Why read alouds are essential for Teachers and Speech and Language Therapists
A lens into phonological awareness
What is phonological awareness?
Phonological awareness refers to the awareness of sounds in spoken language. It is a metalinguistic skill that allows children to manipulate and break down sounds in language, such as knowing that words are made up of syllables and phonemes (Torgesen & Mathes, 2000).
Why is reading important for supporting phonological awareness?
Phonological awareness skills have repeatedly been shown to be strongly linked to later reading skills (e.g., Scarborough, 2001; Stanovich, Cunningham, & Cramer, 1984) and are increasingly targeted in early childhood curricula, based on recommendations from the National Early Literacy Panel (2008). From a Speech and Language Therapy point of view phonological awareness is important for speech sound development and intelligibility (accurate pronunciation of words).
Phonological awareness is therefore woven into both speech development and literacy development. We know that children who have speech and language delays are at greater risk of reading difficulties down the line. So our professions are inextricably linked in this regard. While Speech and Language Therapists work on phonological awareness from a different angle to Teachers we ultimately share the common goal of integrating these foundational skills to support higher levels of communication, reading and learning.
A wonderful way to support the child’s phonological awareness is through reading aloud from the very start. As well as gaining phonological skills from fun and rhythmical read alouds such as Julia Donaldson’s ‘The Gruffalo’ or ‘Stickman’, the child is also gaining exposure to essential vocabulary, comprehension and oral language.
How to target phonological awareness during read alouds?
There are lots of ways to support phonological awareness but in this post we will focus on how you can use books. Here are some tips:
Choose books with rhyme:
Rhyme is an important foundational block for developing phonological skills but also later reading success. Therefore we suggest that you read lots of rhyming books or nursery rhyme books. By doing so you expose children to plenty of rhyme and the more they hear the easier it will be for them to practice rhyme themselves. Some of our favourite authors who use rhyme in their books include Julia Donaldson and Janet and Allan Ahlberg.
Stress rhyming words:
Rhyming words are words that rhyme at the end like ‘car, bar’. When reading rhyming books aloud, try using your voice to emphasise the rhyming word. This will help children hear the rhyming pair. You could also pick out two rhyming words and say ‘cat and bat’ they sound similar, they rhyme!’ This may help them to pay attention to other rhyming words in the story.
Once you have modelled lots of rhyming books, songs and nursery rhymes try giving children the opportunity to identify rhyming words. You could say ‘did anyone hear any words that rhymed on that page?’
When reading rhyming books, you can offer children the opportunity to generate or come up with their own rhyming words e.g. ‘‘cat, bat …’ can you think of any other words that rhyme?’’. Have fun with rhyme generation, the words do not have to be real words e.g. ‘cat, bat, lat, wat, dat, fat, mat, zat’. Many children's picturebooks books incorporate lots of fun rhymes and word play.
When reading books you can ask children to tell you how many words are in a sentence. Choose sentences that are short, maybe between 3-5 words. We want children to be successful. You could say ‘‘Pip went to the shop’’- how many words are in that sentence?’. Demonstrate counting out the words with lego blocks, lollipop sticks or your fingers.
Break up long words into their syllables. Choose words that have maybe 3 or 4 syllables. Encourage children to clap out the syllables e.g. ‘cat-er-pill-ar’ (4 syllables) ‘dan-ger-ous’ (3 syllables). Again, you can use lego blocks to help count the syllables. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle has lots of fun multisyllabic words to practice this skill.
Encourage children to try blending words together such as with 2 syllabic words ‘wa-ter’ ‘ta-ble’ ‘won-der-ful’.
Please see the table below which acts as a general guide to phonological awareness milestones.
Reading aloud also supports so many other skills for fostering reading success. Hearing stories read aloud help develop phonological awareness, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension and oral language. Incidentally these elements are also the remit of Speech and Language Therapists. To communicate effectively a child requires comprehension of language, vocabulary, fluency and ability to express themselves in a coherent and intelligible manner. Books are an amazing resource in that they model all of these skills in one neat package.
Maria Bracken & Katie Walsh
Maria Bracken and Katie Walsh are both experienced Speech and Language Therapists working for the HSE and based in Laois/Offaly. Together they have almost 30 years experience working with children with a wide range of communication difficulties. They are currently working on a project called Talking Buddies. The aim of the project is to promote language development strategies for everyone in the community working with young children, in order to prevent issues arising and therefore reduce referrals to speech and language therapy. They love kids books and feel that they are a super resource for encouraging speech and language development. Follow talkingbuddies.ie on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for lots of tips on how to get the most out of books for speech and language development.
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