What are the best ways to teach phonemic awareness?
A significant number of students who have well-developed phonemic awareness still have difficulty with rapidly perceiving sounds in words, and are slow to self-correct their reading errors. This difficulty is caused by weak symbol imagery — the ability to auditorily perceive and mentally image the sounds and letters within words. Individuals with weak symbol imagery often struggle with learning sight words and reading fluently in paragraphs.
In order to help students who struggle with phonemic awareness, it’s important to establish the imagery-language foundation for sounds and their symbols.
For example, you may show a student a card with a letter ‘p’ on it and ask them to both write the letter in the air and say what sound it makes (/p/). After taking the card away, you can ask what letter they saw — your imagery language stimulates and builds their symbol imagery, which allows sound/symbol associations to be accessed automatically.
What are some things that a first or second grade teacher can do to help all students in a whole-class setting when the students vary so much in their reading ability?
One simple way to reach a whole class of students is through a simple tweak of language. You can “drive the sensory bus” by asking students what letters they picture in the word they’re spelling or what they see for Goldilocks when she enters the bears’ home. Doing so will help activate imagery for students. For students who struggle with decoding and reading fluency, prompting them to picture letters will stimulate their symbol imagery, or the ability to visualize letters. Trouble with reading comprehension is often the result of weak concept imagery, which is the ability to create an imaged gestalt based on what you’ve read or heard.
How can we help students who have difficulty learning sight words?
A well-established sight word base is an integral component of the reading process and stands alone as part of the cascade of reading skills to be established for fluent contextual reading. The goal of sight words is instant word recognition, not slow phonetic processing or self-correction; this is often difficult for students with weak symbol imagery, or the ability to visualize letters in words. Sight word practice must be daily and repetitive while explicitly stimulating symbol imagery: “What letters did you see in the word, ‘where’?” For a beginning reader, it is helpful to begin sight words with primarily phonetically consistent words to reduce his or her frustration.
How can we teach children to visualize more successfully? Why is that important in helping children learn to understand what they read?
Comprehension for both written and oral language is tied to concept imagery, or the ability to picture an imaged gestalt. A weakness in concept imagery can manifest as difficulty not only with reading comprehension but also with following directions, grasping humor, critical thinking, interpreting social situations and memory. You can stimulate a student’s concept imagery by asking them what they pictured while they were reading in addition to integrating imagery into their daily lives. For example, you can say things like: “Use your words to help me picture what you did at school today” or “What do you picture might happen next in the story?”
How does instruction that focuses on visualizing and verbalizing help children who are struggling with reading?
It’s important to diagnose where a child’s struggles stem from. If she/he is unable to read fluently, this may impact his ability to comprehend. If decoding and sight words are not a concern, she/he may suffer from weak concept imagery, the ability to create an imaged gestalt — the “movie in your mind” — when reading. The Visualizing and Verbalizing® for Reading Comprehension and Thinking program explicitly develops concept imagery. Classroom instruction that teaches children to visualize while reading and also verbalize their images helps students strengthen their concept imagery.
About the author
Nanci Bell, M.A., is director and CEO of Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes . Bell has a background in the field of reading, with a Masters in Education from California Polytechnic. She also has extensive experience in the clinical treatment of language and literacy disorders.
Watch our webcast, Make Reading Count, featuring Bell, Sharon Walpole, and Isabel Beck discussing the components for developing good reading comprehension skills, identifying potential stumbling blocks, and offering strategies teachers can use in the classroom.
See a selected list of Nanci Bell’s books .