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Helping them to spell and read – learning and language difficulties

Helping them to spell and read.

Phonemic Awareness Training

Phonemic awareness is the understanding that syllables and spoken words are made up of specific speech sounds. It is possible to “tease out”, isolate or “sound out” these sounds, which are known as phonemes, in order to help a child learn to spell or read.

It is well know that phonemic awareness is a powerful predictor of success in learning to read.

Furthermore, children who are able to sound out and isolate specific sounds in words are usually better at spelling.

When children struggle to hear or manipulate sounds in spoken words they have trouble with decoding (the process of transforming information from one format into another; e.g. combining letters to form words while reading).

Unfortunately, in the past many children were taught the “whole language” approach to reading (also known as “look-say” or “sight reading”). In this approach children attempt to memorise whole words by sight rather than sounding them out phonetically.  As a result, many people have struggled to learn how to read effectively.

Research has demonstrated that explicit training in phonemic awareness benefits all readers.

Parents often do a great job at teaching their children the symbols (ABCs) and some whole words, but they often miss important steps in developing phonemic awareness.

What can parents do to help?

You can help your child develop phonemic awareness by:

  • Teaching them to rhyme by singing songs, reading books that rhyme (Dr. Seuss is wonderful!) and creating their own rhymes.
  • Engaging in alliterative language play by listening for and generating words that begin with the same initial sounds. E.g. “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers”.
  • Identifying ending phonemes that are the same. E.g. What words end with the same sound, brick, tack, and mouse?
  • Breaking words into syllables. E.g. by clapping or tapping out syllables.
  • Joining phonemes together to make words. E.g. what word does “k”…“at” make?
  • Segmenting words into phonemes. E.g. what two sounds make up the word “cat”?
  • Making new words by substituting one phoneme for another. E.g. “cat” could become “hat”.
  • Tracking print when beginning to read.
  • Sounding out unknown or new words, one phoneme at a time.

The more phonemic awareness your child can develop, the better equipped they will be for learning to read, spell and write at a high standard.

Reference: Harwell, J, M. (2001). Complete learning disabilities handbook. John Wiley & Sons: San Francisco

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