Phonemic Awareness & Phoneme Segmenting for Older Students

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Explicit instruction and additional practice in phonological awareness skills are a necessary component in helping older students who struggle with reading skills.

This additional practice is best when used as a warm-up to reading, spelling, or vocabulary instruction.

Phonological awareness includes the ability to divide a word into spoken syllables, onset-rime segments, and individual phonemes. Learning to decode and spell successfully is done with phonics which requires phoneme awareness.

Instruction that enhances awareness of speech sounds is important for older students who are struggling in decoding work. On the surface, this may seem like an older student who struggles to read fluently; they make mistakes when reading, they are either too fast or too slow, don’t attend to the correct words by either substituting or omitting words, and lack understanding of material that has just been read.

When these signs are visible in an older student, it underscores a weakness in decoding which most often traces back to weak phonological skills.

These students may show all the symptoms listed for younger students, including poor spelling, inaccurate decoding of new words, mispronunciation of words, and difficulty remembering or recalling new words even though they are older.

All too often it is assumed that these skills naturally emerge in students or that they will ‘click’ as the student gets older. This is not true. Direct teaching of phonological awareness skills is appropriate for older students who struggle with reading tasks and many can improve substantially in this area with structured practice.

The phonological awareness portion of a reading or language lesson for older students must include brief, direct practice of specific skills such as syllabication or phoneme segmentation, often as a warm-up exercise before reading, spelling, or vocabulary instruction begins. In addition, these teaching activities and adjustments can be helpful:

  • Highlight, describe, segment, and pronounce individual speech sounds if similar sounding words are confused (e.g., **flush/flesh/fresh; entomologist/etymologist; gorilla/guerilla**).

  • Segment syllables and/or speech sounds before spelling words or to correct misspellings.

  • Orally rehearse the repetition of phrases and sentences that are being written, to reduce the load on working memory.

  • Write and talk when explanations are given; reduce the load on working memory.

  • Provide written, pictorial, or graphic support when spoken language must be processed.

Phonological processing plays a role in phonological awareness as it involves speech perception and production, phoneme awareness, memory, retrieval, and naming functions which we know to be difficult for students with dyslexia. This can account for how well students learn new words, pronounce words, learn a foreign language, recall names and facts, and spell.

For more information about how this can impact older students, click here.