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General Recommendations and Specific Activities for Developing Phonological Awareness in Older Students

General Recommendations and Specific Activities for Developing Phonological Awareness in Older Students
Cecile Cyrul Spector
May 5, 2008


Phonological awareness skills are essential for both language and reading development (e.g., Gillon, 2002; Hogan, Catts, and Little, 2005; Pokorni, Worthington, and Jamison, 2004; Schuele and Boudreau, 2008). The goal of this article is to provide speech-language pathologists (SLPs) with activities that help students, in grades three through high school, improve their phonological awareness. More specifically, the intent is to help SLPs:

  • Provide students with opportunities to focus on the constituent phonemes of words and to manipulate them with regard to their meaning;
  • Improve students' comprehension and production of items that have sounds added, substituted, or deleted from target words;
  • Strengthen students' understanding of the difference between the graphemic and phonemic representation of words;
  • Challenge students to apply phonological awareness skills to real-life contexts; and
  • Enhance students' divergent-thinking skills, mental associations, and vocabulary.

When engaging in the activities that will be discussed in this article, SLPs must be aware of, and consider, each student's needs, especially when working with individuals who have other speech or language difficulties. If for instance, there are motor or sensory problems, then the techniques described in this article may not be the appropriate approach. As with any intervention approach, good judgment is required by the SLP to determine which techniques would be most beneficial for each individual student.

Phonological Awareness and "Meta" Skills

Phonological awareness is the awareness of the sound structure of language. It includes being able to distinguish that sentences have words, words have syllables, and words have distinct sounds or phonemes. Phonological awareness does not develop in isolation. Several skills are needed to manipulate and demonstrate understanding of the sound system of the English language. For example, consider the following:

  • grasping sound-symbol correspondencedirect or otherwise (e.g., the phoneme /s/ is represented by s in sunc in city, and ps in psychology)
  • segmenting and redefining a phonological string
  • analyzing and integrating syntactic information
  • interpreting contextual information
  • inferring meaning
  • perceiving and using paralinguistic cues (e.g., vocal intensity, stress, intonation)
  • evoking new and different meanings in words, phrases, and sentences
  • putting into words what is known implicitly

Factors Accounting for Difficulties

Students may be confused when there is a lack of correspondence between a sound and its alphabetic symbol. For example, cat has three sounds and three letters, but caught has three sounds and six letters. Some sounds can be represented by different alphabetic symbols (e.g., /f/ can be represented by f [as in fun], ph [as in phone], or gh [as in laugh]).

Words that look the same can be pronounced differently depending on the context, such as the word read, when referring to the present or past tense. Words that are spelled differently and have different meanings can be pronounced the same way (e.g., to, too, and two are all pronounced /tu/).

cecile cyrul spector

Cecile Cyrul Spector

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