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Phonemic Awareness for Speaking and Reading Success

(Adapted from “Techniques for Teaching Beginning-Level Reading to Adults” by Ashley

Hager, Focus on Basics 5 (A), August 2001)

One of the most successful approaches to teaching word pronunciation and

developing stronger reading skills is to teach a learner to decode words with the use of
phonemic awareness skills. These skills teach sounds association with letter
combinations and introduce pattern recognition was a way to anticipate sounds in
unfamiliar words.
For adults, one of the suggested systems to begin teaching phonemic skills is the
Wilson Reading System. This method begins with by teaching nine syllable types, or
templates, which words can be compared against.

The Wilson Reading System Syllable Types

Closed Syllable (vc/cv)
- One vowel per syllable
- Ends with one or more consonants
- The vowel has a short sound
- Examples:
Cat - kăt
Math - măth
Flash - flăsh
Fatten - făt'n
In each of the examples, the short sound of the letter a is not changed by the
following letter or syllables. In the last exaple, “fatten,” two syllables are created
because the two vowels, a and e, voice independent sounds. (In this case the e is
blended with the n).
Vowel-Consonant-E Syllable (vce)
- One vowel, then a consonant, then an e
- The first vowel has a long sound
- The E is silent
- Examples:
Cape - kāp
Craze - krāz
Bathe - bāth
Famed - fāmd
In these examples, the presence of the vowel e, changes the sound of the vowel a
to a long sound. The words continue to be single syllables because there is no
additional vowel sound voiced by e.
Open Syllable (v/cv) or (vc/v)
- One vowel
- Ends with the vowel
- Vowel has a long sound
- Examples:
Me - mē
So - sō
Flu - flü
Why – hwī or wī
These examples demonstrate how the vowel, written independently, is voiced in
the long form. These words may be difficult for low level learners at first, as
there is not clue (such as an “e” at the end of the word) that indicates that the
vowel is long. (I tried to think of “a” words but none came to mind.)
R-Controlled Syllable
- One vowel, followed by an r
- Vowel sound is neither short nor long
- Vowel sound is controlled by the r
- Examples:
Car - kär
Sharp - shärp
Marred - märd
Pardon - pär'dn
In these examples, the sound voice by the vowel a is blended into the consonant r.
The sound is neither long nor short, as is indicated in the different pronunciation
The Consonant-LE Syllable
- Has three letters: a consonant, an “l”
- The letter e is silent
- The consonant and the “l” are blended together
- Examples:
Ladle - lād'l
Prattle - prăt'l
Gamble - gām'bəl
Table - tā'bəl
In these examples, the vowel a is voice differently: a short a for “prattle”and a
long a for “ladle,” “gamble” and “table.” In the second syllables of each word,
the e is not stressed and is silent when pronounced in the vernacular.
The Double Vowel Syllable
- Two vowel sounds side-by-side making one sound
- Usually, the first vowel is long and the second is silent
- Examples:
May - mā
Paid - pād
Leaf - lēf
Goat - gōt
Following the rule, these examples demonstrate the voiced and silent roles of
vowels in the double vowel syllable. In the first two examples, the vowel a is
voiced in the long sound because it is the first vowel. In the second two exaples,
the vowel a is the second vowel in the pair and is silent.

With these rules in mind, let’s use the rules to decode some of the vocabulary in
the passage, “So Many Holidays, So Little Time!” We’ll look at some suggested
activities for low level, intermediate, and advanced learners.
So Many Holidays, So Little Time

Right after Halloween, stores in the United States change their decorations and
their window displays. Gone are the pumpkins, goblins, and ghosts. In their place,
shoppers find candy canes, bright lights, wrapping paper, tinsel and giant stockings.
Stores are getting ready for Christmas!

With all of the ornaments, nativity sets, and trees on display, many people forget
that Christmas isn’t the only holiday celebrated in December. In fact, there are many
holidays celebrated in December and while these holidays are all very different, all of the
holidays remind us to be hopeful and thankful everyday.

Traditionally, December is the month in which Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of

Lights, is celebrated. Over eight nights, families light the candles in a menorah and
remember the miracle at the Temple of Jerusalem, when a tiny bit oil let a candle burn for
eight nights.

On December 12th and 16th, Christians celebrate the miracles of the Virgin of
Guadelupe and St. Lucia. The Virgin of Guadelupe is very important to Mexican people,
while St. Lucia is remembered for remaining faith even under great torture.

On December 26th, African-American families begin the celebration of Kwanzaa.

Families light candles in a kinara and recall the seven principles of a good life.

Finally, on December 31st, people all across the United States, and across the
world, celebrate the end of one year and the start of a new one. On New Year’s Eve,
people make resolutions for a better life and celebrate with family and friends.

As you can see, December is a month filled with fun and celebration! And most
importantly, December is a month where it is important to spend time with the people you
So Many Holidays, So Little Time

Pre-Reading Activity
Ask the learner:
- which holidays they like to celebrate
- who they celebrate with
- what traditions they like
Look at a calendar and mark when some of the holidays take place.

Before Reading Activity

Look at the title of the passage and read it out loud. Ask the student to make predication
about what they think the title of the passage might mean.

Introduce vocabulary.
For beginning students, this could be a set of words with one vowel or one or two
vowel sounds such as:
A Short A/ Long A List: holiday, decoration, display, candy
cane (or individually, as candy and canes), wrapping paper
(or individually), are, ornament, nativity, thankful,
everyday, celebrate, family, miracle, remain, faith, great,
candle, state, make
Read each word with the student. Pronounce the word carefully,
stressing the sound of the “a”. Look at the syllable types and
decide together if the sound is a short a, a long a, or an “ar.”
Divide the words into categories and help the student identify
which letters make the sounds: a + silent e, ar, ea, ai, etc. Read
through the list again, emphasizing the targeted sound, and ask the
student to repeat the word. Concentrate only on pronouncing the
/a/ sound correctly.

During Reading Activity

Because this piece is being read for accuracy, not fluency, it might be
helpful to your learner if you read the piece together the first time.
Reading together allows you, as the tutor, to set the pace and continue to
move the reading forward.

Begin by asking your learner to read with you. You both begin reading the
piece out loud. To help the learner, run your finger under the words.
Pause only when you are reading a targeted vocabulary word and listen for
correction pronunciation.

After you have read the piece together, ask your learner to read part of the
piece independently. Check that the targeted vocabulary is pronounced
correctly, and allow time for the learner to decode words.
To read for fluency and comprehension, return to the piece. Read to the
learner and stop to discuss ideas from the pre-reading exercises.

After Reading Activity

Return to the predictions made before reading. Discuss whether or not you were

Reread the vocabulary list with the learner. Ask the learner to pronounce
words again, targeting words where difficulties still exist.

Ask your learner to write a paragraph reflecting on the passage or the

holiday theme. Ask the learner to incorporate a certain number of
vocabulary words in the writing (maybe 5 words, or one vocabulary word
per sentence). When the learner is finished, ask him or her to read the
piece out loud.

Ask the learner to continue to practice the vocabulary for the next
meeting, and begin the next meeting with a review.
So Many Holidays, So Little Time
Vocabulary List
ă, ā and ä

are candle candy cane

celebrate decoration display
everyday faith family
great holiday make
miracle nativity ornament
remain state thankful
wrapping paper