Five Essential Skills That Are Crucial for Effective Reading Instruction

Phonemic Awareness | Systematic Phonics | Fluency | Vocabulary | Comprehension

Teacher and student working on phonemic awareness skills

Why Is Phonemic Awareness Important?

Reading at its most elemental level is about sounds. Written words are a series of phonograms or pictures of sounds. To read a word, students need to be able to blend the sounds into a word.

Many struggling readers, however, try to memorize whole words or guess unknown words using the first letter, context or pictures. The inability to quickly and accurately blend words limits students’ ability to comprehend what they are reading.(1)

Downloadable phonemic awareness activity for targeted practice with segmenting words

Developing Phonemic Awareness

The first step in teaching anyone to read is to develop the student’s awareness of how sounds are produced and how all spoken words are made up of sounds. Logic of English provides a step-by-step of phonemic awareness skills to help develop the student’s understanding of words and sounds and to build their confidence.

Systematic phonics skills and subskills identified and defined by Logic of English

Requisites for Skilled Reading

According to research, the most important phonemic awareness skills are the ability to blend and segment words. Blending and segmenting should be the focus of phonemic awareness instruction for emerging readers in kindergarten and first grade(2) as well as for struggling readers.

Student and teacher practicing explicit blending and segmenting of sounds into words

What About Rhyming?

Phonological sensitivity, the awareness of groups of sounds within sounds such as rhyme, onsets and syllables, is not as highly correlated with skilled reading. In addition, research has shown it is not necessary to teach students rhyme, onset or syllables before learning how to blend and segment.(3)

How To Teach Phonemic Awareness

As students learn phonograms and apply them to words through spelling analysis, they will continue to deepen their phonemic awareness skills.

Kinesthetic Awareness of Sounds

English phonemes (sounds) are made by shaping the mouth into different positions and turning the voice box on or off. An awareness of how sounds are produced supports reading and spelling instruction.

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Distinguish and Identify Sounds

To be able to read and spell, students need to recognize and distinguish the sounds in the language. A kinesthetic awareness of sounds helps students feel the differences when it is difficult to hear them.

Blend Two Words Into a Compound Word

By auditorily blending two words into a compound word (with no print involved), students are introduced to the idea that words can be broken apart and put back together.

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Blend Words With Two Phonemes

The skill of blending sounds together is foundational to reading. The simplest words to blend are words that have only two sounds (phonemes).

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Blend One-Syllable Words Without a Consonant Blend

Once students demonstrate an understanding of blending words with two sounds, they are ready to blend consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words. Continue to practice this skill until they are able to easily and quickly blend CVC words from an auditory prompt.

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Blend Two Consonants

Many students struggle to read words with consonant blends. By practicing the skill of blending consonants in isolation, students develop a foundational skill needed to decode these words.

Blend One-Syllable Words With a Consonant Blend

Practicing blending one-syllable words with consonant blends (CCVC or CVCC words) helps to build confidence and teaches the foundational skills needed to read words with consonant blends.

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Segment One-Syllable Words

As students master blending one-syllable words, they are ready to begin segmenting them. The ability to segment a spoken word into its individual sounds is the first step in being able to spell it.

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Initial Sounds

Once students have mastered the skill of segmenting one-syllable words, they are ready to identify the initial sound. Changing the initial sound to create new words builds further upon this skill.

Final Sounds

Identifying the final sound is a bit more difficult than identifying the initial sound. As students practice each step, they become increasingly aware of the sounds in words and able to identify, isolate and manipulate the sounds in words.

Medial Sound

Identifying the medial vowel sound is difficult for many students. This results in students misspelling vowels. Learning to accurately hear and identify vowels in the context of words prepares students to become strong readers and spellers.

Blend Multisyllabic Words

Blending multisyllabic words is more difficult than blending one-syllable words. Begin instruction with two-syllable words and then progress to three- and four- syllable words. Learning how to blend multisyllabic words helps students to be able to decode longer words.

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Segment Multisyllabic Words

As students become comfortable segmenting one-syllable words, increase the difficulty by adding first two- and then three- and four-syllable words. This skill is vital for learning how to spell longer words.

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Steps to Developing Phonemic Awareness as outlined and defined by Logic of English

Visualize your students’ progress with our Steps to Developing Phonemic Awareness poster. This free resource provides a way to track the mastery of individual skills and subskills needed to become a skilled reader.

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Logic of English curriculum based on the Science of Reading accessible in print-, downloadable- and online-friendly formats.

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Cited Sources

(1) Blachman, B. A., Tangel, D. M., Ball, E. W., Black, R., & McGraw, C. K. (1999). Developing phonological awareness and word recognition skills: A two-year intervention with low-income, inner-city children. Reading and Writing, 11(3), 239–273.

(2) Brady, S. (2020). A 2020 Perspective on Research Findings on Alphabetics (Phoneme Awareness and Phonics): Implications for Instruction. The Reading League Journal, 1(3), 20–28.

(3) Cary, L., & Verhaeghe, A. (1994). Promoting phonemic analysis ability among kindergartners. Reading and Writing, 6(3), 251–278.