How do kids become good readers?
Learn what skills kids need before they’re ready to sound out words.
Developing the skills needed for reading begins very early in a child’s life, according to the National Early Literacy Panel. Studies show that students who fall behind in kindergarten in early reading tasks go on to greater difficulties with understanding what they read in third grade. This is why it is so important to make sure all kids have a good foundation for building reading skills.
Two of the foundational skills for reading are phonological awareness and alphabet knowledge. Phonological awareness means understanding that words are made up of individual sounds, called phonemes, and that these sounds can be separated or combined to form new words. For example, someone with phonological awareness knows that the last sound in the word “coat” is “t.” They would also know that if you take away the “b” sound in “bear,” you are left with the word “air.”
While there are only 26 letters in English, there are 44 different phonemes! Some phonemes include letter combinations, such as the “th” or “ch” sounds. There are also letters that can make different phonemes, such as “c” sound in “city” versus in “cat.” On the other hand, sometimes different letters make the same sound. Both the “c” in “cat” and the “k” in “kite” are the same phoneme. This can all be pretty confusing to learn, which is why some kids need extra practice. The other precursor to reading is alphabet knowledge. This refers to the ability to name letters and their sounds, such as “the D says ‘duh’ and the S says ‘sssss.’” Together, alphabet knowledge and phonological awareness are the best predictors of later reading ability.
Show me the evidence!
Researchers developed an intervention called, “PAth to Literacy.” This curriculum targets both phonological awareness and alphabet knowledge. It was designed to be delivered to groups of two or three children for about 10 min/day. PAth to Literacy was tested for success in three states: Ohio, Kansas, and Florida. The participants were children who were beginning to show delays in their foundational reading skills compared with their peers. They were randomly picked to be in an intervention group or a comparison group. The 54 students in the intervention group received the PAth to Literacy program three to five times a week. The 50 students in the comparison group listened to interactive, prerecorded stories three times per week for 13 weeks.
Students were tested for improvement at both halfway through the intervention and immediately following the intervention. In the First Sound Fluency Test, an assessment that measures a child’s phonological awareness skills, 82% of children in the PAth to Literacy group met or exceeded the kindergarten benchmark, compared to only 34% of children in the comparison group. When a student meets a benchmark goal, it means they are likely to keep making reading progress in a regular classroom curriculum. None of the kids in the study were expected to meet these benchmark skills until the following year! However, the PAth to Literacy group did not show more progress than the comparison group on measures of alphabet knowledge skills. Nonetheless, the PAth to Literacy intervention may help to prevent further reading difficulties later on in a child’s life.
What can parents do?
There are a few fun activities that parents can do to help their children build phonological awareness and alphabet knowledge skills:
- Read poems and books with rhymes.
- Go back and forth making new rhymes by changing the first sound of a word, for example: cat, bat, mat, sat, rat, etc.
- Practice the alphabet by pointing out different letters and asking your child to name the letter and make its sound.
- Create silly sentences or phrases that all start with the same sound, for example: Luke loves lollipops and lemonade.
“Efficacy of a Supplemental Phonemic Awareness Curriculum to Instruct Preschoolers With Delays in Early Literacy Development”
Goldstein, H., Olszewski, A., Haring, C., Greenwood, C. R., Mccune, L., Carta, J., . . . Kelley, E. S. (2017). Efficacy of a Supplemental Phonemic Awareness Curriculum to Instruct Preschoolers With Delays in Early Literacy Development. Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research,60(1), 89-103. doi:10.1044/2016_jslhr-l-15-0451
Phonological and Phonemic Awareness. (n.d.). Retrieved January 17, 2017, from http://www.readingrockets.org/helping/target/phonologicalphonemic