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Here's a Cool Phonemic Awareness Activity: Word Chaining

Updated: May 9

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I've been nerding out a lot lately on the intersection of articulation disorders and reading/spelling difficulties.

Lots more to come in the future on that topic!

But in the meantime, here's a cool thing I discovered to help develop your students' phonemic awareness skills:

I recently took a continuing ed course by Marianne Nice, CCC-SLP, called Sight Words: The Right Way and the Wrong Way to Teach Them. She talked about how teaching kids to recognize words by sight alone is not effective, even high-frequency words.

She cited the work of Dr. Linnea Ehri and Dr. David Kilpatrick, two leading experts on word recognition, and provided information about a critical skill in learning to be an efficient reader called "orthographic mapping."

When we have orthographically mapped a word, it means we can see it and recognize it immediately; we don't have to work to decode it. Most adults have orthographically mapped 30,000 - 60,000 words! I found this hard to believe until I started reading something and realized that I actually do very little active decoding as I read; I just recognize most of the words as whole units. You're likely doing the same as you read this! Isn't reading such a cool phenomenon?!

One way we can help our students to become more efficient orthographic mappers is by supporting their phonological and phonemic awareness (PA). (Follow this link to check out my blog post that explains the difference between these terms.) I was surprised to learn that while most reading programs include phonological awareness instruction, they don't go nearly as in-depth as many students need.

Ideally, we should find strategies to teach PA and phonics simultaneously while also activating and encouraging comprehension and meaning.

SLPs are uniquely positioned to be especially good at teaching PA skills because we know, more than anyone else in our schools, about speech sounds. We're even more valuable for students who have phonological disorders, since many of them are at risk for reading and writing problems. And helping to remediate kids' speech sound errors can have a positive impact on these other areas, especially if done right.

I'm always interested in learning new ways to work on PA, and Marianne Nice's webinar provided many great ideas for ways to support all of the underlying skills for orthographic mapping, not just PA.

One new idea for me for supporting PA was the concept of "chaining."

There are different ways to do chaining activities. One way is to have your student start by writing a word. Then ask them to write a new word which is different by one phoneme. For example, start by asking your student to write "flop". Once they have written it correctly, ask them to write "flip". Then "fip", followed by "fips," etc. We should of course be mindful of the level of difficulty our students are at in their reading/spelling program; if they're only at the CVC level, our chaining activities should remain at the CVC level as well.

This website has free word lists, organized by level of difficulty, beginning with CVC words and progressing to initial and final consonant blends and beyond. There's also a video that shows how to do this activity with colored chips and I've tried it with my students lately; it's super fun! And I can see my students thinking so hard about sounds and the order of them. This format with the colored chips makes it a purely phonological skill, so I'll add the written piece in as soon as they get better at it.

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