5 Steps in Literacy Instruction

I wish everyone a happy, safe, and peaceful New Year!  I am going to start the new year off with a series of posts this month (January 2016) about Phonological Processing and Awareness skills.  Phonological awareness is explicit knowledge of the underlying sound structure of language.

While phonics is the understanding of the relationship between letters and their sounds in written language, phonemic awareness is the understanding that the sounds work together to make words.

The National Reading Panel defines phonemes as, “the smallest units constituting spoken language.”  Phonemes combine to form syllables and words.  Phonemic awareness and letter knowledge  have been shown in many studies over the years to be the best predictors of how well children will learn to read during the first two years in school.

Phonological awareness refers to awareness of and access to the sound structure of language.  Spoken words are comprised of strings or sequences of phonemes that signal different meanings.  Awareness that changes in these sequences result in changes in meaning is crucial in literacy skills development.  If a student cannot conceptualize the order of sounds and syllables in words, he cannot associate the sound units with written symbols.

Phonological processing refers to the use of phonological information - particularly the sound structure of oral language - to process written language.  Tasks of phonological processing are highly predictive of reading skills.  The three types of phonological processing that appear specifically important to learning written language skills are phonological awareness, phonological memory and rapid naming. I am going to address the first of these; phonological awareness.
{To answer that burning question and not leave you hanging:  Phonological memory refers to coding information phonologically for temporary storage in short-term (working) memory.  Deficits in phonological memory do not appear to impact either reading or listening when the words involved are already a part of the student’s vocabulary; however, they can impact the ability to learn new vocabulary, as well as ability to decode new (and long) words.}

Because I tend to work with students who have more moderate to severe disabilities, I often find myself in special education classes where the literacy program consists almost solely of learning sight words.  

However, sight word instruction is very limiting.  Students cannot memorize all of the words they need or will encounter, and reliance on memory means having no strategies to deal with new and difficult words.  Inability to read more words then accounts for an ver-widening gap in reading skills.

The skills we address in phonological awareness instruction generally include identification and discrimination of initial, final, and medical sounds in words; manipulation of those sounds (changing those sounds to make new words); understanding and producing rhyme and alliteration; ability to count syllables in words; sound and syllable blending; and sound and syllable segmentation.

And what, you might ask, is the SLPs role in phonological awareness?  SLPs can identify difficulties in and develop skills in language and literacy acquisition.  Our role in literacy instruction has been affirmed in the most recent legislation, and we continue to address the language-based difficulties students have with literacy instruction, beyond acquisition of vocabulary/semantic skills.

Breaking Phonological Awareness skills down into 5 components, I will address one skill per week:

  1. Rhyme - the ability to recognize and produce rhymes
  2. Word Construction - ability to blend, segment, and delete syllables in words
  3. Sound Sequencing - recognizing and identifying initial and final sounds in words
  4. Sound Separation - segmenting, blending, and deleting sounds in words
  5. Manipulation - ability to add or substitute sounds in words

The order of skills is first blending, then segmenting, then counting, and finally deleting. So, look for them in the following posts.
And tell me, what are your favorite reading foundation activities?

Until next week - keep on talking and keep on reading!


  1. I think this post is so useful to upper elementary teachers like me. I was unaware of the process involved in the earliest stages of reading until I was faced with a student who arrived in my fourth grade classroom as a nonreader. (Not ELL) I had to scramble to back way up in my approach and enlist the help of an amazing first grade teacher willing to coach me. This blog post is a great resource!

  2. Retta, I'm glad you found it useful. So often we get into our niches and forget or don't see the skills needed in other areas. I'm glad you found a great collaborator. I have a kiddo in a similar situation. It's so hard for the upper elementary teachers to figure out how to go backwards - especially for just one student!

  3. What a helpful post. There are so many things that go into the teaching of reading. Thanks so much for sharing this valuable information.

  4. What a fantastic post! I love how you break down phonological skills.

  5. Great post, very informative!
    Unfortunately my school district is cutting our SP/L run phonology program for 3-5 year old children. It is such and essential program for not only communication but also later reading. Thanks for spreading the word on the essential nature of these skills. ~ Thia at Print Path

  6. Looking forward to reading this series! Thanks for taking the time to put it together!