The Development of Phonological Skills
Phonological skill develops in a predictable progression. This concept is important, as it provides the basis for sequencing teaching tasks from easy to more difficult. Table 1 outlines the relative difficulty of phonological awareness tasks. Table 2 is a more specific synthesis of several research reviews and summaries (Adams et al., 1998; Gillon, 2004; Goswami, 2000; Paulson, 2004; Rath, 2001) that ties specific ages to the typical accomplishment of those phonological awareness tasks.
Prerequisite to phonological awareness is basic listening skill; the acquisition of a several-thousand word vocabulary; the ability to imitate and produce basic sentence structures; and the use of language to express needs, react to others, comment on experience, and understand what others intend.
Table 1. Phonological skills, from most basic to advanced
|Word awareness|| |
Tracking the words in sentences.
Note: This semantic language skill is much less directly predictive of reading than the skills that follow and less important to teach directly (Gillon, 2004). It is not so much a phonological skill as a semantic (meaning-based) language skill.
|Responsiveness to rhyme and alliteration during word play|| |
Enjoying and reciting learned rhyming words or alliterative phrases in familiar storybooks or nursery rhymes.
|Syllable awareness|| |
Counting, tapping, blending, or segmenting a word into syllables.
|Onset and rime manipulation|| |
The ability to produce a rhyming word depends on understanding that rhyming words have the same rime. Recognizing a rhyme is much easier than producing a rhyme.
|Phoneme awareness|| |
Identify and match the initial sounds in words, then the final and middle sounds (e.g., "Which picture begins with /m/?"; "Find another picture that ends in /r/").
Segment and produce the initial sound, then the final and middle sounds (e.g., "What sound does zoo start with?"; "Say the last sound in milk"; "Say the vowel sound in rope").
Blend sounds into words (e.g., "Listen: /f/ /ē/ /t/. Say it fast").
Segment the phonemes in two- or three-sound words, moving to four- and five- sound words as the student becomes proficient (e.g., "The word is eyes. Stretch and say the sounds: /ī/ /z/").
Manipulate phonemes by removing, adding, or substituting sounds (e.g., "Say smoke without the /m/").
Table 2. Ages at which 80-90 percent of typical students have achieved a phonological skill
|4||Rote imitation and enjoyment of rhyme and alliteration||pool, drool, tool |
"Seven silly snakes sang songs seriously."
|5||Rhyme recognition, odd word out||"Which two words rhyme: |
stair, steel, chair?"
|Recognition of phonemic changes in words||"Hickory Dickory Clock. That's not right!"|
|Clapping, counting syllables||truck (1 syllable) |
airplane (2 syllables)
boat (1 syllable)
automobile (4 syllables)
|5½||Distinguishing and remembering separate phonemes in a series||Show sequences of single phonemes with colored blocks: /s/ /s/ /f/; /z/ /sh/ /z/.|
|Blending onset and rime||"What word?" |
|Producing a rhyme||"Tell me a word that rhymes with car." (star)|
|Matching initial sounds; isolating an initial sound||"Say the first sound in ride (/r/); sock (/s/); love (/l/)."|
|6||Compound word deletion||"Say cowboy. Say it again, but don't say cow."|
|Syllable deletion||"Say parsnip. Say it again, but don't say par."|
|Blending of two and three phonemes||/z/ /ū/ (zoo) |
/sh/ /ǒ/ /p/ (shop)
/h/ /ou/ /s/ (house)
|Phoneme segmentation of words that have simple syllables with two or three phonemes (no blends)||"Say the word as you move a chip for each sound." |
|6½||Phoneme segmentation of words that have up to three or four phonemes (include blends)||"Say the word slowly while you tap the sounds." |
|Phoneme substitution to build new words that have simple syllables (no blends)||"Change the /j/ in cage to /n/. |
Change the /ā/ in cane to /ō/."
|7||Sound deletion (initial and final positions)||"Say meat. Say it again, without the /m/." |
"Say safe. Say it again, without the /f/."
|8||Sound deletion (initial position, include blends)||"Say prank. Say it again, without the /p/."|
|9||Sound deletion (medial and final blend positions)||"Say snail. Say it again, without the /n/." |
"Say fork. Say it again, without the /k/."
Paulson (2004) confirmed the hierarchy of phonological skill acquisition in 5-year-olds entering kindergarten. Only 7 percent of 5-year-olds who had not yet had kindergarten could segment phonemes in spoken words. The production of rhymes was more difficult for 5-year-olds than commonly assumed, as only 61 percent could give a rhyming word for a stimulus. Only 29 percent could blend single phonemes into whole words. Although some young students will pick up these skills with relative ease during the kindergarten year — especially if the curriculum includes explicit activities — other students must be taught these metalinguistic skills directly and systematically.
For more information on Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) visit the Sopris West LETRS website.