Writers love the sounds of language. Poets in particular pay attention to the basic sounds (phonemes) and how they can be manipulated into musical arrangements (poetic lines). Phonemic awareness, which is a vital stepping stone to the development of reading skills, is therefore important to both the emerging reader and the poet.
Poetry makes a natural teaching tool for phonemic awareness, and even better yet, most kids love to be read to and poems, funny ones in particular, are high on their list of favorites. Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, and a number of other children’s poets have shown that children love to laugh and giggle at silly antics and sillier characters. If a child can laugh and love it while learning to read, it’s a winning combination.
Let me show you a way to play with phonemes with your students. The first exercise involves making up a list poem made of short, declarative sentences of only a noun and a verb. This will set up a pattern that’s easy to follow. For example, look around the room and start a list on the board of what you observe. With help from your students, the list will grow quickly. Here’s an example of what you might see:
Miss Jackson writes.
Miss Jackson waves.
You’re not worrying here about phonemes. This is just a quick exercise to create a simple list poem. What it does
do is set the stage for a phoneme-driven list poem to follow.
The pattern is set: noun-verb. If you need to reread the first poem to reset the formula, read it with gusto and let the kids add their own sound effects. After all, we’re talking about hearing
This time, instead of looking around the room for inspiration, choose one of the sounds you are teaching. It could be a long vowel, short vowel, consonant, blend, digraph, or rime. For this example, I’ll choose one of the 37 rimes identified by Wylie and Durrell in their 1970 study. Here’s the full list.
-ack, -ail, -ain, -ake, -ale, -ame, -an, -ank, -ap, -ash, -at, -ate, -aw, -ay
-eat, -ell, -est
-ice, -ick, -ide, -ight, -ill, -in, -ine, -ing, -ink, -ip, -it
-ock, -oke, -op, -ore, -ot
-uck, -ug, -ump, -unk
Picking one at random, I’ll go with ick
. Here’s a list of words that contain the phoneme ick
|brick ||ick ||nitpick ||stick |
|carsick ||kick ||pick ||thick |
|chick ||lick ||quick ||tick |
|click ||lipstick ||Rick ||trick |
|drumstick ||lovesick ||seasick ||wick |
|flick ||Mick ||sick ||yardstick |
|homesick ||Nick ||slick || |
Next, make a list of nouns and verbs from this list. There are many other words. I just want to walk you through this.
|Nouns ||Verbs |
|brick ||kick |
|chick ||lick |
|drumstick ||pick |
|Mick ||trick |
|Nick ||flick |
|Rick || |
|tick || |
Read the first noun aloud and then the list of verbs, one at a time. Does a brick kick? Does it lick? Does it pick? Does it trick? Does it flick? Too bad for brick. It doesn’t fit in our poem! How about chick? Does a chick kick? (Yes.). Does a chick lick? (Not so much.). Does a chick pick? (Sure.). Does a chick trick? (Why not?). Does a chick flick? (Hmm.).
You’ll wind up with something like:
Then maybe throw in something funny such as, Ticks love drumsticks
. That should get a giggle.
Now your class has created its masterpiece and read it aloud, with a little help from you. What I like about this exercise is that every time you’ve asked your students a question you’ve reinforced the sound you’re teaching. The kids have heard it, they’ve pronounced it, they’ve manipulated it, and they’ve repeated it.
Not a bad day’s work. Don’t forget to keep a record of all the class poems your brilliant young poets create. That’s assembly stuff! Learn more about why phonemic awareness is crucial to literacy development and discover ways you can help preschool children connect sounds with print using fun, engaging classroom poetry with David L. Harrison and Mary Jo Fresch’s new IRA E-ssentials piece, “Playing with Poetry to Develop Phonemic Awareness.” David L. Harrison is the poet laureate of Drury University. He has published more than 75 books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction for young readers and has been anthologized in more than a hundred others. His work has been translated into 12 languages and presented on television and radio and via podcasts and video streams. You can read his blog here.
© 2013 David L. Harrison. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.