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Sight Words: Which to Teach and Which Not To

Sight Words

Which sight words should we teach?

Most teachers and reading specialists advocate some teaching of sight words: the question is which ones make sense to teach and which ones don’t make sense to teach? Don’t worry… At the end of the article you’ll get the assessments, word lists, activities, and suggested resources you need to teach. But, we do need to answer the question.

First, let’s dispel a few notions about how we learn to read. It’s not a which came first, the chicken or the egg? question some still suggest. In other words, the end result is not all that matters. Witness the plethora of reading intervention classes in upper elementary and middle schools to see how many of our students can “read,” but not understand what they are “word calling.” How we get to the end result does matter. Reading does not teach phonemic awareness, nor does reading teach phonics and multi-syllabic decoding.

We have plenty of reading research to positively assert that explicit, systematic phonics instruction is the most efficient approach to teaching beginning and remedial readers. The Look-Say Method of the Dick and Jane readers (sight words only instruction) and the Onset-Rime Method (b-ack, h-ack, j-ack, l-ack, p-ack, r-ack, s-ack, t-ack) have largely been placed on the dustbin of instructional approaches.

However…

We can certainly take things too far. We know some things, but we don’t know a lot of things about reading. We are only at the beginning stages of brain research.

So…

A prudent approach to both beginning and remedial reading instruction is to focus on decoding (phonics) and encoding (spelling) instruction and practice, but to also “throw in” a healthy dose of sight words practice just to be sure. But, all sight words are not created equal.

Which Sight Words Not to Teach and Why

Don’t pass out lists of high frequency reading or spelling words for students to memorize. Intuitively, it would seem to make sense to have students memorize the words that they are going to read or spell most often. However, our gut-level instincts lead us astray here.

  • The Dolch and Fry word lists of the most commonly used words in basal readers were never designed to provide a list of words to study. Countless U.S. classrooms still, unfortunately, have these reading goals (and assign parents the task of teaching): 10 words by the end of kindergarten; 100 words by the end of first grade; 200 words by the end of second grade; and 300 words by the end of third grade. As a reading specialist, I’ve worked with hundreds of elementary, middle school, high school, and even community college students who can word call each of these lists, but not read with comprehension.
  • Similarly, the Slosson Oral Word Reading Test and San Diego Quick Assessment were only designed to test word recognition and they do provide correlations to reading comprehension, but authors Richard L. Slosson and Charles L. Nicholson, as well as Margaret La Pray and Ramon Ross respectively, never advocated using their random sample assessments as instructional tools.
  • The “No Excuse” spelling word lists, floating around since Rebecca Sitton popularized this band aid approach to spelling mastery during the height of the whole language movement of the 1980s and 1990s still, unfortunately, serves as the entire spelling program for countless U.S. classrooms with absolutely no research validating its instructional validity.

Which Sight Words to Teach and Why

The first group of sight words are, indeed, words; the second and third groups are word parts.

  • Outlaw Words: These words break the law, that is they break the rules of the alphabet code and are non-phonetic. Words such as the and above are Outlaw Words because readers can’t decode them. I’ve heard way too many teachers and parents force children into sounding out words which can’t be done because they break the code. It is true that many of our high frequency and high utility words happen to be non-decodable, but many are not, so the efficient approach to sight words instruction is to teach and have students practice only the non-decodable words, not the high frequency words which mix non-decodable and decodable. Why confuse students? We have to teach these outlaw words because they are exceptions to our phonics rules.
  • Word Families (Rimes): A rime is a vowel and the final consonants in one syllable, such as “ack.” The rime usually follows an first consonant, e.g. “b,” or consonant blend, e.g. “tr,” to form words, e.g., “back” or “track.” Students apply these to other starting consonants (called onsets) to recognize or say new words. By the end of second grade, students should know every one of these 79 word families with automaticity through explicit, systematic phonics instruction. If they don’t, gap fill with flashcard practice and activities to help students master the rimes. I have found plenty of success teaching the word families that students do not know with sound-spelling blending. Again, the focus is remedial, not instructional, with the rimes.
  • High Frequency Greek and Latin Prefixes and Roots: Greek and Latin word parts make up over 50% of the words in the dictionary. Some are decodable in English, and some are not. Because of the strong reading-vocabulary connection, it does make sense to have students teach and practice the Greek and Latin high frequency prefixes and suffixes which they do not know. Like with rimes, the analogous relationships formed by morphological (meaning-based) word parts make this a sound sight words instructional focus. For example,  bi means two in bicycle, just as it means two in bicameral or biped.

FREE Sight Words Assessments

Outlaw Words: Click HERE to get both the teacher and student assessment pages.

Word Families (Rimes): Click HERE to get both the teacher and student assessment pages.

Greek and Latin High Frequency Prefixes and Suffixes: Click HERE to get both the teacher and student assessment pages.

Click HERE to get a one-page Reading Assessment Matrix for these sight word assessments.

FREE Sight Words Lists and Activities

Outlaw Words: Click HERE to get this sight word list and sample instructional activities.

Word Families (Rimes): Click HERE to get this sight word list and sample instructional activities.

Greek and Latin High Frequency Prefixes and Suffixes: Click HERE to get this sight word list and sample instructional activities.

But wait… Why not get these sight word assessments, sight word lists, ALL (not the sample) sight word activities plus 10 other reading assessments AND all of the instructional resources to teach to these assessments by purchasing the the Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Phonics Books BUNDLE? Enter discount code 3716 to save an additional 10%.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Here’s an overview of this comprehensive reading intervention program: Teaching Reading Strategies is designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the

Decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Sam and Friends Take-home Phonics Books

curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games. Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Perfect for guided reading.

Why not check out the program’s Introductory Video (15:08)?

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Reading Fluency Assessment | Expository Article FREE

Individualized Assessment-based Instruction

Assessment-based Instruction

It’s back to school and good teachers want to know if their students can read the class novel, assigned articles, or their textbooks. Teachers also want to know what level reading is appropriate for each of their students. Teachers need a reading fluency assessment that matches their curriculum. With the move to more and more informational/expository reading, it makes sense to assess students’ reading fluency accordingly. Wouldn’t it be great if you found a two-minute, numbered reading fluency that was leveled, at say first through seventh grade reading levels, did not require prior knowledge, was interesting, and was expository text, and was FREE? Here you go!

This “Pets” expository fluency article is leveled in a special pyramid design: Using the Fleish-Kincaid formula, the first paragraph is at the first grade reading level; the second paragraph is at the second grade level; the third paragraph is at the third grade level; the fourth paragraph is at the fourth grade level; the fifth paragraph is at the fifth grade level; the sixth paragraph is at the sixth grade level; and the seventh paragraph is at the seventh grade level.

With this design, the reader begins at an easier level to build confidence and then moves to more difficult academic language, longer sentences, and multi-syllabic words. As the student reads the article, the teacher notes  the reading levels at which the student has a comfortable degree of accuracy and automaticity. Accuracy at the 95% or better decoding and automaticity with relatively effortless reading. The 383 word “Pets” expository fluency article is a two-minute expository reading fluency, which is a much superior measurement than a one-minute narrative reading fluency at only one grade level.

High levels of reading fluency are positively correlated with high levels of comprehension. Although not a causal connection, it makes sense that a certain degree of effortless automaticity is necessary for any reader to fully attend to meaning-making.

Following are end-of-year expected reading fluency rates:

2nd Grade Text            80 words per minute with 95% accuracy

3rd Grade Text            95 words per minute with 95% accuracy

4th Grade Text            110 words per minute with 95% accuracy

5th Grade Text             125 words per minute with 95% accuracy

6th Grade Text            140 words per minute with 95% accuracy

7th Grade Text            150 words per minute with 95% accuracy

8th Grade Text            160 words per minute with 95% accuracy

The Pets Fluency Assessment is my gift to you and your students. But, how do I best remediate reading fluency deficits? Pennington Publishing’s Reading Fluency and Comprehension Toolkit (a slice of the comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program) includes 43 animal fluency articles with vocabulary to pre-teach. Word counts are provided in the left margin for fluency timings. The YouTube videos of each article are recorded at three different reading speeds (Level A at 95-115 words per minute; Level B at 115-135 words; and Level C at 135-155 words) to provide modeled readings at each of your students’ challenge levels.

Why not get this assessment plus 12 other reading assessments AND all of the instructional resources to teach to these assessments by purchasing the the Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Phonics Books BUNDLE? Enter discount code 3716 to save an additional 10%.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Here’s an overview of this comprehensive reading intervention program: Teaching Reading Strategies is designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the

Decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Sam and Friends Take-home Phonics Books

curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games. Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Perfect for guided reading.

Why not check out the program’s Introductory Video (15:08)?

Reading , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Phonemic Awareness Assessments FREE!

Phonemic Awareness Tests

Phonemic Awareness Assessments

“There is considerable evidence that the primary difference between good and poor readers lies in the good reader’s phonological processing ability” (University of Oregon Center on Teaching and Learning). We all know the importance of phonemic awareness as both a predictor (Goldstein, 1976; Zifcak, 1977; Stanovich, 1986, 1994) and causal factor (Adams, 1990) in reading readiness. Students need to hear, identify, and manipulate the sounds of the language before (or while) learning to read. Although some researchers still posit the notion that complete phonemic awareness is a by-product of reading, most reading researchers and teachers now see phonemic awareness as a teachable prerequisite to reading (Smith, Simmons, & Kame’enui, 1998).

If phonemic awareness is critically important to reading and it can be taught, we should do so both as pre-school to second grade beginning reading instruction and as third grade to adult reading remediation.

Some encouraging research indicates that remedial readers can learn phonemic awareness with the right teaching strategies. Bhat, Griffin, and Sindelar (2003) reported that middle school remedial readers do benefit from phonemic awareness training, although, unfortunately, not as much as do younger learners.

Additionally, although specific speech sounds (phonemes) do differ among languages, making phonemic awareness and phonics acquisition more challenging for English-language Learners (ELs), these students are certainly able to transfer their phonemic awareness skills from their primary languages to English, and research supports the benefits of phonemic awareness training for second language learners (Abbot, Quiroga, Lernos-Britton, Mostafapour, and Berninger, 2002). In fact, some primary languages, such as Spanish, share more phonemes with English than not.

Moreover, because phonemic awareness is an auditory skill, speech therapists will emphasize the importance of teaching and practicing phoneme manipulation to special education students, many of whom are diagnosed with auditory learning challenges.

So how should we teach phonemic awareness to beginning, remedial, EL/ELD, and special education students? Assessment-based instruction.

1. Efficient, comprehensive, and accurate whole class (or at least small group) phonemic awareness assessments to determine what beginning and remedial readers know and don’t know. With these tests, teachers can feel confident that “if they know it, they will show it; if they don’t, they won’t.” Not all students will have mastered the same components of phonemic awareness. No more time-consuming individual phonemic awareness assessments? Yeah! Download the six assessments below for free.

2. Assessment-based phonemic awareness activities designed to teach the phonemic awareness deficits indicated by the assessments. Why teach the same phonemic awareness activity whole class to, say a kindergarten or an intermediate or middle school reading intervention class, when not all students need to remediate the same phonemic awareness skill? Instead, use the assessment-data to determine instructional decisions. Perfect for whole class (if the assessments so indicate the need), small ability groups (think learning stations and cooperative groups), and individualized instruction. Download the sample phonemic awareness activities below for free.

Phonemic Awareness Assessments

Here are the six phonemic awareness assessments. By the way, reading specialists suggest remediating these skills in the order listed here:

  • Rhyming Awareness
  • Alphabetic Awareness (Make sure to check out the Mp3 “New Alphabet Song” found in the phonemic awareness activities packet.)
  • Syllable Awareness and Syllable Manipulation
  • Phonemic Isolation
  • Phonemic Blending
  • Phonemic Segmentation

Each of the assessments has a teacher and student page (for recording… remember that phonemic awareness is an auditory skill). Download and print these files: Phonemic Awareness and Alphabetic Awareness

Plus, five of the six (not the alphabetic awareness assessment) include audio files. Woohoo!

Phonemic Awareness Audio Files

Syllable Awareness Assessment (5:48)

Syllable Awareness Assessment

Syllable Rhyming Assessment (5:38)

Syllable Rhyming Assessment

Phonemic Isolation Assessment (5:54)

Phonemic Isolation Assessment

Phonemic Blending Assessment (5:53)

Phonemic Blending Assessment

Phonemic Segmenting Assessment (5:21)

Phonemic Segmenting Assessment

Reading Assessment Matrix

You’ll love this one-page assessment matrix for student data and simple progress monitoring: Reading Assessments Recording Matrix

But what about the resources to teach what the phonemic awareness assessments indicate to be unmastered skills? Got you covered! Check out some of the phonemic awareness activities used in the author’s reading intervention program linked at the end of this related articleYou, the teacher, need to have the instructional resources and training to teach to the specific assessment data. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes corresponding phonemic awareness and alphabetic awareness activities to remediate all deficits indicated by the assessments.

Why not get each of these assessments plus all of the instructional resources to teach to these assessments by purchasing the the Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Phonics Books BUNDLE? Enter discount code 3716 to save an additional 10%.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Here’s an overview of this comprehensive reading intervention program: Teaching Reading Strategies is designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the

Decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Sam and Friends Take-home Phonics Books

curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games. Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Perfect for guided reading.

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Word Families (Rimes) Activities

Although systematic explicit phonics instruction should be the core of beginning reading instruction, as a reading specialist I support an eclectic approach to ensure success for all students. One such approach that I have used with success is teaching the basic word families, also known as rimes.

Now to be certain that I don’t lead you astray, let’s be clear that I do mean rimes, and not rhymes. Although the two are certainly related, especially in terms of instructional practice. Simply defined, the rime consists of a vowel and final consonants, such as “ack.” The rime usually follows an initial consonant, e.g. “b,” or consonant blend, e.g. “bl,” to form words, e.g., “back” or “black.”

Learning the common rimes can help beginning readers recognize common chunks of letters within words. Margaret Moustafa’s research has demonstrated that beginning readers tend to figure out new words through analogy (1997). In other words, they connect “what they already know” to “what they need to know” through word similarities. Goswami found that both beginning and dyslexic readers benefit from learning and practicing rimes (2000). To summarize, if beginning readers learn to recognize the “ack” rime, they will be able to use that chunk to learn words with different single consonant onsets to form words such as “back,” “hack,” “jack,” “lack,” “rack,” “sack,” “tack,” as well as words with different consonant blend onsets, such as “black,” “crack,” and “stack.”

Now, good reading teachers will note that teaching rimes could be used to side-step blending the individual vowel and final consonant sounds, just as teaching the consonant blends could side-step blending the individual consonant sounds. Thus, with the consonant blend onset “bl” and its rime “ack,” the word black becomes two pronunciation units, rather than four. I certainly would not advocate these short-cuts; however, once beginning readers have mastered, or are in the process of mastering how to blend, I see no reason to avoid practicing blending automaticity with rimes. I do suggest leaving the consonant blends to the traditional blending strategies rather than practicing these as chunks because mispronunciations, such as “bluh” for bl, will create more harm than good.

Parents can be helpful partners in practicing rimes with their children. Although oftentimes well-intentioned parents can do more harm than good when they teach their children to blend improperly, practicing rimes is almost foolproof. A good list of rimes, such as in the following Word Family (Rimes Activities), will give parents the tools they need. Also, reading rhyming books, such as Dr. Seuss, are wonderful practice.

For older students, say second-graders or reading intervention students (think Response to Intervention Tiers I and II), this Rimes Assessment with recording matrix can provide the data teachers need to effectivelydifferentiate instruction.

So for those of you who have read this far, here are some terrific Word Families (Rimes) Activities to practice rimes in the classroom. You may also wish to use the phonics materials and activities found in these articles: Phonics Games and in How to Teach Phonics. Also, check out these related Phonemic Awareness Activities.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

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Phonemic Awareness Activities

Response to Intervention

Reading Intervention

Get ready for some terrific phonemic awareness activities… But first, let’s get clear on just what phonemic awareness is all about, why it is important, and how it relates to reading. Phonemic awareness is the basic understanding that spoken words are made up of individual speech sounds. We call these speech sounds phonemes. There are about 43 common phonemes in English. See my attached list, Phonemes, which includes adjustments for the Spanish phonemes in footnotes.

Why is phonemic awareness essential?

Between 20 and 40% of the population does not naturally develop phonemic awareness. Research indicates that there may be both medical and genetic factors that contribute to this deficiency (Grossen, 1997).

When children cannot hear and manipulate the sounds (phonemes) in spoken words, they struggle learning how to attach these sounds to letters and letter combinations. Lack of phonemic awareness is the chief causal factor of reading disabilities (Adams, 1990). In fact, phonemic awareness is the best predictor of reading success (Goldstein, 1976; Zifcak, 1977; Stanovich, 1986, 1994).

Phonemic awareness relates to reading in two ways: (1) phonemic awareness is a prerequisite of learning to read (Juel, Griffith, & Gough, 1986; Yopp, 1985), and (2) phonemic awareness is a consequence of learning to read (Ehri, 1979; Read, Yun-Fei, Hong-Yin, & Bao-Qing, 1986).

Can phonemic awareness be remediated?

Yes, but the older the child, the more challenging it is to learn phonemic awareness. See my article titled Should We Teach Phonemic Awareness to Remedial Readers? on remediating phonemic awareness to check out the reading research and instructional solutions.

What about English-language Learners?

It’s true that specific speech sounds differ among languages, and this makes phonemic awareness and phonics acquisition more challenging for English-language Learners (ELs). However, EL students and English-language Development (ELD) students are certainly able to transfer their phonological awareness skills from their primary language to English, and research indicates the positive benefits of phonemic awareness training (Abbot, Quiroga, Lernos-Britton, Mostafapour, and Berninger, 2002). Indeed, some primary languages, such as Spanish, share more phonemes with English than not.

Phonemic Awareness Assessments

Not all students will have mastered the same components of phonemic awareness. Thus, diagnostic assessments are a must to efficiently teach these unmastered components. After completing phonemic awareness assessments, grade and record any unmastered phonemic awareness components for each student on a progress monitoring matrix. An excellent set of six whole-class phonemic awareness assessments with recording matrix is provided free for classroom use at www.penningtonpublishing.com. These assessments are available in Teaching Reading Strategies by the author of this article.

Phonemic Awareness Instructional Sequence and Workshop Activities

Differentiate instruction, according to the diagnostic data in small group reading workshops. There is an instructional order that makes sense. I suggest that you teach your phonemic awareness workshops in this order:

  1. Rhyming Awareness
  2. Alphabetic Awareness (Make sure to check out the Mp3 “New Alphabet Song” found in the phonemic awareness activities packet.)
  3. Syllable Awareness and Syllable Manipulation
  4. Phonemic Isolation
  5. Phonemic Blending
  6. Phonemic Segmentation

So, you’ve read this far. Your wait is over! Here are the promised Phonemic Awareness Activities to differentiate instruction in your reading workshops. You may also wish to use the phonics materials and activities found in these articles: Phonics Games and in How to Teach Phonics.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Sam and Friends Take-home Phonics Books

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How and When to Teach Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic Awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds in spoken words, coupled with the understanding that spoken words and syllables are made up of sequences of speech sounds (Yopp 1992). A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound in a language that represents meaning. Most all words in English and other languages are made up of a number of phonemes blended together. Most reading specialists and speech therapists identify 43 basic phonemes. For example, the word “mall”. It is made up of three phonemes: /m/ /aw/ /l/.

Although often used interchangeably, phonemic awareness is actually a set of subskills of the broader language skill called phonological awareness. Phonological awareness describes the ability to hear, identify, replicate, and manipulate the distinct “chunked” sounds and their sequences in a word, such as syllables or rhymes; whereas phonemic awareness deals with the discrete phonemes.

We usually refer to the two terms as phonemic awareness because the phonemes are most closely related to our teaching of phonics. Phonics is the secret code which connects the phonemes (speech sounds) and print letters (the alphabet). When someone learns this secret code and can put together (blend) each part of a word from text, we call this decoding. The prefix “de” means from or out of. When someone uses the code to to spell a word in writing, we call this encoding. The prefix “en” means in or into.”

Why is phonemic awareness important?

Phonemic awareness is an auditory skill. If children cannot hear and manipulate the sounds (phonemes) in spoken words, they will have a very difficult time in learning how to attach these sounds to letters and letter combinations.  The lack of phonemic awareness is the most important causal factor contributing to children with reading disabilities (Adams, 1990).

Phomemic awareness is the most powerful predictor of reading success.  It is more highly correlated with reading success than socio-economic status, general intelligence, or listening comprehension (Stanovich, 1986, 1994; Goldstein, 1976; Zifcak, 1977).

How is phonemic awareness related to learning to read, and can it be taught with measurable success?

Phoneme awareness is related to reading in two ways: (1) phonemic awareness is a prerequisite of learning to read (Juel, Griffith, & Gough, 1986; Yopp, 1985), and (2) phonemic awareness is a consequence of learning to read (Ehri, 1979; Read, Yun-Fei, Hong-Yin, & Bao-Qing, 1986). Shaywitz (2003) puts it this way: “Reading and phonemic awareness are mutually reinforcing: Phonemic awareness is necessary for reading, and reading, in turn, improves phonemic awareness still further.”

Several studies have demonstrated that children can be successfully trained in phonemic awareness (Cunningham, 1990; Ball & Blachman, 1991; Yopp & Troyer, 1992; Smith, Simmons, & Kame’enui, 1998).

Phonemic awareness training was shown to positively affect both reading and spelling achievement in kindergarten and first grade children (Lundberg, 1988; Bradley & Bryant, 1983).

Who needs phonemic awareness training?

Percentages of children requiring specific training in phonemic awareness vary slightly according to different research studies, but the amount is still a significant percentage of early readers.  Ehri (1984) found 20% lacked requisite phonological awareness, Lyon (1996) cited a figure of 17%, and Adams (1990) concluded that 25% of middle class kindergartners lacked this ability.

Fletcher et al., (1994) found that poor readers most always had poor phonemic awareness.  The National Institute of Child, Health, and Human Development (NICHD) longitudinal studies support this conclusion, stating that the major problem predisposing children to having reading disabilities is lack of phonological processing ability (Lyon, 1997).

When should phonemic awareness training take place, and how should it be introduced?

Children should be diagnosed by mid-kindergarten to see if they are able to identify and manipulate phonemes.  If early learners do not have this ability, they should be given more intensive phonemic awareness training (Ehri, 1984)

Research shows that if schools delay intervention until age seven for children experiencing reading difficulty, 75% will continue having difficulties.  If caught in first or second grade, reading difficulties may be remediated 82% of the time.  Those caught in third to fifth grades may be improved 46% of the time, while those identified later may only be treated successfully 10-15% of the time. (Foorman, 1996)

There appears to be a consensus in the research that a specific sequence of instruction in phonemic awareness is most effective for early learners.  Treiman (1992) found that children learned to be consciously aware of and were able to manipulate onsets and rimes more easily than individual phonemes.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the

Decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Sam and Friends Take-home Phonics Books

instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

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