Phonological awareness – explicit instruction

Key information for phonological awareness development and components of phonological awareness lesson

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The components of an explicit phonological awareness lesson are critical for early learners. As skills develop, they can be integrated into phonics lessons as they are reciprocally supportive. Lessons should be explicit, intentional and systematic.

Phonological awareness development

Phonological awareness is a critical skill for literacy development and a predictor of later reading and spelling success. Phonological awareness refers to oral language and understanding of the different ways language can be broken down into smaller parts. It is an aural and oral skill, that is, what we can say and hear. Phonological awareness consists of five subskills beginning with word, syllable, onset/rime awareness, moving to the more complex subskills of basic and advanced phonemic awareness.

Word awareness - segmenting a continuous stream of speech into individual words.

Rhyme - units of sound that sound the same

Syllable awareness - segmenting syllables in spoken words and blending syllables to say words.

Onset and rime awareness - segmenting a syllable into its onset and rime and blending an onset and rime to say a syllable. It also involves understanding rhyming words contain the same rime.

Phonemic awareness - the understanding spoken words are made up of individual phonemes. It also is ability to manipulate phonemes by segmenting, blending, and deleting, adding or substituting to create new words.

Image: Phonological awareness subskills

Instruction in phonemic awareness, particularly orally blending and segmenting phonemes is critical for decoding of words in early reading development. Prior to introducing graphemes students need to be able to demonstrate a firm knowledge of phonemic awareness. Once graphemes are introduced it is then phonics.

However phonological awareness instruction does not stop once phonics is introduced. Instruction can continue alongside the explicit and systematic teaching of phonics.supports teachers to assess, observe and evaluate a student's reading fluency

Components of phonological awareness lesson

To support the stages of phonological skill development, the following components of a lesson are considered best practice.

Tune in

Ensure students are learning to attend to sounds in the environment and ‘tune in’ to the sounds in spoken language before you begin explicit instruction in phonological awareness. This can be done by engaging in active listening activities such as:

  • identifying sounds and hearing the difference for example: sound of wind, rain on a rooftop
  • listening to a series of sounds, identify and name the order for example: woof, meow, baa. Ask questions - What sounds did you hear? What was the first sound? What was the last sound?
  • Whisper chains - whispering onomatopoeia words, for example: snap, crash, honk. Once whispered down the line of students, see whether the original message has changed.

Learning intention and success criteria

Coconstruct the learning intention and success criteria to clearly communicate with students what they are learning and why it’s important.

Explicit teaching

Phonological awareness skills should be taught in a particular sequence so students can build on their knowledge. Explicitly teach phonological awareness skills keeping in mind their increasing complexity. Each skill builds on the knowledge of the skill before it. Students may not have demonstrated full mastery of one skill before they begin to develop the next and students may be developing multiple skills at the same time. The amount of time spent on learning these different skills will depend on the student’s individual learning needs. During explicit teaching the teacher will:

  • support students to ‘tune in’ to the sounds of spoken words in Standard Australian English • use and teach the correct metalanguage to support student understanding of the different units of sound. • Use strategies such as ‘think alouds’ to explain skills concisely.

Guided practice

This Involves the student practising what has been explicitly taught with support from the teacher. This may include activities such as:

  • saying words aloud with students indicating ‘thumbs up’ if they hear the target word/rhyme/phoneme or ‘thumbs down’ if they do not
  • providing a visual structure for segmenting and counting words. This could include students jumping into hoops or large shapes drawn with chalk on the ground, as each word is spoken • using songs, rhymes and chants and books with rhyming words in the text.
  • orally isolating, blending, segmenting and manipulating phonemes
  • using Elkonin boxes to provide a scaffold for students to orally blend without pausing in between phonemes and have a visual frame when segmenting spoken words into individual phonemes.

Independent practice

Provide students with opportunities to engage in meaningful activities ensuring the student is focussing on the learning intention for the lesson. Complexity of tasks could be modified to suit the diversity of all learners and differentiated through smaller group activities.

Review new learning

Revisit the learning intention by making an explicit statement about the new learning, for example “Today we learnt...”.

Checking for understanding

This component happens throughout all steps in the lesson. and includes providing constructive feedback. Focus on individual student learning needs to provide additional challenge or additional support as necessary.

For more information and resources visit Literacy and numeracy

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