Hands-on and Kinesthetic Activities for Teaching Phonological Awareness
Object box and environmental print card activities and kinesthetic/oral activities used in two before school programs for Title 1 students are presented for teaching phonological awareness concepts to students in primary grades. A small program evaluation study in which the two experimental groups made similar improvements and larger gains than a control group indicates that the materials are effective for teaching phonological awareness to students at risk of failure in reading.
Keywordsearly childhood primary grades phonological awareness object box kinesthetic research before-school program environmental print
A focus on balanced reading instruction that includes phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, and comprehension has evolved out of recent discussions and research reviews focused on research-based best practices in early literacy instruction (International Reading Association, 2003; NICHD News Release, April 13, 2000). An important component of a balanced approach to reading instruction is phonological awareness (Adams, 1990; Ball, 1997; Chall, 1967/1983; Liberman, Shankweiler, & Liberman, 1989; Siegel, 1993; Stanovich, 1988; Torgesen, Wagner, & Rashotte, 1994; Wagner & Torgesen, 1987). Another component is phonics instruction. While phonological awareness is the knowledge that language is composed of sounds and that sounds can be manipulated (Brownell & Walther-Thomas, 1999), phonics refers to the process of linking these sounds to their letter symbols (NICHD, 2000). Good phonics instruction should develop phonological awareness and vice versa (Stahl, Duffy-Hester, & Stahl, 1998).
Phonological awareness and phonics instruction may take different forms from verbal and visual methods that emphasize workbooks and computer games to multi-sensory approaches that emphasize hands-on activities and manipulatives. It is important that teachers have a variety of approaches supported by research to teach these important skills. Each child has unique learning needs and one approach in a classroom will probably not address all student needs. Thus, we explored the efficacy of manipulatives in teaching phonological awareness. In this article, we describe two experimental before-school programs, one focusing on kinesthetic activities that require large body movements and the other focusing on tactile activities that involve students in manipulating objects. Participants were first through third grade students at risk of failure in reading. The two experimental programs were compared to a control condition consisting of students in a pullout program in the same elementary school. A “pullout” program is one in which another instructor temporarily “pulls” or removes students from their regular classrooms to engage in lessons focused on areas of student need. All participants were pretested and posttested with a standardized test of phonological skills.
The Before-School Programs
Before-School Program Schedule
Verbal/kinesthetic activity group
Song, discussion, or book to focus on skill
Teacher plays guitar or cassette player to teach participants phonological awareness songs
Bingo game of words containing the called sound
Concentration game of rhyming words
Kinesthetic or oral game
Stepping Stone Activity*
Pantomime of -er words such as “painter.”
Break words into syllables orally with tapping.
Write rhyming stories similar to A Wocket in my Pocket by Dr. Seuss
Snack & wrap-up
Weekly homework assignment
Find two pictures that represent rhyming words, e.g., a picture of a plate and a picture of a gate.
Tactile/object box group
Review of concept and use of boxes
Whole group instruction for concept of the day, e.g., rhyming word families, or vowel digraphs.
Phonological awareness box
Sorting environmental print words according to number of phonemes
Sorting words represented by objects according to the number of syllables*
Matching words that differ in long or short vowel sound to objects they represent.
Vowel change word family*
Writing station (thursdays)
Write the words objects represent using the movable alphabet
Write 4-letter long vowel silent e words*
Environmental print box
Sorting words with vowel diagraphs according to long vowel sound*
Tutor helping with individual skills
Snack & wrap-up
Weekly homework assignment
Look for pictures in a magazine with a particular phonological theme, e.g., pictures representing two-syllable words or long o sound.
The first before school program emphasized verbal/kinesthetic activities conducted in whole or small groups, although students also participated in card games with verbal responses and writing. Many activities were used or adapted from Glaser (1999), and the authors devised others. Activities included songs, phonics card games, word games, and writing. Students rotated through four stations with a writing station added one day a week
Tactile/Object Box Group
The second group’s program focused on hands-on activities in which small objects were manipulated. Students worked individually and in small groups with boxes of materials. These boxes were of two basic types: (1) environmental print sets of words cut from food and other product boxes mounted on colored cardboard, and (2) object boxes containing objects (toys, miniature facsimiles, small household items) along with printed word cards or headings for sorting. Students rotated through four stations with a writing station added one day a week.
Phonemic awareness involves auditory discrimination of language into discrete parts: words, syllables, and individual sounds (phonemes). Dividing words into syllables, word parts that have only one vowel sound, is a common activity when helping children develop phonemic awareness. To practice segmenting words into syllables, students sorted a set of objects into groups with heading cards. A part of the set is shown in Figure 2. The student chooses an object; says the word it represents, such as “centipede”; breaks the word into syllables, “cen/ti/pede”; and counts the number of syllables (in this case, three syllables). The student uses heading cards to indicate the number of syllables, guiding placement of objects.
Students working with vowel-change word families, like the one shown in Figure 3, observe how different vowel sounds produce different words. They gain valuable practice in identifying letter combinations that represent different vowel sounds during this exercise. The student first makes a column of the word cards with missing vowels: “b _ _ t.” Next, the student places a small vowel card in the blank vowel space to make a word. The student then produces the sounds represented by the consonants and vowel digraph to say the word. Finally, the student places the corresponding object next to the word.
Students used a movable alphabet to spell four-letter long vowel silent-e words for objects, as shown in Figure 4. This activity increased awareness of how an “e” at the end of a word changes the sound represented by the preceding vowel. For example, as the word “tape” is being formed with movable alphabet letters (before the final e is added), the word would be pronounced as “tap” with a short a vowel sound. However, the addition of “e” changes the vowel sound represented by “a” from a short to a long sound. The act of forming each word letter-by-letter helps students to focus on the sound-spelling relationship. Organizing the objects and cards into a neatly aligned layout allows students to practice organizational skills that support chart reading and making.
The environmental print word cards in Figure 5 were cut from the cardboard packaging of food and other products and mounted on colored mat board. Students recognized many of the brightly colored words and enjoyed speculating on the original products. The variation in fonts allowed students to practice letter discrimination, preparing them for reading in a variety of contexts. Real-world connections to products they see every day made the activity more meaningful.
The environmental print activity shown in Figure 5 allowed students to practice identifying different letter combinations that represent the same vowel sounds. Many words encountered in reading are confusing to students because they represent unexpected vowel sounds such as the long “a” sound in “they” or “eight” and the long “i” sound of “buy.” This activity allowed students to notice these vowel digraphs (two vowels representing one long vowel sound) that occur in many words, to recognize patterns as they sorted more words with the same vowel combinations into each group (these extra words are not shown in Figure 5), and to begin to feel comfortable reading these words.
Qualify for Special Ed.
1. Verbal/kinesthetic experimental
2. Object box experimental
3. Traditional pull-out control
Students in the control group did not attend the before-school program, but rather received extra literacy services through the regular Title 1 pullout program in operation at the school (Title 1 is a federally funded program to improve the quality of education in high-poverty schools and/or to give extra help to struggling students). In this program, children were removed from their non-literacy classes and went to a resource room for extra tutoring in pairs or individually for thirteen to 15 minutes each day. During this time, students practiced a variety of reading and phonological awareness skills, such as sounding out words in context (using the alphabetic principle or other decoding strategies), searching for words in the text with a particular phonics pattern, learning and applying phonics rules, and completing phonological awareness worksheets. The Title I teacher also listened to students read aloud and assisted them in decoding words. For the most part, students in the control condition addressed phonological awareness skills in the context of reading from the basal text and through written worksheet activities, rather than through kinesthetic/oral games or hands-on object box/environmental print activities.
The control group provided the opportunity to compare the traditional Title 1 pullout reading intervention program already in use at the school to before school programs that focused on different modalities of learning. The two experimental groups participated only in the before-school program and received no other Title I reading/language services. The control group and the experimental groups received the same number of hours of additional literacy instruction during the duration of the study, because students were removed from non-literacy classes for their Title 1 pullout program. Students in all three conditions received 18 hours of extra literacy instruction over the course of the four-month study.
Assessment of Phonological Awareness
The Phonological Awareness Test (PAT) (Robertson & Salter, 1997) was used as the pretest and posttest in this study. It is a norm-referenced test that was developed to assist teachers and clinicians in diagnosing students’ deficits in phonological awareness and to provide information about a student’s knowledge in sound/symbol correspondence and basic decoding skills. It is an individually administered test that includes rhyming, segmentation, isolation, deletion, substitution, blending, graphemes, and decoding subtests. All students were individually administered the PAT as a pretest two weeks before the intervention began and as a posttest at the end of the study. Test norms have been established for students 5 years, 0 months through 9 years, 11 months. The raw scores include subscores in each of the areas noted above and total raw scores can be used to determine age equivalents, percentile ranks, and standard scores for each student. The reliability and validity of this test have been established.
Pretest, Posttest, and Gain Score Averages for All Groups
1. Kinesthetic activity
2. Object box
An additional, although anecdotal, finding deserves further investigation. Although the PAT is not a timed test, the post-test administration time of the PAT was shortened by about 10 minutes for the students in the experimental groups. The ability to recognize words is characterized by accuracy, automaticity, and speed (Ehri & Wilce, 1979). This suggests that students in the experimental groups had internalized the skills leading toward automaticity of decoding skills.
Discussion and Recommendations
Teachers of both special and general education students need to be able to employ a variety of strategies and approaches to teach phonological awareness and phonics. Based on the results of this study, the kinesthetic/tactile methods used may supplement and reinforce phonological awareness material covered in regular and special education classrooms. Future research is needed to further explore the efficacy of these materials with larger samples, better control of extraneous variables, and a diversity of assessments.
This experiment was conducted with only 34 students at 1 school. This limits the external validity of the experiment, making it necessary to use caution in making generalizations to other populations. Additionally, after all students were pretested with the PAT and after the experimental programs were underway, it was discovered that the control group had a higher average phonological awareness score than the two experimental groups (See Table III). The researchers decided to continue the study to see how the gains of the poorer-achieving students in the experimental groups would compare to those of the control group. Finally, although total instructional time spent in the remediation settings was held constant across the three groups, the two experimental conditions had their school day extended because their programs were delivered in a before-school format. Thus, total instructional time for them was longer. In future studies, the instructional time variable needs to be better controlled.
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