Posts Tagged ‘phonemic awareness assessments’

Re-teach the Standards

Re-teach the Standards

Finish Strong!

After Spring Break both students and teachers are like stable horses. Let me explain. Growing up near the equestrian center adjacent to Griffith Park in Los Angeles, my cousin and I would rent our favorite horses, Cupid and Angel, for a one-hour ride. For the first 45 minutes, our well-trained mounts would obey our every request including riding down into the concrete L.A. river. However, like-clockwork, during the last 15 minutes of our ride these stable horse pointed their noses back to the stable and no amount of cajoling would turn them away from their mutual goal.

In traditional calendar schools across the U.S. and Canada, spring-itis is now setting in. The weather is changing. The clock has sprung forward. The standardized tests are over. Only Open House remains and the summer countdown begins.

I have a cure for stable horses and spring-itis: re-teach the Standards.

Not a repetitive re-hash of what has already been mastered, but an assessment-based, targeted triage of what was taught, not not caught.

Good teachers are all about what has been learned, not about what has been taught. It’s all about what kids have mastered, not about what their teacher has covered.

Teacher Unknown

Here’s your motivation to finish strong. Here’s your opportunity to demonstrate your professionalism to your students, parents, administrators, colleagues, and most importantly… yourself.

As an aside, I love having my eighth-grade ELA colleagues tell their students, “I know you learned this last year, because you had Mr. Pennington last year in seventh-grade.” Not that I’m a great teacher, but my colleagues have my year-end ELA and recording matrices which document exactly what students have mastered on these comprehensive assessments.

Check out the following FREE Common Core-aligned diagnostic ELA and reading assessments. Don’t use them as summative assessments; give them now to gap-fill the Standards that your students have not-yet-mastered and in the fall to differentiate/individualize and plan your year-long instruction. Select the assessments that fit your grade level. Of course, Pennington Publishing provides all of the corresponding worksheets and activities to specifically remediate each and every Standard and skill measured by these assessments.

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

Grammar/Mechanics, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , ,

How to Teach the Voiced and Unvoiced “th”

Turning On and Off the /th?

Voiced and Unvoiced /th/

Teaching the voiced and unvoiced consonant digraphs in the context of beginning and remedial reading instruction can be tricky. Speech therapists and EL teachers insist that the differences are critically important; reading specialists and special education teachers tend to ignore these as “distinctions without differences.” See what you think and grab the FREE phonemic awareness assessments at the end of this article.

As a reading specialist, I usually stay on the practical “whatever works” side of the ledger. However, with respect to this one issue, I think my speech therapist and ESL friends have won me over.

Without getting over-technical (Please… if I see one more diagram of the vocal cords or hear the word fricative, I will not be held responsible for my actions), here are a few instructional tools that will help us all teach the voiced and unvoiced “th” consonant digraph.

I’ve spent countless training sessions trying to hear and feel the differences in the “th” sounds in beginning, medial, and end positions. I’m not the only one who has problems hearing these sound distinctions, but most of us can hear when a student mispronounces one of them. Here’s the best help I’ve found yet regarding how to differentiate the sounds:

To know if your voice is turned on, try this simple test. Put your hand gently over the front of your throat and breathe. Do you feel anything? No, you shouldn’t. Now, put your hand on your throat and say “ah”. Feel the vibration? That’s because your voice is turned on.

Now, let’s try it with one pair of sounds: S and Z

Put your hand on your throat and say s-s-s-s-s. You shouldn’t feel anything.

Now, put your hand on your throat and say z-z-z-z-z. You should feel the vibration because your voice has to be turned on to make the Z sound.

Your mouth, teeth, and tongue should be in exactly the same position for saying S and Z; you just need to turn your voice off for the S and on for the Z.

Lisa Scott
Article Source:

The exercise works better than the other methods I’ve tried and I love the terminology “your voice has to be turned on.” So much better than “voiced-unvoiced” or “voiced-voiceless” for students (and reading specialists). Now, of course Lisa (and others) has picked the easiest pairing of sounds (/s/ and /z/) to demonstrate and the single consonants seem easier than the consonant digraphs, but starting with what is most clear usually does makes sense.

Now that we understand the difference between sounds with the voice turned on and off, we need to know how to teach them. I’ll provide a few pointers in the context of beginning reading instruction and then follow up with a recommendation for remedial readers and ESL students.


Of course, we introduce the voiced and unvoiced consonant digraphs separately. We provide example words and help students blend and segment the sounds. However, we do have a problem. In most phonics (sound-spellings) instructional sequences, we first teach short vowels and single consonants and then turn our attention to the consonant digraphs. And we stick with single syllable words. This certainly has proven the right instructional order over time, but it does limit our example words significantly and, thus, our practice of such in decodable text. Notice, we even have to dip into the King James English to broaden our lists.

Voiced Decodable “th_” Single Syllable Words with Short Vowels and Single Consonants

this                  that                  them                then                 thus                 than

Voiced Decodable “th_” and Single Syllable Words with Long Vowels and Silent Final e

their (long a “ei” spelling)       though (long o “_ough” spelling)

thou                 thee                 thy                   these                those                thine

Voiced Decodable “th_” and “_the” Single Syllable Words with Long Vowels, Silent Final e, and Consonant Blends

clothe              breathe            bathe               teethe

Voiced Non-Decodable Single Syllable “th_” Words

the                   they                 there

Unvoiced Decodable Single Syllable “th” Words with Short Vowels and Single Consonants

thin                  thud                 path                 with

Unvoiced Decodable Single Syllable “th_” and Words with Long Vowels and Silent Final e

thief                 thigh                thieves            theme

Unvoiced Decodable Single Syllable “th” Words with Long Vowels, Silent Final e, and Consonant Blends

thank               thing                think                growth

Strategic Word Analysis

  • Guess the voiceless “th” in meaning-based words, such as theme, thaw, and both.
  • Guess the voiced “th” in grammatical words, such as that, they, or then.
  • When in doubt, guess and use the unvoiced pronunciation. Other than the list above, most all “th” words are “sound off” pronunciations.
  • Other than the low utility long vowel, silent e decodable words listed above, guess an unvoiced “_th” at the end of a syllable. Teach students “If a syllable ends in ‘th,’ turn your voice off.” Examples: path, both, with, moth
  • Teach students to guess a voiced “th_” at the start of syllable when it is followed by a short vowel sound. Only a few words, such as thin, thick, and thought are exceptions.
  • Teach students to guess an unvoiced “th_” at the start of syllable when it is followed by a long vowel sound. Only a few long vowel words, such as the, these, those, their, and though are decodable exceptions. Add on the sight word there and the King James thou, thee, thy, and thine (if you must) and this is a good generalization.

Remedial Readers, EL, and ELD Students

For remedial readers and English language-learners, the ESL Gold Site does a wonderful job teaching the voiced “th” and the unvoice “th” with the following instructional sequence: 1. pronunciation 2. minimal pairs 3. challenging words 4. phrases 5. dialogue 6. oral reading. Adding a blending step to this sequence and, perhaps a timed word fluency exercise, would be especially helpful.

Check out the quality resources at Pennington Publishing. For speech and language therapists, SPED teachers, and reading intervention teachers, you’ll love this FREE download. Use these five phonemic awareness (syllable awareness, syllable rhyming, phonemic isolation, phonemic blending, phonemic segmenting) and two awareness assessments (upper and lower case identification and application) to determine reading readiness. Each of the seven assessments is administered whole class. 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.

Get the Phonemic Awareness Assessments FREE Resource:

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned 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 instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students 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.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

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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

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” for both beginning and struggling readers found in the phonemic awareness activities packet.)
  3. Syllable Awareness and Syllable Manipulation
  4. Phonemic Isolation
  5. Phonemic Blending
  6. Phonemic Segmentation


The Teaching Reading Strategies (Reading Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight-adult. Ideal as both Tier II or III pull-out or push-in reading intervention for older struggling readers, special education students with auditory processing disorders, and ESL, ESOL, or ELL students. This full-year (or half-year intensive) program provides explicit and systematic whole-class instruction and assessment-based small group workshops to differentiate instruction. Both new and veteran reading teachers will appreciate the four training videos, minimal prep and correction, and user-friendly resources in this program, written by a teacher for teachers and their students.

The program provides 13 diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files). Teachers use assessment-based instruction to target the discrete concepts and skills each student needs to master according to the assessment data. Whole class and small group instruction includes the following: phonemic awareness activities, synthetic phonics blending and syllabication practice, phonics workshops with formative assessments, expository comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern assessments, reading strategies worksheets, 123 multi-level fluency passage videos recorded at three different reading speeds, writing skills worksheets, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards (includes print-ready and digital display versions) to play entertaining learning games.

In addition to these resources, the program features the popular Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable books (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each 8-page book introduces two sight words and reinforces the sound-spellings practiced in that day’s sound-by-sound spelling blending. Plus, each book has two great guided reading activities: a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns and 5 higher-level comprehension questions. Additionally, each book includes an easy-to-use running record if you choose to assess. Your students 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. These take-home books are great for independent homework practice.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

FREE DOWNLOADS TO ASSESS THE QUALITY OF PENNINGTON PUBLISHING RESOURCES: The SCRIP (Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict) Comprehension Strategies includes class posters, five lessons to introduce the strategies, and the SCRIP Comprehension Bookmarks.




Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

Get the Phonemic Awareness Activities FREE Resource:

You may also want to check out the phonics materials and activities found in these articles: Phonics Games and in How to Teach Phonics.

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