Have you ever heard of phonemic awareness activities? If you are well-versed in the phonic method of teaching reading, you very likely know them already. These are activities that help children become more familiar with phonemes — the bits of sound that make up the words we know.
Familiarity with phonemes is something most parents want their children to have. Better phonemic awareness early has been shown to often correlate with better reading skills later. As such, activities that train children to recognize and sound out phonemes are good ideas for parents eager to let their children have the best start in life.
While older phonemic awareness activities could take as long as regular school lessons, most teachers now take a different tack. Most phonemic awareness activities these days take only 10 to 20 minutes. The majority of phonics teachers actually keep them even shorter.
Take a look at Children Learning Reading, for example. This phonics teaching course has lessons that only take up to 15 minutes at most. In many of the cases, they take far less time.
The idea behind short lessons is to minimize attention fatigue, naturally. Children learn best when they do not feel they are being pressured into it. They also learn best when they still have some enthusiasm for the topic. Beyond the 20-minute mark, most lessons begin to feel like lessons and enthusiasm palls.
Most phonemic awareness activities are also best delivered through one-on-one instruction as they allow the teacher to be more attuned to the student’s pronunciation and needs. They also make the act of shared reading less chaotic, turning it into a smooth dialogue between two people.
Where to Find Phonemic Awareness Activities for Your Child
There are a lot of these activities now on the Web. You can find websites dedicated to the phonics teaching method and look up their Resources or Activities sections. If you are following a dedicated teaching course for phonics, you will actually find several activities in it, in most cases. The majority of such courses include phonemic awareness activities off the bat, so you should be covered from the start.
You can also create your own phonemic awareness activities for your child, if you are inclined to. Just make sure that you understand precisely how phonemic reading instruction works. For example, you need to know what the phonemes are yourself. You cannot simply assume that a 5-letter word will have 5 phonemes, for example, because phonemes do not work on a 1-is-to-1 basis with letters. You can have 5-letter words with 3 phonemes, to illustrate.
You should be conscious, too, of how to break down words properly when you teach your child using the phonics method. Remember to pull apart compound words first, for instance, before you go on to tackle the actual phonemes in them. Knowing how to follow the phonemic formula is vital before you apply it in teaching another.
What Are Phonemic Awareness Activities for Kids Like?
Phonemic awareness activities can be quite varied, depending on what they are supposed to be teaching. Most of them involve reading, of course, although some can be entirely auditory.
For example, there is a phonemic awareness exercise wherein students have to blend the individual phonemes called out by the teacher in order to get at a word. For example, instead of saying “dad”, the teacher calls out “duh”, then “ah”, then “duh” again. The students have to blend the phonemes themselves and call them out loud. No reading or writing is involved, but phonemic awareness is definitely promoted.
Sometimes, phonemic awareness comes naturally as a result of certain activities and materials. Thus reading certain books can be a phonemic awareness activity in itself. Try reading a Dr. Seuss book with your child, for example. Listen to the rich use of rhyme and sound in them. Consider the name of the protagonist alone in one of the books: “Sam-I-am”.
Fortunately, most children’s books are really written in a way that promotes phonemic awareness. They tend to be ripe with rhyme, repetition, assonance and alliteration.
This does not mean that you can simply sit back and let the child figure it all out by himself. From reading a book, you can move on to interacting with it in various ways. Try asking your child to name words that sound alike on each page, for example.
Once he has managed that from start to finish, try asking him a new thing the next time you reread the book. Children often want books to be reread, so you can just add a new layer of difficulty each time. Try asking the child to identify all the things in the book’s pictures and then finding all of the objects in there that have the same starting sound (onset) or ending sound (rime), for example.
Later, you can even ask him to guess at the next thing coming if the book uses repetition in its writing. For the classic Dr. Seuss book, for instance, you can prompt the child to finish “The cat is in a—?” by asking him what word rhymes with “cat”.
Games of this type are popular phonemic awareness activities for children. You can also try games where you remove the onset of the word but pronounce the rest of it, pointing to an illustration of the object being named to help them fill in the blank. You could point to a picture of a ball and call out “-all”, for instance, and wait for them to add the missing phoneme. Do not ask them to sound out only the completed word either: ask them to give the phoneme and complete word separately.
Phoneme awareness activities like these have to be delivered in such a way that the child does not feel he is being tested or tutored on something. Most lessons sink deeper if they are delivered in a way that engages a willing participant instead of forcing him. As such, strive to ensure the lessons remain interesting as well as fun for the child you are helping.