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Janette Vervoorn

Monitoring and Assessment

Four Resources Guideposts

First Steps Reading Developmental Continuum

Analysis of Reading Strategies

Classroom Organisation

Engagement: Empowering Teachers with Successful Strategies

Phonemic Awareness is an understanding about the sound structure of spoken words, that words are made up of a sequence of sounds and these are represented in print by letters. Of course, English is not always a phonetically regular language: a speech sound (phoneme) is not always written by the same letter/s, but with a limited range of possibilities.

Using Phonemic Awareness strategies to talk about how words are written will give your students an understanding of the principles of the linguistic system. It will enable them to make an educated guess in the first place, which can then be confirmed, or used as a basis for expanding their understanding about how words are written.

Many underperforming students struggle with decoding in reading to the exclusion of other strategies. Often, however, their understanding is very confused and based on the limitations of traditional phonics, that each letter makes a particular sound, eg ‘a’ makes the ‘a’ sound as in ‘ant’.

Many commercial kits claim to develop Phonemic Awareness. However, most involve rote learned grapheme-phoneme links and rules based on traditional phonics in out of context or contrived contexts. These make big demands on the working memory of students who are already working hard to cope with the complexities and demands of reading, and attempt to establish links which are infrequent or tenuous. These get in the way of the real issues of reading: gaining meaning and enjoyment from texts.

Phonemic Awareness is one strategy for supporting underperforming students. When it is a ‘just in time’ rather than a ‘just in case’ strategy and made explicit within genuine and engaging contexts, it provides a flexible framework for gaining access to texts.

Engagement: Engaging Students in Purposeful Social Practices


Phonemic Awareness


Lionheart: A journey of the human spirit
by Jesse Martin, Allen & Unwin, Australia, 2000

  • integrates the Four Roles/Resources of the Reader with a focus on the Code breaker role
  • provides ‘just in time’ explicit teaching in a meaningful context to help students access texts
  • through a ‘whole-part-whole’ approach students are able to cope with the complexities and demands of reading
  • may be used with a variety of narrative and information texts
  • enables students to be engaged with texts which challenge rather than talk down to them
  • students can identify with the 18 year old author’s adventures and personal experiences as he sails solo around the world
  • connects to other KLAs, eg:
    • SOSE – Time, continuity and change; Natural and social systems
    • Health and Physical Education – Health of individuals and populations; Safety
    • Technology – Information strand; Systems strand
    • Science – Earth and Beyond; Life and Living
  • deals with topical issues such as pollution, loneliness, personal identity
  • there is a multiliteracies focus through the video, poetry, log, diary, website, email, online newspaper reports

Four Roles/Resources of the Reader

Phonemic Awareness emphasises the code breaking role of a successful reader. However, students need to participate in all four roles (with different degrees of emphasis) so that the fullest dimensions of relevance and purpose remain a priority.

Suggestions for how the Four Roles/Resources of the Reader can be put into practice with Lionheart: A journey of the human spirit include involving students in the following repertoire of purposeful social practices:

Code breaker

Decoding the codes and conventions of written, spoken and visual texts, eg:

  • attends to the sounds in spoken words
  • makes correspondences between sounds & letter/s
  • becomes familiar with patterns and conventions in written words
  • uses text meaning and grammatical cues for word identification
  • through teacher reading aloud hears the flow of written language
  • examines specific visual and word images in, eg book and website

Text user

Understanding the purposes of different written, spoken and visual texts for different cultural and social functions, eg:

  • recognises the conventions of the different text types, eg recount, diary, video and website, and discusses how texts may have the same subject matter but very different purposes
  • creates and reads responses to text in other text types, eg letter to the editor, diary written by Mother

Text participant

Comprehending written, spoken and visual texts, eg:

  • makes links between background knowledge (gained from, eg video and KLAs) and the events and issues in the text
  • compares own experiences with aspects of text, eg dealing with crises, doing something you feel very positive about
  • debates issues raised in the text, eg pollution
  • predicts consequences if particular events had been different, eg what would have happened if ...

Text analyst

Understanding how texts position readers, viewers and listeners, eg:

  • recognises that not everyone feels positively about adventurers, eg class talk back radio program debating the issues of rescue at sea
  • speculates on how the story would differ if the author had lived in another time, place or culture, or had been a girl
  • identifies what advantages the author had and what obstacles he overcame to achieve his goals


Four Resources Guideposts

Phonemic Awareness Guideposts provide a useful assessment tool.

Implementing the Strategy

Phonemic Awareness using Lionheart: A journey of the human spirit

Before you start

It is assumed that students will become familiar with the text over time through a range of roles. Students for whom reading the text independently is a major challenge can be familiarised with the story by:

  • having the text read aloud to them
  • viewing the video

Use the continuum flexibly: the amount of time and focused or incidental teaching and support spent on Phonemic Awareness and word study will vary according to need, but you should not lose sight of the intention of students becoming more engaged and independent readers.

The examples below are suggestions only. Use other sections of the text as you move through the book according to your students’ needs. Select words for study that demonstrate most clearly the points and patterns being taught.

Photocopy and enlarge page/s for close word study for each student. Make overheads or A3 enlargements for modelling or group work.


While not strictly at the phonemic level it is useful for students to be aware of larger units of sound in words. Chunking breaks up words into more manageable units: it's easier to hear (and think about) the sounds in separate syllables. Choose words which most clearly demonstrate syllables in words beforehand, say them aloud as they would normally be spoken rather than as they are written. Most people say the word ‘camera’ as ‘cam-ra’ rather than ‘cam-e-ra’ so choose your moment to deal with less clear examples. The clearest examples are 2 syllable compound words, eg ‘myself', ‘something'.

Word selection

chapter 2, paragraph 1

1 syllable world much might job boat
2 syllables solo also myself money around

chapter 2, paragraph 2

1 syllable strong school mad which boat
2 syllables something driving finance finance market
3 syllables adventure driving finance finance market

chapter 2, paragraph 3

1 syllable mate Ben came plan land
2 syllables kayak river southern central after
3 syllables Richardson Australia (Au-stra-lia)    
4 syllables Australia (Au-stra-li-a)    
5 syllables Aboriginal      

Teacher modelled learning

  • Tell students the purpose for the word study, eg ‘If you listen carefully to the sounds when you say a word, it can help you to know what the word looks like when you’re reading (or, will give you clues on how to write it)’.
  • Select one and two syllable words from text that students are familiar with and write words on cards. Say word aloud slightly emphasising syllable break and/or tapping out the syllables. Place words in one/two syllable groups noting that ‘when you say the word it has one or two part/s to it'.

Student supported/independent learning

  • Students find words on overhead or on own copy, developing familiarity with the idea of syllables. Highlight selected words in different colours according to the number of syllables. Use A4 copy of text for individual work or A3 for group.
  • Make (ongoing) wall chart or individual lists adding words to groups of words according to the number of syllables.


Again, these are larger chunks than phonemes but a useful means of accessing the sounds in words.

Teacher modelled learning

  • Read the title of chapter 2, From Belize on a Breeze and the verse at the beginning of chapter 3 slightly emphasising the rhyming words. Ask the students what is special about some of the words, ie ‘The last part of the words/syllables sound the same, (but are not always written the same way)’.

Student supported/independent learning

Choose some key words that will provide opportunity for rhyme in, eg chapter 2.

chapter 2 word selection and possible rhymes

boat float    
earn burn stern  
book cook    
read bed said  
money sunny    
buy sky my why
  • Make up relevant rhymes using From Belize on a Breeze as a model, eg ‘buy a boat, will it float? ‘take care, hope it's fair'.

Note: Focus on how the word sounds before moving on to how those sounds are written. Then, classify words according to same/different spelling of rhyme.

Identify rhyming words in verse at beginning of chapter 3: ‘care', ‘fair'; ‘learn', ‘burn'. Note the different ways of spelling the rhymes.


Remember don't try to identify or apply fixed rules. What you're trying to do is to have students become more familiar with the sound-symbol system, and to be able to use it flexibly, taking into account both its consistencies and inconsistencies (see examples below). Phonemic awareness is a great help in reading but it works in conjunction with knowledge about the meaning of the text (semantic cues) and the grammatical patterns of the sentences (syntactic cues).

As before, provide enlarged copies of section for close study for each student and have a copy on an overhead transparency for modelling. Select words from a short extract of text to demonstrate sounds in words and how they can be written. It's easier to focus on one syllable words or separate syllables within multi syllable words.

Identify specific error patterns through Analysis of Reading Strategies or work through some easier examples and be in tune to how the students are responding to alert you to the amount of time to be spent at different levels.

chapter 4 paragraphs 1,2,3

2/3 sound words and syllables with each sound written by one letter
on had put his up to dad was top of
in only until              
2/3 sound words and syllables with some sounds/written by more than one letter
with board the eight town there yacht boat cheap her
before worker                
Words and syllables with two or more consonant phonemes together – these are often difficult
hold meant                
project crazy scrambling around bulkhead          

Teacher modelled learning

  • Familiarise students with how words are made up of a sequence of sounds, eg ‘We’re going to look more closely at how some words in the text are written’.
  • Choose words from the one sound, one letter group. Say the word, then say it again slowly with a slight separation between the sounds. Highlight word on overhead and comment how each sound is written by a particular letter, eg ‘in ‘was', the ‘w’ sound is written by the letter ‘w', the ‘o’ sound is written by the letter ‘a', and the ‘z’ sound is written by the letter ‘s’ ‘.

Student supported/independent learning

  • Choose other words from this group and support students as they say the word with a slight separation between the sounds, locate the word in the text and comment on how the sounds are written.
  • Help students identify similarities and differences in how some sounds are written, eg other words where the ‘o’ sound is written by the letter ‘a’ (what, watch, swan).

Teacher modelled learning

  • Choose words where a sound is written by more than one letter. Say the word, then say it again slowly with a slight separation between the sounds. Highlight word on overhead and comment how each sound is written by particular letters, eg ‘in ‘cheap', the ‘ch’ is written ‘c’ ‘h', ‘ea’ is written ‘e’ ‘a', and ‘p’ is written by the letter ‘p'.

Student supported/independent learning

  • Choose other words from this group and support students as they say the word with a slight separation between the sounds, locate the word in the text and comment on how the sounds are written.
  • Help students identify similarities and differences in how some sounds are written, eg the different ways of writing the same sound in ‘her’ and ‘work'. Encourage students to make collections of words according to different sound groups.
book cover click here for a larger image of the Lionheart cover

References – Official Website by Go4

Martin, J. (2000). Lionheart: A journey of the human spirit. Australia: Allen & Unwin.

Lionheart: The Jesse Martin Story. [video]. (2001) Australia: Warner Vision.

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