PA? What Does that Mean for ABE?

Do we ever discuss PA enough? Several threads in the past have discussed the need to develop phonemic awareness (PA!) before helping beginning readers decode written items. Chapter 5 of Alphabetics: Phonemic Awareness and Word Analysis, found in our LINCS Collection, researches the issue in depth. Following are excepts taken from that chapter.

Based upon assessment results, what are ABE learners' strengths and needs in alphabetics? Research assessing adult's phonemic awareness (PA) and word analysis (WA) skills has focused on adult non-readers, adult beginning readers, and adults with a reading disability.


  • Principle 1: Adult non-readers have virtually no phonemic awareness ability and are unable to consistently perform, on their own, almost all phonemic awareness tasks. 
  • Principle 2: Adult beginning readers, like all beginning readers including children, perform poorly on phonemic awareness tasks that require phoneme manipulation. The ability to perform more complex operations with phonemes generally increases (in adults without a reading disability) along with reading ability, until word analysis is established. Adult beginning readers, like other beginning readers, have difficulty applying letter-sound knowledge in order to figure out new or unfamiliar words while reading, although they are generally better at recognizing familiar sight words than children who are learning to read.
    • Trend 1: On phonemic awareness tasks, adult beginning readers are not as good as reading-matched children (children progressing normally in their reading who are reading at the same level as the adults). Adult beginning readers' PA abilities may be more like those of children who are poor readers.
    • Trend 2: The basic PA abilities of adults who learn to read at an older age are not different from adults who learn to read at a younger age. 
    • Trend 3: While readers will typically develop phonemic awareness as they learn to read, adults with a learning disability in reading, such as dyslexia, may not; dyslexia tends to persist into adulthood and may be related to a functional disruption in the brain.
  • Principle 3: Adult beginning readers, like all beginning readers including children, perform poorly on phonemic awareness tasks that require phoneme manipulation. The ability to perform more complex operations with phonemes generally increases (in adults without a reading disability) along with reading ability, until word analysis is established. 
  • Principle 4: Adult beginning readers, like other beginning readers, have difficulty applying letter-sound knowledge in order to figure out new or unfamiliar words while reading, although they are generally better at recognizing familiar sight words than children who are learning to read. 

Knowing, as we do that phonemic awareness must precede phonics instruction, and having plenty of evidence that our adult beginning readers lack phonemic awareness, what can we do to effectively develop PA among our adults without using childish methods? Language Experience comes to mind for me. What do you use of suggest?

(For those who want to review, here's a 2:40m YouTube clip with a very brief definition of phonemic awareness):



Leecy, this is very interesting and I am glad you brought the topic up. I would like to make some brief comments. First, the definition of Phonemic awareness is: PA “is a subset of phonological awareness in which listeners are able to hear, identify and manipulate phonemes, the smallest units of sound that can differentiate meaning.” Wikipedia

Second, the article states: “…..phonemic awareness must precede phonics instruction…”

My immediate response to the second quote is that in teaching adults who know little or no English, it is productive to teach phonics and  phonetic awareness at the same time.  In my case, I show how certain sounds are made, especially if the sounds are ‘foreign’ to the students, i.e. either do not exist or are different in nature. I also repeat this procedure often, using tongue twisters, etc.

It would help if there were concrete examples included in the article. The quote above (phonemic awareness must precede..etc.) could use a concrete example of a lesson on PA.

The article also states: Adult non-readers have virtually no phonemic awareness ability (Principle 1).

I am not sure what this means. My immediate reaction is that anyone who can speak and hear a language automatically has acquired PA.

In any case, I teach my own version of phonics to adults from the first class and “weave” it into subsequent classes until students can pronounce English fairly well and do not feel “stressed out”.  Actually as my classes progress, questions about pronunciation become just as frequent as grammar.

No matter what, I hope that teachers of adult ESL will consider including teaching or showing pronunciation more in their classes after this discussion. It helps a lot!!!


Paul, thanks for the insights. Keep in mind that phonological awareness is a broad term that describes the skill of recognizing different sounds in English. Phonemic awareness, on the other hand, is much more specific. The clip that I included at the end of my post goes over those definitions. (Since you opened the thread to non-English speakers, I'm cross posting it to the ELA CoP as I post this).

According to the International Reading Association and other research, phonemic awareness (distinguishing onsets and rimes, for example) must precede phonics among native English speakers since phonics, an artificial aspect of language, makes no sense without phonemic awareness. The types of phonics instruction advocated for non-English speakers should be different from those used for native speakers. So her's a challenge for all! Of the different types of widely advocated phonics instruction, which most lend themselves to non-English speakers and why? The NRP (National Reading Panel (p. 2-81) describes several types of systematic phonics programs:

  1. Synthetic phonics programs teach people to convert letters into sounds or phonemes and then blend the sounds to form recognizable words.
  2. Analytic phonics avoids having people pronounce sounds in isolation to figure out words. Rather they are taught to analyze letter-sound relations once the word is identified.
  3. Phonics-through-spelling programs teach people to transform sounds into letters to write words.
  4. Phonics in context approaches teach people to use sound-letter correspondences along with context cues to identify unfamiliar words they encounter in text.
  5. Analogy phonics programs teach people to use parts of written words they already know to identify new words.
  6. Mixed programs: The distinctions between systematic phonics approaches are not absolute, however, and some phonics programs combine two or more of these types of instruction.


Some random thoughts:

We have to be a little careful about didacts from the International Reading Association --  back in the days of the whole language vs. phonics battles, they leaned hard towards the former. Phonics isn't nearly as "artificial" as some of 'em preach. 

Synthetic phonics doesn't have to be the implied isolation.  describes a "letterbox lesson," where students learn to "map" words.   They're already words.   We're just synthesizing them from the sounds the phonemes stand for.   

I think there are some good computer programs out to help with this (Lexia Learning is one). 

I also think it's important to tap an older learners' mature brain and background knowledge in the learning process.   Hey, I learned phonemic awareness before I could think abstractly -- nonsense babbling, those weird kids' songs... (I like to eat my apples and bananas... remember that?)   I'm wired for it, though :)  Teaching high school kiddos w/ dyslexia... we could do a lot more with actually explaining patterns (like "tion" being "shun")... but that also meant they might be disguising issues b/c they were smart enough to come up with right answers through other paths.   (This also works at the young end when a smart kiddo doesn't sound out anything but figures stuff out from other clues... then hits the wall in fourth grade when they take the pictures away and they're suppsed to read to learn, not learn to read...) 

Learning the six syllable types would be how I would approach things w/ older folks -- esp. since it can be highly individualized.   I'd be doing ... most of those six things.   Lots of "mapping, "for the synthetic -- but also looking at words to sound them out... and if you coudln't sound 'em out, yes, let's go back and figure it out once we know what it is.   

Regular use of language and content reading do those other 3.    


I've respelled US English (64k words) in truespel listening to actual pronunciation in talking dictionaries (kike  I find that there are only 40 sounds in the US English phonabet (set of sounds - my  word) plus a glottal stop  These sounds can also reflect any US accent  Truespel is superior to IPA notation in that it's uses only letters so it's typeable, emailable, and spreadsheetable.  

My take is that a phonetic notation uses "graphemes" to spell phonemes.  These phonemes are spelled in various ways in tradspel (traditional spelling).  I call these tradnemes.  See the popularity of phonemes in US English and popularity of tradnemes (possibly for the first time) here   Because the student will know how to spell the 40 graphemes of US English, the teacher can show them their accent by spelling it out.  This works remedially.  Other languages have different phonabets but most sounds are each.

Thanks for all of the goodies (food for thought), Susan. Your link packs good information if you sift through the many words. :) 

You said, "I also think it's important to tap an older learners' mature brain and background knowledge in the learning process." Yes! Always! Leecy

I think it's very practical to do both, too.   

I remember Reid Lyon at a conference talking about dyslexia and phonemic awareness, saying "If you ask 10 kids:   what's cat without the /k/ ? "   Nine will say "at."  the tenth will look confused and ask, "dog?"  because ... they haven't learned to attend to the sounds. 

Hi Paul (and everyone),

I'd like to address Principle 1 Adult non-readers have virtually no phonemic awareness ability.  PA is more than being able to speak and hear a language. It is the ability to recognize that language is made up of words and that words are made up of individual sounds or phonemes and to manipulate those phonemes. For example, if I asked an adult native english speaker who is a good reader to tell me the sounds in the word "man" that person, if they had PA, would say /m/ /a/ /n/. But if I asked an adult non reader or very low level reader to do the same task, that adult might spell the word "man" or say something like /ma/ /n/.  Phoneme substitution, another important PA skill, would be difficult for a non reader, too - If I have the word "man" and I take away the /m/ and replace it with a /p/ what word would I have? A non reader would have difficulty coming up with the word "pan".  PA needs to be taught explicitly to folks. This is true for native english speakers anyway.


Leecy and group members, the posts are very interesting BUT there needs to be some examples of how to apply these "theories" to practice. That is, what would a teacher do specifically? Are the students children or adults? Is the setting a one on one sesssion or in a class of X number of people? In the field of adult English literacy for English speaking adults, many of the instructors are volunteers with no experience. And in this group many of us may not have studied Phonics, etc., so concrete examples and explanations are necessary. 

Paul, examples always help and there are many video clips showing exactly that. If no one else shares those here, I'll put some together for you and others that are interested. In fact, some of us moderators are contemplating an event that will discuss some of those practices, led by pros that developed video samples.(I assume that the "theories" you mention relate to best practices on teaching English literacy among adults.) Stay tuned. :) Leecy

Leecy, I believe that when someone writes an article or post, he or she should always include concrete examples and descriptions of what is being discussed. It should not be up to the reader to do research on certain terms used by a writer, in my opinion. I have it on good authority from various sources that an author should explain things concretely so that people understand what is being discussed. Including a definition of terms and concrete examples of the subject being reviewed is a very good practice and there is no reason we cannot do that here. Also, I asked for concrete examples of how some practice or another is applied, and to whom, in what context. 

Well, that's my two cents.

Thanks for sharing your views, Paul. Keep in mind that we are a community of professionals sharing ideas and resources. Members are not charged with being subject-matter experts. Instead, we are charged with proposing ideas, asking questions, suggesting practices, and encouraging reflection. If you find terms or practices that you want better explained, just ask. We'll see how we can help members understand terms once they ask, as you have. I'll see what I can put together. :) Leecy

Leecy, I actually do not expect people to always be experts. What I am advocating is that, when anyone uses a term or discusses a concept, he or she simply take a minute to make sure that terms are defined and that examples are used to describe the idea.That to me is commonly accepted practice. In college I would be marked down a grade for not defining my terms and explaining concretely what I was talking about!!!  The burden should not be put upon the reader. Einstein said: If you cannot explain a concept to a six year old, you do not understand it yourself. As a matter of fact I remember once a Physics major explained the Theory of Relativity to me very well, taking Einstein's advice to heart, so that I could understand least for a while! 

I do not think my request is unreasonable, on the contrary, I think that it is something that would be easily done and would improve the posts a great deal. 

Having said all that, please review my post on my own method of teaching pronunciation through phonics. 


Leecy et al - I have been teaching ESL for about 25 years and my course is the basis of a free website, PUMAROSA.COM.

In my program for beginning adults, I focus on pronunciation from the start, and I call my method “Bilingual and phonetic”.

The focus first is on "problem sounds" such as:

1. G AND J –George and Jim jump in the garage

2. V – Virginia is very intelligent

3. H – Harry has a red hat

4. SHORT I- Jim swims in the river

5. SHORT U-Uncle Harry’s umbrella is under the bus

6. Words beginning with s- Sam studies science in school

7. Th...The three trees...

Most of these sounds can be found in the lessons on the alphabet,  the numbers, greetings and in Cognates

So learning to spell, counting, adding, subtracting, telling time, etc., are the first lessons I teach.

I demonstrate how to make the sounds as comically as I can, because after all, English is a very funny language! Actually, English may be the most difficult language to pronounce in the world!!

I exaggerate the sound and show how to make it physically. The students repeat after me, after first hesitatingly and then later with much morre energy.

And then I "weave" pronunciation lessons or drills into nearly all my classes for at least three months.

At a certain point I teach '"confusing words" (tree, three) in a quiz show kind of approach.

I have found that students learn to pronounce English fairly well after a month in this way.

And I have observed that when a student learns to be comfortable with English pronunciation, then that student also begins to learn at a more rapid rate.

I think that a lack of pronunciation hinders learning because the student feels ... foolish or stupid, and I try to help the student acquire confidence in speaking.

I also have found that a student can understand spoken English better when his or her pronunciation is improved. For example, a difficulty in pronouncing "three" versus "tree' leads to a misunderstanding of either of these words when spoken by another person.

Therefore learning and practicing correct pronunciation can help a great deal when students are taking tests involving “Listening Comprehension”.

Students also can read better after they have learned basic pronunciation.

My program is bilingual, but some of the drills can be used in an English only class. The more advanced pronunciation lessons are also used to teach spelling (see Principiante, lesson 15).

Below are some lessons that should be useful to help people pronounce well.

PUMAROSA.COM is very good in this area especially lesson 15

Lessons on Pronunciation

I incorporate pronunciation into all of my lessons up until the student is comfortable speaking English and can be understood.

At first I focus on how to make the sound. For example when I started to learn Spanish I could not roll my double R.  So I practiced every day until gradually I could do it better and better.

Unfortunately English has about ten sounds that are difficult to make.

Such as the soft G the J, the V, sometimes the W, short i, short u, TH words, GH words, etc.

So I focus on these sounds.

For example - can your students spell their names out loud? Can they spell Jorge, Juana, Victoria, Vanessa?

Can they count to twenty?

After the students have had a chance to practice these basic sounds they need to read out loud in the class.

All my students get my textbooks and workbooks. These include the text of PUMA plus a lot of lessons.

After a student reads or speaks out loud, I give small “reminders” like corrections but in an easy way.

“Don’t forget to stick out the tongue when you pronounce TH.” No olvidas: la lengua asi (I stick out my tongue) cuando pronuncias palabras con TH.

It is very funny.

After a while I give a “Test” on the comparisons of sounds above.

Such as

    Short I            versus     ee sound

Live (live) vivir                    Leave (liv) salir

Sit (siet) sentarse               Seat (asiento)


And I hide my mouth and say

Que digo, vivir o salir

Then I say …. Live

Then I ask everyone what they think I said.

After a while everybody gets 100% correct.

Well, I hope this is helpful.

Let me know how it works. More lessons can be found in my site

Paul Rogers  



We hear you, Paul. I never thought your question was unreasonable. On the contrary, questions are invited. We are a learning community. Each of us has a strength, just like students in our classes. We share our strengths and learn together. Thanks again, Leecy

Greetings, Colleagues! For those who might be unfamiliar with the reading terminology and recommended practices discussed in this thread, I am posting a few simple definitions. I am also reposting the YouTube clip with a very brief definition of phonemic awareness.

As for selecting the different types of phonics instruction that I posted earlier, I’m adding very short examples of how they approach literacy development once students have developed phonemic awareness.

1.         Synthetic phonics programs teach people to convert letters into sounds or phonemes and then blend the sounds to form recognizable words. Letter B = /b/,  Letter A = /a/ (Short vowel) , Letter T = /t/  Blend them together: b...a...t  -> bat (Synthetic phonics is often used more with ELLs if they haven't developed the vocabulary in English, as required with analytic phonics instruction. 

2.         Analytic phonics avoids having people pronounce sounds in isolation to figure out words. Rather, they are taught to analyze letter-sound relations once the word is identified. Word: cat  -> /c/ /a/ /t/

3.         Phonics-through-spelling programs teach people to transform sounds into letters to write words.  Listen: Cat  /c/  (write c), /a/ (Write a)  /t/ (write t) = cat

4.         Phonics in context approaches teach people to use sound-letter correspondences along with context cues to identify unfamiliar words they encounter in text. Ann loves fresh vegetables.  /v/ /e/ /g/  Oh yes, vegetables. The teacher later works with spelling the new words and applying them in different ways.

5.         Analogy phonics programs teach people to use parts of written words they already know to identify new words.  Lo-tion -> Mo- tion (I bet that there are teachers that use Rap to add fun to some sessions... ;)

6.         Mixed programs: The distinctions between systematic phonics approaches are not absolute, however, and some phonics programs combine two or more of these types of instruction.

Onset and Rime - Onset and Rime describe phonological units of a spoken syllable. A syllable can normally be divided into two parts: the "onset," which makes up the initial consonant or consonant blend, and the "rime" which represents the vowel and any final consonants. So in the word "trip", /tr/ is the onset and /ip/ is the rime. Words which share the same rime will also rhyme, but the spelling will be constant and not vary as it does with rhyme. In order to implement phonics instruction, students must be able to recognize onsets and rimes or sounds that make up parts of words.  After that, for example, an instructor can have flash cards with words, onsets, and rimes. The student reads two cards with the instructor: one with /b/ and the other with /at/. Next, the instructor might say, let’s take away the /b/ and replace it with the card /c/. What word do we have now? Next, the student might look through all of the cards and select those that make new words with the same rime.

I hope that helps. YouTube has a number of video examples showing how to help adults develop phonemic awareness and then phonics skills in different ways. Just enter the keyword, and clips are listed.

Question: Has anyone here taught English literacy to students from countries that don't use the Roman alphabet? If so, please share your practice with us.

You are invited and encouraged to add your thoughts to these terms and practices. Thanks! Leecy

Thanks for this, Leecy. An important issue is that up to 50% of all ABE programs are sponsored by the Non-Formal sector of adult education. And most of those teachers and tutors are not as well versed in terminology, etc., as the educators on the LINCS list usually are.

At the same time, LINCS is funded by the US Dep’t of Education, that is by taxpayers.

So in order to be more inclusive and actively recruit educators from the Non-Formal programs, a few “extra” steps need to be taken to ensure that anyone interested in a topic can join in and at least gain some insights, and then, of course, hopefully participate and share their own knowledge and experience.

It is also important to remember that - by law - formal adult education programs in community colleges can only serve the needs of about 10% of the eligible population. Only the Non-Formal, Community based programs are capable of reaching the other 90%. If LINCS could effectively reach out to these educators, adult education would be greatly improved.

A summary of some points:

  1. When you use an acronym the first time, write it out in parenthesis.

  2. Try to give a short definition of a term which may not be familiar to everybody.

  3. Try to keep paragraphs short, using only ideas that pertain to the theme of the paragraph.  In other words, you  probably can break some paragraphs into two for easier reading/comprehension.

  4. Double check to be sure that the reader will know what you are talking about.

  5. …..??


Paul Rogers


Very good advice, Paul. Thanks for the good reminders! :) In fact, a COP member suggested that ALL comments, not just sentences, be kept short, a la Tweet style. I don't think we need to get that brief, but, as she said, when comments are too long, we don't have time to read them carefully so we just don't contribute. Something to think about... Leecy

What an interesting thread! Teaching phonics and phonemic awareness in adult classes is something that I've always felt strongly about. Usually we focus on these skills with lower level classes, but I've encountered highly literate non-native English speakers who also are hungry for this type of instruction if they were never explicitly taught phonics in English. My program works with a lot of volunteers who are interested in incorporating phonemic awareness and phonics into their adult ESL classes, so we've put together some materials to support them.  Our main principle for teaching phonics and phonemic awareness is that they shouldn't be taught in isolation, but should be integrated with the regular content of the lessons. There isn't a lot of intrinsic motivation generated by reading nonsense words! 

One of the resources is the Phonics and Phonemic Awareness Kit, which includes descriptions of 12 different activities that support the development of these skills. The activities can be used with any list of vocabulary words. The kit can be found here: 

Also, the ESL for Adult Learners playlist at the MN ABE Professional Development youtube channel includes a series of videos on multisensory alphabetics which is highly relevant. There are also playlists for pronunciation videos and common classroom activities that we direct a lot of volunteers and teachers to.

Finally, Patsy Egan (formerly Vinogradov) has done extensive writing and research on this topic. She has an excellent article outlining the principles of teaching adult low-literacy learners phonics and phonemic awareness titled “MAESTRA! THE LETTERS SPEAK.” ADULT ESL STUDENTS LEARNING TO READ FOR THE FIRST TIME that can be found at She also has a great handout that accompanies the article with a series of activities for the classroom that can be found at

Hope people find these resources to be helpful!

Thanks for sharing the link to these wonderful resources, Andrea. I'm very focused on teaching phonemic awareness and phonics in my beginning literacy ESL class right now, so your timing is great. It is no surprise that learners needs are so very different, so I'm grateful to have more ideas to try out.

Folks, check out Andrea's other kits on teaching reading, pronunciation, and citizenship. These materials are designed for volunteer teachers but can certainly be used by classroom teachers as well.  I know I will be sharing these resources with the new teachers I'm working with in my local program this year.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition & Teaching and Learning CoPs

Leecy and all, this is great information! Phonics is very helpful for adults in ESL classes, and here is a good example. Maria L. is a single mother from Mexico and works washing dishes in a hotel. She has been studying with me for three months in my library classes. Maria only went to school for a few years, up to the third grade, and her reading skills in Spanish are limited, of course. My class is a "mixed-level" class and is divided into two parts: the first hour is spent on the computer with pumarosa or other sites, and the second hour consists of lessons usually generated from students' questions. Maria often cannot follow during the second session.

This week attendance was a little sparse due to the fires, but Maria came, as she always does. Maria has had a lot of trouble with English pronunciation, so I thought it would be a good time to give her more attention. I asked her to read one of the texts out loud. Well!! Lo and behold!!! She read it very well. I was very surprised. She told me that she had been practicing the phonics exercises that are part of the lessons. They made her jaw hurt, she complained! So now she is ready to advance at a good rate, and I think she will do very well.


Paul, thanks for the great story. When you had Maria read the passage, did she read in English or Spanish?

I have always strongly advocated that my beginning Spanish-speaking ESL students non-readers first learn to read in Spanish since it is such an easy language to read, with predictable sounds throughout. And once a reader, always a reader in any language since the connections between symbols and sounds has already taken place! Of course, my students have always vehemently resisted that approach since they wanted to learn both to speak and read all in English! They considered it a waste of time to go back to Spanish. Oh, well...:)

Just as a note, though I spoke both English and Portuguese fluently growing up, I learned to read first in Portuguese, which also has more phonetic predictability although less than Spanish. I don't remember learning to read in English. I was just given books and started to figure things out. Fairy tales and comic books in English were my favorite!


Andrea, thanks for the resources. I echo Susan M's comments. I'm glad you mentioned "explicit" phonics instruction, which is part of IRA's and other researched recommendations. And I also appreciate your statement that phonics and phonemic awareness "shouldn't be taught in isolation, but should be integrated with the regular content of the lessons." Indeed! Of course, once words and sounds are taken from a context, the use of nonsense combinations can provide good practice in identifying sound clusters. For example, there are not a lot of short words that end in "otion". So teachers might go with "lotion-motion-notion-totion-hotion-rotion," having students change combinations with different beginning sounds just for funny practice. It is said that when we are laughing, we are learning.

One recommendation I totally support is to keep phonics instruction brief in a lesson! Most agree that phonics itself represents an artificial aspect of language, and, therefore, does not engage students as much as other meaningful reading approaches. (Each language arbitrarily sets its own interpretation of sounds into subsequent meaning. /tr/ or /g/ in themselves have no meaning.) Do others here agree? I think that S Jones touched on that earlier in this discussion. What do you think, Susan J and others here? Leecy

Hello Andrea and colleagues, As I noted in my previous message, I'm focused on teaching phonemic awareness and phonics in my beginning literacy ESL class. Yesterday, I downloaded Andrea's "Phonics and Phonemic Awareness Kit," which is chock full of practical teaching ideas. I was struck by the following information from the introductory materials in the kit about phonemic awareness:

"Phonemic awareness is a foundational ability necessary for readers to develop decoding skills. When readers are decoding, or “sounding out” a word, they must be able to 1) know and be able to produce the sounds that the letters represent, 2) blend those sounds in sequence, and 3) recognize the word. Most phonics instruction only focuses on the first step, which is the basis of phonics instruction. But for many new readers, the process breaks down at steps 2 and 3, due to a lack of phonemic awareness" (page 3).   After reading this, I set out today to assess phonemic awareness for the learners in my class. I used the activity in the kit in which learners need to listen and determine if they hear a specific sound at the beginning, middle or end of a word. I chose words from the story we read today that shared a particular sound, for example, the /t/ sound: to, not, about, it, staff, tells, hot, that, start. This is a listening activity, so, for example, I said the word tells, and students had to indicate if the /t/ sound was at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of the word.   While most of the students in my class were able to complete this task easily and successfully, it became abundantly clear to me right away that some of the learners I've been working with-- although they have pretty good speaking and listening skills-- were NOT able to complete the task. A light bulb went on for me!  Now I know that I need to build in phonemic awareness activities to support those who struggled with this task. Thanks to Andrea, I now have ready-made activities to do just that.   Don't you just LOVE LINCS?! It is through this community that we can pose questions and puzzles and share solutions and resources to improve our practice!   Comments are welcome!   Cheers, Susan Finn Miller Moderator, English Language Acquisition

Hello colleagues, Thanks, Andrea, for the affirmation. My undergraduate training was in teaching English at the secondary level-- not elementary education, so my education did not focus on how to teach reading. Thus, I've been on a personal learning journey for many years to learn how to do so. Having resources is essential.

Here are some of the ways I'm using these resources with the learners in my class.

 Andrea's kit outlines the following phonemic awareness activities or tasks:

  1. Phoneme isolation: “Tell me the first sound in father.” (/f/)
  2. Phoneme identity: “Tell me the sound that is the same in girl, good, and go.” (/g/)
  3. Phoneme categorization: “Which word does not belong? Banana, bread, apple (apple)
  4. Phoneme blending: “What word is /s/ /k/ /u/ /l/?” (school)
  5. Phoneme segmentation: “How many sounds are in cat? (three: /c/ /a/ /t/)
  6. Phoneme deletion: “What is hit without the /h/?’ (it)”

Since I am interested in addressing each of these areas, I needed to first analyze the text we are using, "A Sick Day," which is a story from Reading Skills for Today's Adults. I made a list of words from the story that fit each of the categories above. It is essential that we use words for phonemic awareness and phonics tasks that students are already familiar with. So, we do the quick phonemic awareness activities above after we have read the story a few times and engaged in several activities related to the story.

Here are the words we are working with for #2 Phoneme identification. In addition to the words from the story, I also include additional occupations vocabulary the students have learned.

“Tell me the sound that is the same in: (say, sick, school);  (secretary, server, staff); (work, why, where); (mechanic, must, home); (tap, tell, truck); (that, the, there)

Here's part of my thinking process as I planned. When choosing words, I need to pay attention to all the sounds in the words since it would be confusing to students if the words shared more than one sound. After selecting the words above, I recognized that using the words mechanic and must together could be confusing. These words both begin with the /m/ consonant sound, and the vowel in the first syllable of the word mechanic--at least in in my dialect-- is a schwa. I also use the schwa in the word must. I realize that I need to change this set, so how about (must, map, home) instead? Notice that in this set, the /m/ sound occurs at the beginning of the words must and map, but at the end of the word home. Including this example enables me to assess whether the learners are able to hear the sound when it appears at the end of a word.

Comments and questions are welcome!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition

Thanks for your detailed and very helpful response to Andrea, Susan. Your approach is clearly systematic and explicit, yes, but above all, it is in context! Wonderful!

I'll add one word of caution to those here who might just be starting to work with phonemic awareness and phonics. There is a strong tendency among even very experienced reading instructors to pronounce the sounds of many consonants as two sounds. Example, they might pronounce /b/ and /p/ (unvoiced) as two sounds /b/-/u/ and /p/-/u/ (voiced). The student then ends up confused, of course, pronouncing the word "bug," for example as /b/ /u/ -/u/- /g/ /u/, or as five sounds instead of three! :) Leecy


Hello colleagues, The learners I'm working with are able to identify the beginning sound much easier than the final sound in words. I will offer them more practice with listening for the final sound. I will also offer practice with identifying the middle sound, which I expect will be more challenging.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition


Susan, your comment makes me wonder if the difficulty with hearing the last sound has to do with the fact that languages like Spanish don't use a lot of consonant endings like we do in English. Hmmm.... Hadn't thought of that before, but I do know that it takes practice for Spanish speakers, for example, to pronounce some consonant endings forcefully, as we do. No prob with /n/ or /l/ which are common, but words like mint, back, bend, and others require practice. I used to exaggerate those and tell students to stand back from some of them so as not to be "sprayed..." :) Leecy

Leecy, I love the idea of "final consonant sprays"! I wonder if you Spanish-speaking learners are having issues with final consonant clusters since they aren't very common in Spanish. I've taught a lot of SE Asian learners, and I know that learners with those language backgrounds tend to need explicit practice hearing and noticing final consonants because most SE Asian languages consist primarily of open syllables which end in vowels. Isn't it strange that we need training to hear new sounds and patterns? It seems like it should just happen! I started working on final consonant production with an aim to improve pronunciation, but it really helped with phonemic awareness and spelling as well. 

Andrea, I appreciate your reiterating the need for "explicit practice." Strange as it seems, it is needed!

Taking this thread a little further, my students and I used to love Carolyn Graham’s Jazz Chants.  They provide such fun ways to enhance pronunciation and phonological development! I enjoyed watching Carolyn describing how she got started is wonderful in a Video Clip. After awhile, my students and I started creating our own. As they say, when we are laughing, we are learning.

Poetry can also reinforce phonemic awareness and even spelling because of rhyming patterns. I didn’t use poetry much with my native students in writing classes, where spelling was often an issue. I wonder why not. In fact, I wonder why we don’t use poetry more for a variety or superb reason. Do you agree? What do you think? What do others here think about using poetry to reinforce spelling as well as phonological and phonics development? Leecy

I'd love to hear how the work with the middle consonants goes, Susan. And please let me know if you have additional ideas of PA activities from your teaching toolbox that could be added to the phonics pull-out kit. I'm always interested in continuing to improve it with recommendations from expert teachers!

I ran across this the other day at a site called You for Youth and wanted to share it with all of you. Thought it might be helpful. It not only lists the PA tasks but also ranks them in order of difficulty. This link is to the pdf document