Last week I posted about developing processing skills when the focus is on enhancing the child’s semantic knowledge. This week I’ll look at the phonological side of the coin. There are certain things we know about word sorting / word learning / word finding which play into how we tend to go about boosting phonological form and metaphonological skills:
- Words are ‘sorted’ in the brain by initial sound, giving us that tip-of-the-tongue feeling when we’re searching for a word. This means that we highlight initial sounds when we’re talking about words with learners, and we require them to do tasks such as ‘I spy’ and initial-sound odd-one-out.
- Words which rhyme share phonological features. The words ‘hat’ and ‘mat’ have more in common with each other than not, and they therefore share some neural architecture (in terms of their production and in their recognition). Working on rhyme is one thing – showing the child how they can break the onset off from the rest of the word, and swap different onsets in and out. But the real trick is to get them to access their store of meanings as they go about such a task. This is what the task I have been developing is about.
- Words can be long or short. Traces of word-length and syllable-structure do also seem to come into play in the tip-of-the-tongue feeling. We therefore work on children’s ability to count syllables, to complete words with missing syllables, and to delete syllables from words.
- Words are composed of individual sounds, or phonemes [fəʊnimz]. Older children are encourage to identify medial sounds, final sounds, to append sounds, to delete sounds, robot talking, and so on.
These are tasks that are designed to support a child’s phonological awareness. Countless studies have proven the link between metaphonological knowledge and reading skills, and there is evidence that working on these kinds of tasks can pay into a child’s development of speech sounds as well.
My new task doesn’t seem particularly innovative, but it is working. Essentially I ask the child ‘think of a word that rhymes with bear which is a piece of furniture’. I also give the child a number of possible onsets to work through (i.e. s, gr, sp, ch, l). The idea is that the child will centre in on the correct answer from both directions at once – one part of the brain is thinking of different bits of furniture and checking them against ‘-air’, while the other is blindly spooling off ‘-air’ rhymes, guided by the onsets that are provided, and checking whether they are a member of the category furniture. I will share the resource just before Easter.