Phonemic Awareness

Oral Blending

Oral blending is a precursor to decoding or sounding out words. Developing a strong foundation in blending will help students make a faster and smoother transition when reading words.

Blending should begin well before the phoneme stage. Most students can easily blend the two parts of a compound word together. From that point, present words in smaller and smaller units. Provide opportunities for blending multi-syllable words together, then onsets and rimes. 

After multiple experiences successfully blending the initial or final consonant with the rest of the word, it is time to blend two and three sounds together. For your first phoneme blending experiences, put the sounds in the context of a sentence or story.

My puppy likes to /b/ /ar/ /k/.

He likes it when I /p/ /e/ /t/ him.

He likes to chew on a /b/ /o/ /n/.

He likes to chase the /c/ /a/ /t/.

Another support for oral blending is to provide picture clues. Place a set of three-sound picture cards (or objects) in front of your students. Name the three sounds of one of the pictures and have the students find the correct picture (can you find the /c/ /a/ /t/)? Limit the number of pictures for students who struggle with blending. 

After playing games with pictures or objects, the students are ready to try blending sounds without any clues. A blending game my students always enjoy is Build a Snowman. This game can be played with or without picture cards, so it can be used with students working at different levels. For each correct answer, the students  add another piece to the snowman; “building” a snowman made the game a little more fun for the students and kept them engaged throughout this guided lesson! This game can be found in our Snowman Thematic Unit. It can easily be adapted to any theme. Students can build a flag, build a turkey, Build a Leprechaun, on and on. *Many of our thematic units contain lessons on blending and segmenting.

We have a great podcast on the topic of blending and segmenting, be sure to check it out to get more tips and ideas to teach your students to blend.

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All of our products can also be found at TPT.

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Helping Early Learners Conquer Those Pesky Vowels

When young children have mastered the alphabet letter names and know more than half of the letter sounds, hooray! But with that sigh of relief comes the reteaching and reteaching of those pesky vowels!

Vowels are most easily mastered if the reteaching is thorough and strategic. To begin this strategic teaching, review the alphabet letter that represents the vowel and the sound-card that you are using in your classroom or homeschool setting. If you don’t have defined sound-card you can check out ours in the product section below.

There are many great videos that are great and kids love them. Heidi's Songs is one of my favorites! She has been remastering all of her videos so if you think you know them, be sure to look again!

When revisiting the vowels, I recommend spending at least two days on each vowel for review. Because this is a review and all sounds have been previously introduced, be sure to talk about both the long and short sounds of the vowel.

Provide a visual and auditory (sound song) link for A E I O and U. There are many available, my favorite is Have Fun Teaching, my students LOVE it!

I also love the Talking Words Factory, kids really get the "glue" concept that is presented in this video.


Be sure to add further supports. Using hand cues to teach short vowel sounds adds a kinesthetic link. Teach your students these signs as each vowel is reviewed, then continue to use this cues as vowels are continually reviewed (I love how these signs actually match the mouth formation we will discuss below). 

Teach children the linguistic characteristics of these vowels. I found that even though I was scared to take linguistics as an undergrad, and then terrified of advanced linguistics as part of my masters program, I loved these courses! I found the knowledge I gained to be crucial in regards to the effective teaching of reading. Here are the characteristics that one must know to better teach those pesky vowels.

The /a/ sound /æ/

The vowel is a jaw vowel made with the voice on. (Have students feel the sound made by touching their throat).







The /e/ sound /ɛ/

This vowel is a tongue vowel (it rises ever so slightly) made with the voice on. (Have students feel their mouth widen and tongue lift as they feel the sound made in their throat).

*The /a/ and /e/ are often confused by young children. Calling attention to tongue placement helps demonstrate differences.



The /i/ sound /ɪ/

This vowel is a tongue vowel (it rises ever so slightly) made with the voice on. (Have students feel the sound made by touching their throat and feel the tongue placement).






The /o/ sound /ɔ/

This vowel sound is a jaw vowel made with the voice on. (Have students feel the sound made by touching their throat and place hand under chin to feel the jaw drop).







The u sound /ʌ/

This vowel sound is a jaw vowel made with the voice on. (Have students feel the sound made by touching their throat, call attention to the differences between the o and u jaw placements).






Using mouth cards and hand signals as mentioned above help children learn the correct mouth placement as they practice and practice voicing vowel sounds. The differences become clear as students feel the changes that happen within their own mouth. Make sure to pass out mirrors so students will be able to visually see the differences. 

Be patient. It takes a lot of listening and voicing practice to conquer these separate and distinct (pesky) vowel sounds. And remember that with all phonemic awareness practice, English Language Learners will get it, don't give up on them! But it will take added patience and practice as some of these sounds are not even made in their native tongue. Your patience and continued practice will pay off. As with all pre-reading skills, if added emphasis is placed on oral-phonemic practice until mastered, the transference to the written word will be very easy.

As you spend a week or two reviewing vowel sounds, you might want to check out our new vowel practice early learning essential. This packet also contains the sign language hand cards, mouth placement cards, vowel sound cards, and a vowel song poster and pocket chart cards. With the great low price of $4.00, you will be on your way to vowel sound victory.

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All Kindergarten Kiosk Products are also available on Teachers Pay Teachers!

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Here are some of our other great vowel practice products:

Teaching English Language Learners Phonological Awareness Skills: Learning To Rhyme

Learning to rhyme is a very important phonological skill that will lead students to future reading success. You can read about its importance here

Phonological awareness skills are especially import when teaching second language learners. To teach these children skills such as rhyming, it takes strategic teaching and knowledge of the fact that some phonemes are not present in a student’s native language (for example Spanish speakers use half the amount of phonemes as English speakers). Because of this, the vocabulary, context of the word, and pronunciation (including mouth positioning) must be strongly considered to make the rhyming practice meaningful and productive.

The first step in teaching ELL’s to rhyme is to start with traditional "lap time" activities. "Lap time" activities are known as such because they are the activities that a mother would typically engage in when playing with language with a young child on her lap, i.e. nursery rhymes, finger plays, and songs. We have to start with these primary activities with second language learners, because, for them, this is their primary language experience.

Start with activities that are easily memorized. Call attention to rhymes in songs, fingerplays, and rhymes as you sing them with your students. Use full or cross-body actions that will increase brain-power. Don't be afraid to start small, intact starting small is a must! The students do not need to learn how to rhyme in one week or even in one semester. Start with words that rhyme with cat. I love these little rhyming tubs. Children love the little objects and the auditory/visual connection assists ELL learners. To begin, I simply dump out the -at tub of objects in a pile, pick them up one-by-one, and identify them.  We take the time to discuss each object's label and definition. Don’t take anything for granted. Not all children know what a baseball bat is. Always throughly define the item. 

After all objects are named, I then pick them up again one-by-one saying only their name and ask, “Does anyone see anything these words have in common?” If there is no answer, I again pick up each object and exaggerate each word, opening my mouth wide, holding my chin, and pointing to my mouth (giving the children visual cues for clarity). I again ask the question, and usually a child will quickly mention my mouth. I will then say the word cat and ask students repeat the word as they place their hands on their cheeks. All of these objects are rhyming words and so my mouth is the same for each word. At this point I pull out my hand mirrors and ask students to say the name of each object as they watch their mouth. After we have watched our mouth “speak” each rhyming word. I ask the students to say a word that uses complete opposite mouth positioning such as chip. I then have the students hold their cheeks as they say the words in the object pile: cat, rat, bat, sat, mat, followed quickly by chip. “Did you feel your mouth move differently?” Well that word can’t rhyme with cat then, because your mouth must stay the same at the end of each rhyming word. 
I continue this process for the first several sessions with these students, reviewing a learned rhyming family at the end of each lesson, always having students hold their cheeks (or jaw if the words contain jaw-dropping vowels) as we list the rhyming words. I do this review in a my-turn, your-turn fashion. For example. I hold my cheeks and say pig and then point both hands at the students while they say pig.

After I have taught the vocabulary that I want rhymed, the mouth positioning, and practiced rhyming families, it is time to slowly ask students to produce and then generate rhyming words using meaningful games and activities. This process to teach rhyme may seem labor intensive. It is, but it also doesn't take as much time as you might expect, and, spelling out the workings of language in such an explicit way is essential for students who come from a different language background.

Santa Gets Dressed: A Segmenting Game

Children who are able to orally blend and segment sounds together become better readers. This imperative oral skill transfers very quickly to the printed and written word. Because there are numerous research studies that substantiates that fact, strengthening a child’s phonemic awareness is of upmost importance in all early-learning classrooms. 

Children love this game, Santa Gets Dressed! Who wouldn’t want to help Santa prepare for his journey to deliver Christmas presents to the boys and girls of the world. And, as children play, they are able to practice crucial early learning skills that will lead them to become proficient readers. This game includes over 100 segmenting cards that also can be used in many other classroom activities.

Segmenting Words

        Segmentation is the flip side of oral blending. Like blending, segmenting or breaking words apart helps develop better readers and writers.

Although blending comes first in the continuum of reading skills, segmenting quickly follows; in the case of syllables the two are often presented simultaneously. Students should begin clapping out syllables at an early stage of literacy development.

After each level of blending is introduced, segmenting should be presented before going on to the next level of blending. You can wait until the students have some comfort with blending before adding segmentation, and you can provide additional assistance with the segmenting, but don’t ignore or skip this skill.

Kicking Karate

If students struggle with segmenting, have them identify the initial consonant. Next ask if they hear any other sounds....the final or the medial sound. Finally, demonstrate a cross-body tap method to underscore the sounds in the word. For the word dog say /d/ and touch or tap your opposite shoulder with your hand. Next say the middle sound and touch the bend of your arm. Finally, say the final sound and tap the opposite hand, then slide your hand down the opposite arm from top to bottom as you say the word normally. Have the students copy you both in the cross body tapping and in saying the sounds.

Most blending lessons can be turned into segmenting lessons. After a student blends sounds into a word, have the entire group say the sounds for the word together. As students are able, they can practice segmenting three-sound words independently. Some games that feature blending and/or segmenting include Valentine Sounds (Valentine unit), Ocean Sounds (Ocean), Glacier Bay (Arctic Freeze) and Kicking Karate (Chinese New Year Unit).