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How To Connect Phonemic Awareness Skills to Your Phonics Instruction

Did you know that your phonemic awareness instruction should be related to your phonics instruction? In case you need a refresher on these two terms: "phonemic awareness" refers to awareness of and ability to work with the individual sounds in words, while "phonics" is knowledge of the relationships between letters (and letter combinations) and sounds. Both types of instruction are essential for students' reading success, especially in Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade!

Although many teachers have specific times set aside for both phonemic awareness and phonics instruction, we want these two areas to have some connection to each other! This connection leads to success in student decoding (reading words) and encoding (spelling words). Both decoding and encoding require students to link sounds to words, and if students are already comfortable working with the sounds (from phonemic awareness activities) and the letter combinations (from phonics activities), it just makes decoding and encoding that much easier.

An Example of Connecting Phonemic Awareness Skills to Phonics Instruction

An example will help explain this! Let's say that a first grade teacher plans to teach consonant blends in a few weeks. During the consonant blends instruction, students will be reading and spelling words like “flag,” “drop,” “snap,” etc.

This first grade teacher anticipates that some students will struggle to hear all of the sounds in words with consonant blends (this is very common). Currently, students are comfortable working with CVC words with only 3 sounds, so this will be a new challenge.

To help prepare students for the instruction on consonant blends, 2-3 weeks before teaching her students about blends (and asking them to read and write words with blends), the teacher begins phonemic awareness activities with consonant blends.

In these phonemic awareness activities, students first learn how to blend the sounds in words with consonant blends. Blending means to have students put individual sounds together to make words. For example, the teacher might say /s/ /t/ /ŏ/ /p/ and students say the entire word, stop. However, students are not yet asked to read or spell these words.

After some practice with blending sounds, the teacher begins having students segment words with consonant blends. Now, students are asked to break apart complete words into their individual sounds. For example, the teacher might say “grab” and students must segment: /g/ /r/ /ă/ /b/. At this point, students are still not yet asked to read or spell these words. They are only working with the sounds.

The teacher spends 2 or 3 weeks on these phonemic awareness activities, and then she begins her phonics instruction on consonant blends.

Students have already practiced blending and segmenting the sounds in words with consonant blends, so it’s much easier for them to read and write these words. When the teacher asks students to write or build words with consonant blends, she still has them segment the word before they write or make it. Phonemic awareness practice continues, so students receive further practice with blending and segmenting words with consonant blends.

In this example, the teacher prepared her students to be more successful with their phonics work by using related phonemic awareness activities prior to phonics instruction on those skills. She also continued working on the related phonemic awareness skills during instruction on those skills.

How Can I Do This In My Own Classroom?

Now you might be thinking, "This sounds great - but how do I make this happen in my own classroom?"

We're glad you asked! The easiest way to do this is to use a program that is already designed to connect phonemic awareness and phonics instruction. Our phonics program From Sounds to Spelling does just that.

In this image from the Level 1, Unit 3 overview, you can see the phonics and phonological awareness (including phonemic awareness) skills listed. In Week 17, for example, students blend and segment words with r-controlled vowels. That practice continues into Week 18. Then, in Weeks 19 and 20, students begin working with words with r-controlled vowels “ar” and “or.” Since they have already practiced blending and segmenting these words, reading and writing words with "ar" and "or" is likely to be easier for them.

From Sounds to Spelling  makes this process of connecting phonemic awareness skills to phonics instruction so much easier. To download a free sample of program materials, click here.

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