effective communication is paved with many learning milestones which are laid on a solid foundation of early literacy skills. Many students enter kindergarten with some knowledge of letter names and sounds. The kindergarten teacher is faced with a myriad of options and strategies to help students along their journey. Cain (2010) highlights that the two components of reading which are word recognition and text comprehension, present challenges to young learners as they figure out how to decode the printed words and make sense of the text.
Many children are introduced to letter names in preschool in the form of songs or rhymes. It is usually one of the first literacy building blocks introduced. Knowledge of letter names is crucial to the kindergartener’s journey to reading. Johnson & Keier (2010) suggests that an introduction to letter names and sounds could begin with a familiar thing like the student’s name. Students feel a sense of accomplishment when they are able to recognize and eventually print their name. There is a direct connection between learning letter names and sounds. If a child has difficulty identifying the letter names they will struggle with letter sounds and eventually identifying words. Hulme & Snowling (2013), suggests that student’s mastery of alphabetic principle gives them self-teaching strategy where they can sound out words by decoding each letter. Although not entirely enough on its own, the knowledge of letter names and sounds is an important building block. Hulme & Snowling purports that phoneme awareness and letter knowledge are closely linked to learning to read. Teachers employ creative and engaging strategies to strengthen letter name and sound skills.
Songs with actions are a great way to introduce letter names and sounds to young children. The actions associated with the movements helps students to make direct connections.
Jolly Phonics Complete A-Z
Tips for Teaching Letters and Sounds (Reading Mama)
ABC Alphabet Song with Sounds for Children
Phonological awareness is the broad umbrella term that defines the sound system of language. Students become phonologically aware by exposure to a rich language environment. Machado (2010), suggests that phonological awareness skills are predictive of a child’s ease in learning to read. Machado mentions skill-building activities such as emphasizing beginning letter sound in words, rhyming, segmenting morphemes and syllables in words, critical listening, among other activities which are useful in helping students to become phonologically aware.
Machado (2010) defines a phoneme as the ‘smallest unit of sound that distinguishes one utterance from another.’ There are approximately 44 phonemes in the English language that are combined to form syllables and words. Phoneme segmenting is the ability of the student to break words into individual sounds. Students who develop phoneme awareness can identify the individual sounds that make up a word. For example, the word /p/ /i/ /g/ has three phonemes. The student can break the word apart by slowly sounding out each phoneme in the word. Students use segmentation skills to detect beginning, middle and ending sounds in words. This skill, once fully developed, helps students on their journey to becoming proficient readers. In kindergarten, the goal is to help students to develop phonemic awareness as they strengthen their reading skills. Harris (2017) suggests that without phonemic awareness, students will struggle to reach their goal of reading proficiency.
Fun With Phoneme Segmentation
Games are a fun way to help students develop phoneme segmenting skills. In kindergarten, students benefit from an environment that is engaging and where they are involved. It is helpful to emphasize to students that while trying to segment words according to sound, spelling is not the focus. Remember the English language has words that are hidden. If students feel pressured to get spellings correct, they might be more reluctant to engage in segmenting activities. A focus on spelling can be delayed for another stage of their reading development.
Blending and Segmenting Games by Reading Rockets
4 Strategies to Improve Phoneme Manipulation by Top Notch Teaching
- Sound Deletion
- Sound Substitution
- Silly Sound Games
- Change the Sound
Teaching Phoneme Segmentation
In a Nutshell
Letter names, letter sounds, and phoneme segmentation are fundamental building blocks for early literacy skills. It is necessary for teachers to develop a program that provides opportunities for students to develop these skills as they work hard at becoming effective communicators. The teacher examines a number of factors when determining the rate at which names and sounds are introduced. In addition, strategies used will be highly dependent on the learner’s needs. The aim is to navigate a number of options to find one that works. Incidentally, what works with one group of students might just need to be tweaked when applying to a new group. Literacy skills are developed along a continuum and the teacher needs to pace learning as students are guided along their learning trajectory.
Cain, K. (2010). Reading Development and Difficulties: Introduction to The Study of Reading. (Ch. 1, p. 8.)Toronto: Wiley.
Chard, D., & Dickson, S. (1999). Phonological Awareness: Instructional and Assessment Guidelines. (CHARD LINK http://www.ldonline.org/article/6254)
Harris, D. (2017). Kindergarten teacher knowledge of phonemic awareness and instruction: Developing proficient early readers. Dissertation Abstracts International Section A: Humanities and Social Sciences, 77(11-A(E)).
Hulme, C., Bowyer-Crane, C., Carroll, J., Duff, F., & Snowling, M. (2012). The causal role of phoneme awareness and letter-sound knowledge in learning to read: Combining intervention studies with mediation analyses.Psychological Science, 23(6), 572-577. doi:10.1177/0956797611435921
Hulme, C., & Snowling, M. J. (2013). Learning to read: What we know and what we need to understand better. Child Development Perspectives, 7(1), 1-5. doi:10.1111/cdep.12005
Johnson, P., & Keier, K. (2010). Catching readers before they fall: Supporting readers who struggle, K-4. Portland, Me: Stenhouse Publishers.
Machado. J. (2009). Early Childhood Experiences in Language Arts. Early Literacy, 9th Edition. Cengage Learning.