Using Phonological and Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, and Prosodic Reading in Art Classes

29 May

Once again, this was written for a reading endorsement class. I am posting my thoughts for anyone who is looking to support reading from he art classroom.


It seems that phonological awareness and phonemic awareness differ mostly in their degree of specificity. Phonological awareness is acknowledging in general that words are made up of sounds, which can be manipulated to form other words. It happens in listening, not reading. Pence-Turnbull & Justice (Pence Turnbull & Justice, 2012) write, “Phonological Awareness is an individual’s ability to attend to the phonological unites of speech through implicit or explicit analysis. We can examine an individual’s phonological awareness using a variety of simple tasks (which are typically presented orally, so that a person must listen to the phonological unties and not read them)” (p.80). Similarly, our reading suggests, “Phonological awareness is the ability to identify, think about, and manipulate sounds in spoken language without using text” (Phonics and Phonological Awareness Article.pdf, p. 1). The key to understanding phonology seems to be that the person can hear and use sound differences without necessarily identifying them as individual phonemes of a particular language.

Conversely, “Phonemic awareness involves the understanding that words are made up of individual sounds, or phonemes, and the ability to manipulate these phonemes either by segmenting, blending, or changing individual phonemes within words to create new words” (Phonics and Phonological Awareness Article.pdf, p. 1). “When an individual is able to attend explicitly to the individual phonemes in words…he or she is said to have phonemic awareness” (Pence Turnbull & Justice, 2012, pp. 80–81). Hence, while both phonological and phonemic awareness are about understanding that words are made up of sounds, phonemic awareness is more specific in that one with phonemic awareness can identify and manipulate specific phonemes within words.

Two ideas/plans

As an art teacher, I try to help support reading and other content area needs throughout my curriculum. I currently teach grades 2–5 and three middle school electives. The first plan will describe using phonics and phonemes into a grade 3 lesson, which is when children are transitioning from learning-to-read to reading-to-learn. The second plan will support middle school students who are reading-to-learn, but still need support in developing thier phonemic awareness and literacy skills.

Plan 1 for Grade 3 lesson: During one of my third-grade lessons that was originally designed to support North American history across the third-grade level, the students learn about the influence that the Europeans had on making pottery in the part of the continent now known as Mexico. I introduce the terms pre-Columbian art and post-Columbian art along with some other challenging vocabulary words for this project. Phonics education is designed to make connections between letter sequences and phonemes. For the purpose of developing the students’ phonological awareness, I say the words before putting them up on the projector to be read. While I say them, I stress the sounds that make up the words. I have the students repeat the sounds so that when I put up the slide, they will already be aware of the sounds, and they can start connecting them to the letters they see on the projector. In this lesson, I go beyond phonemic awareness and ask the students if they can identify the morphemes—the roots and affixes that make up the vocabulary terms—to see whether they can derive meaning by which they can begin decoding the words. For pre- and post-Columbian art, I often get responses about Columbia rather than about Columbus. This lexicon error gives me an opportunity to talk more about the geography and historical development of the region. Conversely, the students usually recognize the pre- and post- prefixes. Therefore, once they understand that Columbian refers to Christopher Columbus, they can generally derive the meaning of the terms.

The grapheme to phoneme correspondence and phonological awareness parts of the lesson doesn’t stop with the vocabulary words. In designing their pottery, I ask the students to build vessels using pre-Columbian methods (the techniques used in Central America before the introduction of the potter’s wheel from Europe), but to design their pots in post-Columbian style like the artworks of modern Mexico. I include the names of contemporary Mexican artists, like Mata Ortiz, with some exemplars in the lesson because the phonemes and morphemes of Mexican-Spanish language sound different than American-English phonemes. Hopefully, this helps any ELLs in my classes from Spanish-speaking countries to hear the differences in pronunciation thereby raising their phonological and phonemic awareness of the differences between Spanish and English phonemes.

One last element to this lesson that is designed to support literacy is that the students must build their name as a relief feature onto the surface of their pots or other vessels. Doing so helps support the correspondence of the phonemes that make up their names to the alphabetic symbols needed to spell them. I find that being able to manipulate the physical letters also helps the students at this grade level who are still reversing letters like “b” and “d” when they write.

Plan 2 for middle school elective: My middle school electives that most lend themselves to supporting reading are my digital art and design class, and my cartooning and caricature elective, though I include literacy in my other electives as well. This year, I used both classes to support a struggling reader, which prevented her from needing to be pulled out of electives that she enjoys for reading interventions. This plan will describe how I support reading through phonics in the cartooning and caricature elective.

For this class, my students are primarily learning about the connections between art and literature through SVS (sequential visual storytelling). While there are smaller projects along the way, the main goal of the class is for the students to write/draw their own graphic novels using SVS that follow a “Hero’s Journey” pattern as defined by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949). This being the objective of the class, we explore many stories along the way and identify the parts that reflect various portions of the hero’s journey. In each story, we also look at the historical archetypes that are present in the tale and compare then to Carl Jung’s identification of historical archetypes.

During the storytelling-based lessons, we sometimes do read aloud sessions where the students have an opportunity to read parts of the story. I try to ensure that they read with fluency, including automaticity and appropriate reading speed, when they read, and support them individually when I see them struggle. I am sensitive that some struggling readers are not comfortable reading in front of their peers, so I do not force public reading. For those, I work on reading more privately in one-on-one sessions.

I also read to them. When I read, I try to enunciate the various phonemes and point out important morphemes to promote phonological and phonemic awareness. I already make my thought processes transparent about understanding content and vocabulary; therefore, I can also illuminate my processes for decoding words and linking/manipulating sounds as I read to the students.
While reading, I also use the punctuation in exaggerated fashion to help the students develop prosodic reading, which studies have shown help support silent reading as the inflections of speech tend inform meaning.

This year, when I teach the lesson, I plan to incorporate a Reader’s Theater strategy where the students, working in small groups take a story from an existing graphic novel, turn it into a script, and act out their script during the class. During the reading, I will ask them to enunciate the phoneme blends clearly, and to read with emotion to help other students with comprehension. When writing their scripts, I will require the students to choose words and phrases that have a strong rhythmical quality and/or a strong voice. I can assist them in this area through the use of exemplars and by walking around as they work suggesting rhythmic phrases. These things are said to help with prosodic reading, phonological and phonemic awareness, and reading comprehension (Paige, Rasinski, & Magpuri-Lavell, 2012).


Paige, D. D., Rasinski, T. V., & Magpuri-Lavell, T. (2012). If fluent, expressive reading important for high school readers? . Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 56(1), 67–76.

Pence Turnbull, K., & Justice, L. (2012). Language development from theory to practice. . Boston: Pearson.

Phonics and Phonological Awareness Article.pdf. (n.d.). Retrieved from scps.instructure:


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