Reading Rockets: Launching Young Readers
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Reading Rockets: Launching Young Readers

By Akimi Gibson and Judith Gold. From The Tutor (Winter 2002). Published by LEARNS (a partnership of the NW Regional Educational Laboratory and Bank Street College of Education), produced with funding by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Reprinted with permission.

Reading Rockets: Launching Young Readers
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Article 1:
Phonemic Awareness

Every time you chant along to a favorite children's rhyme or read aloud from a book like One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss, you are helping children develop phonemic awareness. Notice the rhyme in this excerpt:

Hop! Hop! Hop!
I am a Yop.
All I like to do is hop
from finger top
to finger top.
I hop from left to right
and then…
Hop! Hop!
I hop right back again.

What it means
When children identify that the words hop, Yop, and top rhyme, they are developing phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness is the ability to understand and hear that a word is made up of a series of discrete sounds or phonemes. For example, the word did is made up of three phonemes (/d/ /i/ /d/). This skill allows children to take words apart, put them together, and alter them. Research indicates that phonemic awareness is a strong predictor of early success in reading (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998).

Marilyn Jager Adams outlines five basic types of phonemic awareness tasks tutors can perform with children (Adams, 1990).

1. Rhyme and Alliteration

  • Listen for the two words that rhyme in a string of words like cat, boy, bat.
  • Recognize examples of alliteration, such as Sally sells seashells by the seashore.

2. Oddity Tasks

  • Listen for the word that does not rhyme in a string of words like sat, sit, mat.
  • Listen for the word that begins with a different sound in a string of words like boy, bit, man.

3. Blending Words and Splitting Syllables

  • Listen to the word parts, /m/ … an, and blend the parts together to make the word man.

4. Orally Segmenting Words

  • Listen to the whole word, dig, and then say the word parts, /d/ … ig.

5. Phonemic Manipulation Tasks

  • Replace one sound with another. For example, replace the first sound in cat with /m/ to make mat, or replace the last sound in bin with /t/ to make bit.

What to look for
As you talk with, read to, and play word games with children, notice behaviors that indicate development of phonemic awareness. Children show progress with this skill when they can:

  • Recognize that words have different numbers of syllables. Example: Child can tap out syllables in familiar words.
  • Understand rhyming and rhyme words correctly. Example: Presented with word groupings (e.g., bed/head, tent/rent, tent/tub), child can pick out rhyming pairs.
  • Blend words that have been divided into syllables. Example: The tutor says wa / ter and the child says water.
  • Rhyme word families. Example: cat, rat, fat, sat, hat.

For a complete overview of children's development in this and other skill areas discussed in this article, refer to the LEARNS Literacy Assessment Profile (LLAP).

How to support learning
Practicing phonemic awareness can be fun and inventive and helps improve reading ability for young children at risk for reading difficulties (Brady, Fowler, Stone, & Winbury, 1994). Children enjoy language and word games. As you work with children, let them make up nonsense or silly words; while the word gog may not be a real word, it does rhyme with dog. Here are a few activities to get you started:

1. Rhyme Time

  • Read a favorite poem or rhyme aloud, pointing to the words as you read. Ask children to recite it with you. Once they are familiar with the poem, ask them to tell you which words rhyme. Children will enjoy stomping their feet when they hear a rhyme and substituting new words for the rhyming words.

2. Round Robin Rhymes

  • Invite a small group of children to sit in a circle and make up a story that rhymes. Provide children with the beginning of each sentence and have them finish it with rhyming words. For example, Once upon a time a dog went to the park with a (hog, log, frog, clog). The dog saw a cat with a (bat, hat, mat, rat).

3. Silly Riddles

  • Give children a word and a letter, and ask them to think of another word that rhymes and begins with the new letter. For example, What word rhymes with dig and begins with /b/? Big.

For more information, see the LEARNS website for this article and bibliographical references at

Symbol: aa
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