Have You Heard?

Phonological awareness is the ability to hear differences in the ways words sound.   Just as young children need to hear language before they can talk, they also need to hear language before they can read.  Children with phonological awareness can identify initial sounds in words, can count syllables in words, and can identify words that rhyme.  Having a strong phonological awareness is a precursor to being a strong reader.  Let’s take a look at some helpful terminology before moving on any further.

Helpful Terminology

In the following examples, a letter that is sandwiched between two slashes represents the phoneme (an individual speech sound).

phonemic awareness– the ability to break a word down into its individual speech sounds (example: the word cat is made up of three separate phonemes- /c/ /a/ and /t/)

phonics– the ability to match written letters with sounds

onset– the first consonant sound or consonant blend  in a word (example:  in the word black, /bl/ is the onset)

rime– the vowel and consonant sounds following the initial consonant sound (example:  in the word sat, /at/ is the rime)

rhyme– a word that corresponds with another in it’s terminal (ending) sound (example:  hold/cold)

syllable– a sound or word chunk that contains one vowel sound and at least one consonant sound (examples: hat is a one syllable word and doorbell is a two syllable word)

So how can you encourage phonological awareness?   First, remember that this is an oral awareness.  So, you don’t need a lot of resources or materials.  You are simply playing with the oral language.  There are levels of phonological awareness.  Let’s take a look at those levels and some ideas to support children who are developing their phonological awareness.

Awareness of Gross Motor Differences

Hold up two fists.  Then say a sentence together.  As you say each word in the sentence, put up a finger to represent each word.  Count how many words are in the sentence.

Awareness of Rhyme

Recite a nursery rhyme together and identify the rhyming words.   There are also some wonderful picture books available that have rhyming words for children to identify.  Just remember that they don’t need identify the words in print, they simply need to hear them orally.  Here are a few rhyming book recommendations.

Sheep in a Jeep by Shaw

Buzz Said the Bee by Lewison

Jamberry by Degen

Another fun activity is a rhyme hunt.  Ask the child to find something in the room that rhymes with a given word.  For example what rhymes with sock (clock).  Continue with other words and objects.  This also makes a great activity when traveling.

Segmentation of Words into Syllables

I’ve found that simply clapping while saying a word helps a child segment a word into syllables.  Children always like to start with their own names and names of their friends. The word table would get two claps- ta ble.

Awareness of Initial Consonant Segments

Play a game of picky puppet. You will need a simple sock puppet and some picture cards.  Picky puppet only likes things that begin with a sound it chooses.  For example, if picky puppet likes muffins, then it will only want the child to select picture cards that begin with /m/.


Create silly alliteration sentences with family members’ names.  Here are a few examples to get you started.

Jodie juggles jam, jellybeans, juice and jello.

Daddy digs deep dark ditches.

Awareness/Segmentation of Onset and Rime

Play a simple game of I Say, You Say.  Call out a one syllable word such as sun.  Then, one person says the onset which in this case is /s/ and the other person says the rime /un/.  After a few rounds, switch roles so that each person gets a chance to practice saying both the onset and rime.

Phonemic Segmentation, Blending and Manipulation

Segmenting is breaking a word into its individual phonemes.  Say a word such as pen and have the child segment the sounds /p/ /e/ and /n/.  I like to have the child use their hands like a rubberband and stretch the word out as they segment the sounds.  Another helpful activity is the use of sound boxes.  You will need a piece of paper, a pen or marker and a few small objects.  Draw three or four connected boxes horizontally.  Place a small object under each box.  Say a word such as frog.  The child pushes an object into the box as they segment the word into phonemes.   So, for the word frog they would push up three objects as they say /fr/ /o/ and /g/.

Blending is the opposite of segmenting.  Say the individual phonemes and have the child blend them together to form the word.  For example, the adult would say /b/ /i/ and /g/ and the child would say big.   This is another fun thing to do while riding in the car.

Manipulation is the trickiest!  The Apples and Bananas song is a perfect song to sing with a child to work on this awareness though.  You know the one, “I like to eat, eat, eat apples and bananas.  I like to oat, oat, oat oh-pples and bo-no-nos…”

A great resource for more ideas and picture cards and games can be found at this link.  I hope you are inspired to try some oral phonological activities with your children.  Together we can help our readers grow.

Jodie Rodriguez is a National Board Certified teacher, reading specialist and administrator with over 17 years of experience.  She currently stays at home with her son and soon-to-be born son.  Her newest adventure is the creation of the Growing Book by Book blog dedicated to helping caregivers nurture young readers.


New Releases

Today we are looking at a few new releases from the first half of 2012 that are worth checking out.

Penny and Her Song

Penny and Her Song is by the wildly popular Kevin Henkes.  This is a beginning reader chapter book (2 chapters) that follows Penny as she tries to capture an audience to listen to her new song.  In the clip below, Henkes introduces us to the character, Penny.

Builder Goose (It’s Construction Rhyme Time)

Builder Goose: It’s Construction Rhyme Time! by Boni Ashburn and Sergio DeGiorgi plays off classic nursery rhymes with a construction twist.  The illustrations are bold and lively.  This is a fun read for young readers.

Pete the Cat & His Four Groovy Buttons

Pete the Cat & His Four Groovy Buttons by James Dean and Eric Litwin is next in a series of Pete the Cat picture books.   In this tale, Pete sings a groovy song about his buttons.  However, his buttons keep popping off.  No need to worry.  Pete discovers he will always have a bellybutton that he can sing about.  Children even learn a little basic subtraction in this tale.  Get a little taste of the book in the clip below.

Bugs Galore

Bugs Galore by Peter Stein and Bob Staake is a perfect book for your little bug lover.  Lots of descriptive adjectives to describe all those bugs also helps build vocabulary.

Enjoy checking out one of these 2012 new releases.  What other 2012 releases have you found to be noteworthy?

*Please check out the linky party directory to see where this post has been linked to for the week.

Raising a Reader

From time to time, I highlight an adult book that is related to nurturing young readers.  In February, I showcased 15 Minutes Outside and a variety of outdoor literacy activities.  Today, I’m excited to present Raising a Reader by Jennie Nash.

Raising a Reader is a very easy, entertaining and informational story of one mother’s quest to create avid readers within her two daughters.  It is an honest look at how her strong desire to create this love is both rewarding and at times a little desperate.  Her chapter titles include, “Perspective”, “Obsession”, “Abundance” and “Perseverance”.  Each chapter ends with a tip on something that the reader can do with their child.

Nash’s first chapter is titled, “Passion”.    More than anything, she wants her children to grow up with a passion for reading that equals her love of the subject.  I sooo relate!   Currently, my boys have more books than they have toys and I hope that it always remains that way.   Nash recommends spending time each day to read with or to your children.   She likes snuggling up in her bed to read with her kids each night.

In the “Abundance” chapter, Nash talks about every reader needing material to read.  She and her girls take bi-weekly trips to the library to load up on bedtime reads.   Her girls loved securing their very own library cards.  This is such a treasured time for her family.  I too remember my trips to our local library and thinking that it was such a treat to pick out books to borrow from so many choices.  I recently read this quote from Gallagher that fits nicely with this topic, “Guess what happens when you put 2500 books in your classroom, kids read them! A swimmer needs water.”  Children need an abundance of reading material.  I must admit that this chapter made me a bit weepy because I now live in a community that does not have a free public library!  I can’t believe that the children in my community don’t have a place to access an abundant amount of free books.   I so want my boys to have the library experience.  More on this topic in a future post!

Nash’s chapter, “Delight”, points out that children are delighted by words.  I know my oldest son loves “sound words” such as kaboom, crash, bang and boom.  He has squealed in delight for months now when you say these words to him.  Nash suggests doing word play with your kids in everyday places such as the car.  She and her girls make up new lyrics for familiar songs.  Getting your kids excited about words, will increase their reading ability.

At the end of this short read, there are several useful lists including “Great Books to Give for a Baby Shower”, “Books to Read Aloud on  a Rainy Day by Firelight”, “The First Series My Kids Loved to Read on Their Own”,  and “Books I Wish I Could Convince My Kids to Read”.   Raising a Reader is an inspiring and supporting resource to help us nurture our youngest readers.

ABC Books

There is an ABC book out there on just about any topic.  They range from very simple labeling of basic objects to complex descriptions of specific subjects.  ABC books aren’t just for beginning readers.  They can teach something to all of us no matter what our age.   Let’s look at some interesting ABC books on a variety of subjects.

Firefighters A to Z by Chris L. Demarest

I love when authors write about topics that are meaningful to them.  Demarest was a member of a volunteer fire department in New Hampshire when he wrote this book.  The text is short, but informative. What is most interesting is that the text follows the real life order firefighters take when fighting a fire from when the alarm (A) sounds all the way to zipping (Z) into bed for a rest.  He ends the book with an author’s note filled with fascinating and important information about fires.

On Your Toes- A Ballet ABC by Rachel Isadora

Here is another book where the author has some real-life experience with the subject.  Isadora was a ballet dancer with the Boston Ballet before she became a successful writer and illustrator.  Her colored pastel illustrations will capture the attention of any child dreaming of being a dancer.  I will say that it’s helpful to have some background knowledge on the subject to understand some of the vocabulary such as pas de chat and harlequin.  Although, Isadora does include a glossary for each word she depicts in her ABC book.

Potluck by Anne Shelby and Irene Trivas

Potluck is one of my favorites.  Maybe it’s so well liked because it revolves around food!  Some friends get together for a potluck and each person brings an item that begins with the first letter of their name.

Lonnie loves lasagna, so he brought lots of that.

Monica made mounds and mounds of mashed potatoes.

Norman knew that oodles of noodles would be needed.

I’ve used this book countless times in the classroom.  One of my favorite activities was to create a class book with each student writing and illustrating a page for our own potluck book.  The students always had a fun time researching a food that began with the letter of their first name.  I’ve also used the book as an administrator when we held a potluck lunch for a staff development day.  Each participant signed up to bring an item that began with the first letter of their first or last name.  I created a sign-up sheet on chart paper labeled with the ABCs down the side for each participant to record their dish.

All Aboard ABC by Dough Magee and Robert Newman

This book will educate a train enthusiast.  I’m guessing this will be a favorite of my oldest son when he gets a bit bigger.  The illustrations are photographs of trains and all things train related.  Diesel engines, junction, signals and freight cars are just a few words that you’ll pick up in this informational book.

The Desert Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta and Mark Astrella

This book is just one of Pallotta’s 24 ABC books that he has written in addition to several other books.  Each of his ABC books is loaded with information on the topic he is covering.  In The Desert Alphabet Book you will learn facts such as a Headstanding Beetle stands on its head to collect droplets of water on its body that then slide down to its mouth.

Eating the Alphabet- Fruits & Vegetables from A to Z by Lois Ehlert

This is a great book to introduce children to new vegetables and fruits.  In fact, it would work well with the tasting passports that I talked about last week!  This is a very bold and colorful labeling book.  Ehlert includes a very detailed glossary at the end of the book.  Did you know that celery is native to the Mediterranean area and the Middle East and was cultivated by the Romans?

Hurricane City by Sarah Weeks and James Warhola

It has always fascinated me that hurricanes have people names and that every hurricane for each season is named in ABC order.  This silly tale revolves around the havoc that different named hurricanes have on towns.

Hurricane GABRIEL blew like mad-

Father lost what hair he had.

Hurricane OPAL huffed and puffed,

Sandwiches came all unstuffed.

A Garden Alphabet by Isabel Wilner and Ahsley Wolff

This is a great book for the spring as we begin to plant our gardens.  Travel through the alphabet as a garden is planted, nurtured and harvested.  The simple text is perfect for the preschool crowd.

Antics by Cathi Hepworth

26 words in ABC order that all have the little word “ant” in them!  Yep, who would have thought that they all existed.  Hepworth showcases them in this clever book.  Flamboyant, gallant and hesitant just to name a few.  How many more can you think of?

Avalanche by Michael J. Rosen and David Butler

This ABC book is actually a story.  The author highlights the alphabet during the tale of  a snowball that grows into an avalanche while collecting items in its path.  This is a fun twist on the predictable type of ABC books we are familiar with reading.

So here are ten of my favorites.  What ABC books are you fond of?  Let’s grow the list even more.

Please check out my linky party directory to see where this post has been linked to this week.

Building Literacy in the Kitchen

Between prepping meals, eating meals and cleaning up after meals, my family spends the majority of our waking time in the kitchen.  Our kitchen also opens into the hearth room which adds to the number of hours spent in this area.  So, this got me thinking about what one could do in the kitchen to help promote literacy development in our youngsters.  The ideas kept flowing, so I thought I’d share some of the better ones with you!

Salt or Sugar Writing

Tactile learners will enjoy practicing letter or word writing with their finger in a shallow container of salt or sugar.  When they are done, store the sugar or salt in a labeled Ziploc bag for future use.

ABC of Spices

Have you had some spices in the back of the cupboard for years?  Pull them all out (Throw out the ones that don’t have a scent anymore!) and let your child put them in ABC order.  Not only will it provide a literacy opportunity for your child, but it will also organize your life.  I’ve had my spice cabinet alphabetized for years.  It makes cooking so much easier.

Menu Creation

For over a year now, I’ve created a weekly dinner menu and posted it on one of my favorite blogs, This Week for Dinner.  I’ve found that it has decreased our grocery bill and has helped me to create more balanced meals.  Creating a menu for a day or week is a great activity to do with your kids.  This especially works well with picky eaters.  If you allow the kids to have some input into planning the menu, they generally will try more foods.  Pull out some cookbooks, and pick out some new recipes out to try.  You are not only helping your child make food choices, but you are helping them develop their reading and writing skills.  Kids could post the weekly menu on the refrigerator or display it on the table for the whole family to see.  Then, get the kids to help you create a grocery list to support the menu!  Oh, the real world writing possibilities!

Tasting Passport

A tasting passport is an extension of the idea above.  Create a passport complete with your child’s picture.  On each page your child can draw a picture of a new food or cuisine they have tried.  Younger children can label each picture using inventive spelling.  Older children can write about each tasting experience.  The goal is to see how many passport pages your child can fill.  What a great way to get picky eaters to try new foods.

Muffin Tin Reading Games

Last year, I posted several muffin tin literacy games that use a muffin tin and a few other supplies.  It is my most popular post to date.  If you haven’t seen it, check it out.

Pancake Letters and Sounds

For an extra special breakfast, make pancakes shaped like letters.  Then, during breakfast, have your child brainstorm words that begin with the sound each pancake shaped letter represents.

aWhy not share the book, Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie DePaola during this special morning time too.

A variation of this to idea and use it when baking bread or pretzels.

Spaghetti Letters

Let your youngster form letters using strings of cooked spaghetti.  This is a simple activity for your child to do while you are prepping something in the kitchen.


Have your child create placemats for tonight’s dinner.  Simply give your child some paper and crayons/markers and a literacy starter.  Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  •  Draw your favorite scene from a book you read today.
  •  Pick a letter sound and draw or write as many things as you can think of that begin with that sound.
  •  Divide your placemat into three sections.  Draw a picture of the beginning, middle and end of a story we read today.
  •  Write a note to each family member and then decorate it.
  •  Create and decorate a name poem for each family member on their very own placemat.

M- Memory keeper

O- Outstanding cook

M- Master hugger

Don’t forget some of the common, simple and easy ideas such as using magnetic letters on the refrigerator to spell words.  The refrigerator is also a great canvas for displaying your child’s work.  Or, how about pulling out the cereal box and reading the nutritional label.  How do you help develop literacy in the kitchen?

Please check out the linky party page to see where this post has been linked to for the week.

Author/Illustrator Spotlight: Patricia Polacco

I have a handful of favorite children’s authors/illustrators- Cynthia Rylant, Eric Carle, Gail Gibbons, and Lois Ehlert. However, my favorite author of all time is Patricia Polacco.

Polacco came from a family of storytellers.  She used many of these childhood oral stories and her imagination to begin writing children’s books at age 41.  Most of her books draw on inspiration from her own life and her rich cultural background.  Polacco has written and illustrated over 50 books!

Here are a few of my absolute favorites.

Thank You Mr. Falker

Patricia Polacco didn’t learn how to read until she was 14 years old.  It was a wonderful teacher who discovered that she had dyslexia.  This book is a tribute to that teacher, Mr. Falker.  This great teacher not only recognized that there was a reading problem and got help for Polacco, but also addressed a boy who was teasing this young girl because she couldn’t read.  The book is a powerful story for children with reading problems and those that are being teased.  It also makes a wonderful gift to a teacher who has made a difference in your life.

Thunder Cake

As a child, Polacco feared Michigan thunderstorms.  In this story, her grandmother distracts  her with the idea of baking a cake during this type of weather.  Polacco and her grandmother gather ingredients from the farm to prepare the cake.  As they enjoy a warm slice of cake, grandmother points out that only a brave girl could gather all of the items from the farm during the loud thunder.

At the end of the book is a recipe for Thunder Cake with one odd ingredient- tomatoes!

The Lemonade Club

Many of Polacco’s books have powerful messages which is one of the reasons that I love them so much.  In The Lemonade Club, two 5th grade best friends are faced with a challenge when one of them is diagnosed with leukemia.  They learn that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade with the help of a teacher and an entire class.


Meteor was Polacco’s first children’s book and is based on a true story.  A meteor actually landed in the Michigan town where she lived!  This funny story captures the magic that captivated the town over this event.

When Lightning Comes in a Jar

When Lightning Comes in a Jar is full of text-to-self connections for me.  Every year Polacco’s extended family gathered together and celebrated lots of family rituals that involved Jello dishes (I can relate!) and lots of stories while looking through photo albums.  This particular year, grandma decides to initiate a new ritual of collecting lightning in a jar.  This is one ritual that Polacco loved and continued to pass down to other family members.

I hope you will check out one of the listed books or one of Polacco’s other 45 titles.  I’d love to hear which ones are your favorites.

e everything!

I’m so torn on the topic of ebooks.  My husband gave me a Kindle Fire for Christmas and I’ve had a hard time deciding if I like it or not.  The two biggest perks I’ve found with it are that I can read in the dark without needing a reading light and that it is light weight which makes travelling with it super easy.  My negative list is a bit longer.  I’m a big fan of checking books out from the library.  Unfortunately, many of the titles that I’m interested in reading are not available in ebook format from the library.  I miss browsing through a library, picking up a book, flipping through it and deciding if I want it on my must read list.  Most of all, I miss holding a real book in my hands!  It’s scary to me that bookstores continue to shut their doors.

So, what about ebooks for children?  Will I someday cuddle up with my boys and an ebook version of Green Eggs and Ham?  It seems so odd to me that I might read a book without turning the pages and not enjoying that library book smell.  Do ebooks have a place in children’s literature?

Ebooks for children are rapidly becoming more available.  Up until recently, they were limited to chapter books and text books.  Now, you can find many picture books available and on top of that they are interactive with sound and other enhancements.  However, do all these bells and whistles detract from the pure pleasure of reading a book?

Might ebooks motivate children not very interested in reading?  As a teacher and administrator, I have found that technology can be a great motivator for students who might not otherwise be interested in books.  On the other hand, are we just continuing to promote the downfall of interacting with “real” books?

Classrooms or schools with limited libraries also find ebooks helpful for getting students to interact with print.  There are a variety of websites that allow access to digital books and literacy activities for free or a minimal fee.  Some schools are now doing away with textbooks and issuing ereaders loaded with ebooks.

So, what do you think?  Will ebooks replace hardcopy versions of books?  What role do ebooks play in your life?  Please share your thoughts!