You may already know that phonological awareness refers to the awareness of sounds in words (no letters involved), while phonics deals with the relationships between sounds and letters.
Both phonological awareness and phonics are essential to helping students learn to read!
While these terms refer to 2 different things and are often taught through different types of activities, our phonological awareness and phonics instruction also need to be connected to each other.
When you intentionally connect your phonological awareness and phonics instruction, your students will progress even more quickly in their reading!
In this blog post, I’ll explain why they need to be connected, as well as how, specifically, to connect your phonics and phonological awareness instruction!
Why Should I Connect My Phonological Awareness and Phonics Instruction?
Some schools have a phonological awareness program that’s separate from their phonics or reading program. You might, for example, spend 10 minutes on phonological awareness drills from one program – and then later teach a 20-30 minute phonics lesson from a different program.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but students progress more quickly in their phonics and reading if you intentionally connect phonological awareness activities to your phonics instruction.
Here’s an example:
A 1st grade teacher knows that she will be teaching consonant blends in a few weeks. Students will be learning to read and spell words like “flip,” “drag,” “stem,” etc.
This teacher knows that some students will struggle to hear all of the sounds in words with consonant blends. They are accustomed to working with CVC words with only 3 sounds.
To help prepare students for their work with consonant blends, 2-3 weeks prior to starting her phonics instruction on words with blends, the teacher begins phonological awareness drills with consonant blends.
In these drills, students first learn to blend the sounds in words with consonant blends. For example, the teacher might say /s/ /p/ /ŏ/ /t/ and students say the entire word, spot.
After some practice with blending, the teacher begins having students segment words with consonant blends. The teacher might say “flag” and students must segment: /f/ /l/ /ă/ /g/ (perhaps with the teacher using sound boxes for support).
These activities prepare students to work with words with consonant blends – but right now, the kids are only working with sounds.
After 2-3 weeks, the teacher begins her phonics instruction on words with consonant blends.
Since students have already practiced working with the sounds in these words, it’s easier for them to read and write words with consonant blends. However, when the teacher asks them to write or build words with consonant blends, she still has them practice segmenting the word before they write or make it. Phonological awareness practice continues, so students get more practice blending and segmenting words with consonant blends.
Do you see how, in this example, the teacher prepared students to be more successful with their phonics work by using related phonological awareness drills prior to phonics instruction on those skills?
This can be applied to many, many skills – including but not limited to:
- CVC words – blending, segmenting
- Words with digraphs – blending, segmenting
- Glued sounds – blending, segmenting (to learn more about teaching glued sounds, check out this blog post)
- R-controlled vowels – blending, segmenting
- Long vowel words – blending, segmenting, identifying the vowel sound, changing the vowel sound
- Diphthongs – blending, segmenting, identifying the diphthong sound, changing the diphthong sound
How Can I Connect My Phonological Awareness and Phonics Instruction?
Now let’s talk about how to make this happen in your classroom!
The easiest way is to use a program that intentionally connects phonological awareness and phonics instruction for you. When I designed my phonics program, From Sounds to Spelling, that’s exactly what I did.
In this screenshot from Level 1, Unit 3, you can see the phonics and phonological awareness skills listed. Notice how in Week 17, kids are working on blending and segmenting words with r-controlled vowels. That work is continued into Week 18. Then, in Weeks 19 and 20, kids begin working with words with “ar” and “or.” Because they have already practiced blending and segmenting these words, they are more likely to be successful in reading and writing those words.
However, I know that many phonics programs are not set up like this. So if you are required to use specific phonological awareness / phonics programs, here are some tips for connecting your instruction:
- Look at your phonics scope and sequence. Type each weekly skill into a spreadsheet.
- On your spreadsheet, look at the main categories of skills (i.e. blends, r-controlled vowels, etc.).
- When you notice that you will be covering a new skill category, count back 2 weeks. In a separate column, make notes to incorporate phonological awareness activities with that new, upcoming skill category (as shown in the screenshot above from From Sounds to Spelling).
- Plan to continue working on phonological awareness skills related to the weekly skill during the actual week of instruction as well.
If you have an existing phonological awareness program, you may need to do some rearranging to better match your phonics instruction.
Your phonological awareness instruction can complement and support your phonics instruction – and that will help your students become successful readers and writers!
If you’d like a free phonics scope and sequence for Kindergarten, 1st grade, and 2nd grade, grab one for free here!
To learn more about From Sounds to Spelling, a program where phonological awareness and phonics instruction are thoughtfully integrated, visit our website here.