Summer Blog Party Week 1: Phonics and Phonemic Awareness

Phonics, Phonemic Awareness, Phonological Awareness, Digraphs and Dipthongs...similar sounding terms, but yet they are so different, right?  Today, I hope to clarify them and share a few tips on how to best teach them.  I am posting in two places today, here and over at Adventures in Literacy Land, as part of the Summer Blog Party Literacy Linky sponsored by The Reading Crew. This post will feature phonics ideas while Lit Land will be all about phonemic awareness. If you're interested in linking up with us too, simply grab the image above, write up your blog post, and add the URL to the list below.

With teaching phonics rules, it's important to find what your students' are using, but confusing first.  Start by giving a spelling inventory such as the Developmental Spelling Analysis (DSA) from Word Journeys or the Elementary Spelling Inventory from Words Their Way.  By teaching your students spelling patterns at their instructional  level, you will find they retain the knowledge and apply it to their writing more efficiently. Plus, you'll avoid frustration and boredom. To learn more, you may wish to view this presentation from youtube.

The primary task used in Word Study is sorting, and that's the best thing about Word Study. It is active and hands-on.  Children love the sorting process because they are fully engaged and see it as a puzzle to solve. One very important reminder though is that students must be able to read the words they sort. If they are not able to read them, it is advised that the teacher remove the word from the list. A thorough explanation of the sort and rules is critical for the first day. Then, as students sort, encourage them to read the words orally before placing them.  This improves automaticity in reading in the primary grades. With upper elementary, the focus shifts to meaning, so include usage with your routine. To keep sorting fun, you can pair students, do timed sorts, writing sorts, and sorting races.

As you work with your students on Word Study, be sure to emphasize the differences in how sounds are formed with the mouth,especially with vowels which are formed in different parts of the throat and connect the sounds to key words which demonstrate the spelling patterns used. Below are phoneme cards that I use for both modeling and reference.  They're available in my store in multiple color schemes if you're interested.

Use a variety of word building activities.  Word hunts with constructed texts help students recognize patterns in other settings. Students also love hands on games such as Parking Lot. Not long ago, I blogged about simple activities you can make for word building.  You can revisit that post [here].  The picture below is linked to the long vowel set, but there several others including a freebie of Parking Lot of Overused Words.
The days of weekly spelling tests may be fading, and that is okay. With Word Study, you should do periodic screenings to check that you're on track with sorts, and a No Peek Writing Sort may be the best way to assess understanding versus the spelling test anyway.  With the No Peek Sort, you say the word and students write the word as they believe it is spelled and in the correct category. This honestly steps up the rigor of the weekly test because the students need to know not only how to spell the word, but also which pattern it fits.  

'WORD BUILDING' - Beach Ball Bash - A Fun Way to Build Words
There are quite a few word study activities available on Teachers Pay Teachers.  This is a word building game from Adrian Bruce. It demonstrates how to blend onset and rime.  This along with syllabication are two skills readers need as they tackle more complex words. Adrian Bruce has a great selection of word building games.

When working with struggling students, one technique that is highly recommended is tapping out the phonemes. With kinders, we teach them to tap their shoulder, elbow and wrist for beginning, middle, and ending sounds and slide down the arm for blending.  I quickly move from the arm to touchpoints under the word and eventually to syllables.  Here are a few actitivities at various levels.
Elkonin Boxes'SYLLABLE GAME' - What is a Syllable? -  4 in a Row SyllabFREE Interactive Phonics Segmenting Flashcards (CVC) "Myst
Need other ideas to mix things up a bit? Pinterest is such a great resource (and I can spend hours perusing pins. How about you?) Over time, I have pinned quite a bit to my Word Study board, so I thought I'd share a preview of it. You will find a mix of pin types and levels.

To organize my Word Study lessons, I color code my Word Study notebooks and put an envelop in the front to hold our weekly sorts.  Below are a few sample pictures I found on Pinterest since I am home for the summer, but they will give a few ideas. Some choose binders. Some use composition notebooks or spiral notebooks, and some use folde. It really is personal choice. These photos come from Beth Newingham (folder style), Conversations in Literacy (binder style), and (composition style).  I used spiral notebooks and put duct tape over the wire which worked quite well.

Last, but not least, remember that Word Study is NOT done for a weekly spelling grade. It is not about memorizing words for the week (that are forgotten the next). Rather, it is intended to build decoding strategies for reading and to improve writing fluency. Word Study is an important literacy component and needs to be included throughout the curriculum since the focus changes from sounds to patterns, and then to meaning.

I hope you found this post helpful. My friend, Cathy over at W.I.S.E Owl wrote up a great post not long ago about assessment.  If you'd like to learn more, click [here]. I have an assessment set in my store with multiple word lists and the forms I have used.  You can check that out [here].

Before you leave my blog, I want to share great news. We have two winners from this weekend's blog hop giveaway.  These gals get to do some TPT shopping on us.  Have fun finding great back to school items or items for your little one to use this summer.

Have a wonderful week, and come back next week to check out our next Summer Blog Party topic, Firing Up Readers with Great Books, and until then, kick back, relax, stay cool, and come back soon!
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  1. This is a very informative post about Word Study. I was wondering if you differentiate your lists based upon the preassessment. If so, how do you organize the student materials.

    1. Oh yes. I typically have 3-4 groups going. I distribute the materials when the sort is introduced and students keep their materials in a Word Study notebook. I showed a few options, but I prefer composition notebooks for my kids and place a pocket in the front.

  2. My school really focuses on phonics in 1-3, and it has made a big difference when I get the students in 4th. My whole spelling program is now built around spelling patterns and rules. Great post!

    1. I love the WTW sorts to help teachers see/follow the sequence. The key is finding the optimal starting point for your groups by looking at their initial assessment. I like screening my kids at least 3 times per year to know how we're progressing and if I need to regroup kids as they learn at differing rates. To get a better feel for scheduling multiple groups, Michelle from Big Time Literacy's post includes a weekly schedule. I failed to include that.

  3. Great post, Carla, so comprehensive! You talked about so many of the things I have done too - and so important we teach our kiddos how to listen to where the sounds come from in their mouths as a way to distinguish them!

    1. Thanks Michelle! I love using Word Study and see the benefits in increased reading fluency and improved writing. As the kids gain word knowledge, I enjoy seeing those words become part of their written work later too.

  4. Carla, this is such a comprehensive post filled with great ideas! I definitely will be using some of your ideas this upcoming school year.
    That Literacy Blog

    1. Great! Let me know if you have questions. It is a bit overwhelming at first. Start with two groups if needed and add on routines at a pace that's manageable to you. Oh one other important point I left out is that you will have to teach your parents too. They are not used to looking at spelling instruction this way since most learned through memorization.

  5. Great post, Carla! I love the parking lot activity. Too cute :)
    The Techie Teacher

    1. I actually used it today with the little guy I'm tutoring. Worked well. He loved the car shaped erasers too...a Dollar Tree find. :-)

  6. Great post Carla! I've never used Words Their Way, but I've always wanted to. Thanks for posting the video and for writing such a detailed post! :)
    Sarah's First Grade Snippets


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