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  • Writer's pictureElena

Ways to develop phonological awareness

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

Phonological awareness refers to the ability to focus on the sounds of speech as distinct from the meaning. The development of phonological awareness is critical for reading and spelling success and it can be done implicitly or explicitly.


Implicit ways include creating a phonologically rich learning environment with exposure to key sounds. Apart from creating this kind of environment for children, they should be also provided with opportunities to reproduce the sounds. This can be achieved through storytelling, reading aloud, and nursery rhymes.


1. Storytelling 

Children should be provided with opportunities to get phonologically involved in the process of storytelling, for instance, by encouraging them to produce environmental sounds or repeat words or phrases.


2. Reading aloud 

Reading aloud to children is always beneficial as it makes them familiar with the language. It draws their attention to words and language at many levels. Besides, it also offers a chance to model good reading.


3. Nursery rhymes

When selecting a nursery rhyme, it’s important to consider that they are written for native speakers. Therefore, teachers should choose parts of nursery rhymes that are easy to understand and interesting from a phonological point of view. If you’d like to learn more about using nursery rhymes with young learners, you can check my blog post Nursery rhymes in the early years for the IATEFL YLTSIG.  


Children's phonological awareness can be also developed explicitly by using structured activities focused on phonological work. In this case, teachers often follow a set of steps that I'll describe below.


1. Identify the sounds you’d like to work on. 

  • When learning their first language, children tend to master vowels earlier than consonants. However, in the ELT classroom, it’s recommended to start with consonants. Besides, it’s helpful to include the sounds that might cause difficulties for learners, for example, /t/ and /d/. Working on these sounds allows learners to avoid extra difficulties when they encounter minimal pairs, for example, town and down

  • As for vowels, it might be challenging to focus on some sounds in the ELT classroom, such as vowel reduction or the contrast between long and short vowels because they seem to be less perceptible at the articulatory level. 


2. Present the chosen sounds.

  • Choose the words that are meaningful for children and ensure that the target sound is at the beginning of the word. 


3. Introduce the written form of the target sounds.

  • When introducing these forms, ensure children have had plenty of opportunities for sound recognition and pronunciation practice.


4. Design multisensory and playful activities.

  • It’s known that the activation of different sensory channels enhances learning. So don’t forget to include gestures and movements. 

  • As for playful activities, there are a lot of games and interactive tasks that you can use with young learners when developing their phonological awareness. Here is a couple of examples.

Picture sort by an initial consonant sound

Materials: Cards with pictures of familiar objects and cards with letters that correspond with the initial consonant sounds of the picture

Steps:

  1. Take two letter cards. Display them as column labels.

  2. Say the letter sound.

  3. Take one picture card for the sound and put it under the column label.

  4. Hand one card at a time and encourage the children to say the word.

  5. Invite them to place the card in the appropriate column.

  6. When the children become better familiar with the game, increase to three and then to four columns. 


One card out

Materials: Initial sound picture cards, "no" cards

Steps:

  1. Display the picture cards with the same numbers in separate rows.

  2. Invite the children to take turns and name the pictures in a given row.

  3. Reinforce each initial sound, for example, nose /n/, nine /n/, zebra /z/.

  4. Place the "no" card over the picture that does not have the same initial sound as the other two cards (zebra).

  5. Continue until one picture on each row is covered by a "no" card.


Before focusing on letter-sound relationships through phonics, young learners need practice in discriminating English sounds (Shin and Crandall 2014: 167). So it is important for children to be exposed to language through storybooks, read aloud, and rhymes. They should also be given the opportunity to practise and manipulate language. This means that both methods of developing phonological awareness should be incorporated in the classroom to achieve the best results.

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