Reading and Spelling: It’s Not Just About Letters and Words

Reading and Spelling: It’s Not Just About Letters and Words

imageWhen we think about children learning to read and spell, we usually talk about learning letter/sound correspondence (knowing what sound each letter makes) and learning sight words. However, there is much more to being able to read and spell than being able to make sense of the letters on the page.

While it is not common, there are some children who try to get by learning to read and spell through memorization. While this can work a lot of the time, it doesn’t work for reading novel or unknown words and names. For that, phonemic awareness and phonological skills are needed.

Most deaf children who are learning to communicate via sign only (who are not taught using an auditory approach) generally learn to read and spell through memorization. While a phonics approach might be included, without an auditory brain, learning to blend and segment words is very difficult. Learning to read and spell through memorization is a long and tedious process and likely the reason that Deaf adults who do not use audition and communicate via sign struggle with achieving reading levels above the fourth grade. It really takes an auditory brain to learn the skills needed to read.

Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate the individual sounds in words. It is the ability to break apart the sounds and put them together. Some children with hearing loss struggle with this, as it is all based on hearing and listening. As research has shown that a student’s phonemic awareness can be a good predictor of reading success or difficulty, working on these skills is critical.

What’s different about working on phonemic awareness is that the is not working on letters and reading, but on listening. You can begin working on these skills as early as pre-k and these skills should be worked on until reading skills become solid.

Activities for Phonemic Awareness:

Rhyming—-Rhyming is another skill that has been identified to correlate with reading success. Work on both determining if words rhyme (i.e. “Do the words cat and bat rhyme?”, “Do the words bike and bite rhyme?”) and on generating rhymes (i.e. “Tell me a work that rhymes with coat”)

Syllabification—-This is the ability to break words down into syllables. Practice clapping out the syllables in your child’s name, and other familiar names. You can also clap out syllables of different words. When singing songs, clap the rhythm of the syllables.

Blending Compound Words—-Compound words are two words that are joined together to make another word (i.e. cow-boy, basket-ball). Play games where you provide the two words and your child provides the new word. The longer the pause between the words the harder it is. If you use pictures instead of saying the words for the child it can be even more challenging.

Initial Sounds—-In the beginning of word work, children learn the beginning sounds of words. Work on being able to generate words that start with a specified sound (i.e “Let’s name some words that start with the sound /b/”). You can also work on comparing the initial sounds of words (i.e. ” Do the words ball and book start with the same sound” or “Do the words ball and doll start with the same sound?”).

Final Sounds—-A little more difficult is determining ending sounds of words. Work on being able to generate words that end with a specified sound (i.e “Let’s name some words that end with the sound /b/”). You can also work on comparing the final sounds of words (i.e. ” Do the words ball and book end with the same sound” or “Do the words ball and doll end with the same sound?”).

Blending Sounds—-This is the ability to take the sounds that make up words (phonemes) and blend them together. What’s important here is that we are focusing on sounds and not letters. At the beginning, only present two sounds and then work up to more. (i.e “What is the word when you out these two sounds together /m/ /ee/?” (me) or “What is the word when you put these sounds together /b/ /oa/ /t/?”) Again, remember you are presenting the sounds, not the letters)

Segmenting Sounds—-This is the ability to break apart the sounds (phonemes) of words into individual sounds. Start with two sound words and present the word to your child. Then have your child break the sounds apart. (i.e. “What are the sounds in the word shoe?” The response to this is only two sounds /sh/ and /oo/). Continue to build to longer words.

Repetition of Letters—-This is really a drill to work on auditory memory. The ability to remember a sequence of letters. Your child will need this skills when he/she asks someone how to spell a word. Without a good auditory memory, your child will need to hear one sound at a time. By building auditory memory for strings of letters (which are non-meaningful and don’t have context), you can help. For this task, you just build up the ability to repeat back strings of random letters (i.e. “Repeat these letters after me… B-M-T-A”).

Repetition of Sounds—-While this skill seems similar to the above, this skill helps later when your child is reading and sounding out new words. When reading a new word, it is necessary to say each sound, remember them, and then blend them together. Here, your are just working on the repetition and recall of the sounds you say (i.e “Repeat these sounds after me… /m/ /oo/ /b/”). It again is not about making words just the memory for sounds. Continue to build up to longer strings of sounds.

Elision—-Elision is the omission of parts or sounds in words. The ability to manipulate sounds in this way helps with reading words that have similar beginning or ending strings of letters. You can start with taking parts of words away (i.e syllables) and move towards omission of sounds. (i.e. “Say the word airplane without saying air,” “Say the word bucket without saying it”, “Say the word mat without saying /m/”). You should practice taking away any part of the word, beginning middle and end.

Auditory Reading—-This is a higher level skill that I like to work on when reading and spelling skills have already developed. This is taking the repetition of letters and sounds to the next level. Here, you present strings of letters or sounds that make up real words and then have the child tell you the word you have spelled. (i.e. “M-O-U-T-H, What word did I spell.” or “/p/ /oo/ /l/ /z/, What word does that make?”).


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