Category Archives: Literacy and Reading

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

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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Phonology, Syntax, Semantics, and Pragmatics

This blog post is from my response to a discussion board in my reading endorsement class. It is slightly modified for my readers who don’t have the benefit of seeing the question and overview. The purpose of the discussion board was to discuss four areas of oral language development as they apply to early literacy.

Before discussing the importance of each of the four topics (phonology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics), I would like to comment about overall oral language development.

Considering that the earliest language instruction is passive—meaning it comes from the experience of listening (hearing really) to how family and community members use language, it seems that the first important step in literacy development is oral language expression used around babies and preschool-aged children. According to the research by Hart and Risley (1995), there is a drastic difference between a child’s language opportunities and her/his family’s socioeconomic status. They write, “In 4 years of such experience, an average child in a professional family would have accumulated experience with almost 45 million words, an average child in a working-class family would have accumulated experience with 26 million words, and an average child in a welfare family would have accumulated experience with 13 million words” (p. 198). If accurate, that means that children from the highest SES families have about 32 million more quality word experiences than children born into poverty by the time they enter kindergarten. These numbers are based on two and a half years of research observing the interactions between families of youngsters between birth and school age of various economic statuses. If oral language experience and development is critical to early literacy—and Hart and Risley’s research is still valid—then educators are challenged to figure out how to make up a loss of millions quality language experiences for our students who come from lower SES families. This is food for thought about this critical stage of early literacy. I would love to hear from some of my cohort who teach children from lower SES families how they deal with early language deficits based on limited experiences. Does this factor into your decisions?

According to Language Development from Theory to Practice, phonology is the process of breaking down language into discrete sounds called phonemes. SAE (Standard American English) has 39 phonemes or sounds that combine to make about 100,000 words (Pence Turnbull & Justice, 2012, p. 22). The assigned reading states, “Children learn to talk without being consciously aware of individual phonemes…” (Oral Language Reading Selection(1).pdf: 8972_Comp1_Summer2017, p. 11). This means that it is necessary to make children phonologically aware for them to transition from learning to listen and talk to learning to read and write.

Syntax is about the rules governing how words are put together to form phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and beyond (Oral Language Reading Selection(1).pdf: 8972_Comp1_Summer2017, p. 11). Like phoneme use, syntax begins unconsciously. Children and other language learners begin forming sentences by mimicking experiences from other, more proficient, language users. This occurs before they are aware of how the rules work. In my personal and teaching experience, even children with various developmental and cognitive disabilities learn to form sentences by scripting from the language they have heard from various language experiences before they understand the rules—or even the vocabulary—necessary for developing original sentences. This explains why they sometimes express well-formed sentences that are not meaningfully related to the current situation. Or, as Pence-Turnbull and Justice (2012) write, “Consideration of Chomsky’s proposition that Colorless green ideas sleep furiously illustrates the difference between semantics and syntax, in which a sentence is devoid of meaning but conforms to sophisticated syntactic rules” (p. 24). In other words, the child misunderstands the meaning of the words or combinations of words, but still can put them in a meaningful order. Syntactic awareness takes automatic syntax and makes in useable.

Semantics is the area of literacy learning where the sentences and word phrases become meaningful. In the semantic system, meaning extends beyond individual words to include “…phrases, sentences, discourse and whole text” (Oral Language Reading Selection(1).pdf: 8972_Comp1_Summer2017, p. 11). Sometimes words have multiple meanings. Without the semantic skill of deriving meaning from the context of a sentence or phrase, it may not be possible for developing readers to comprehend what they are learning. One example that I frequently employ is the word pitch, which means different things across the many school content areas. In PE, it is a thrown ball or golf shot. In math, it means the slope of a line. In economics, a pitch is a way to sell a product or service. In engineering and science, pitch is another word for tar. In music, it represents the highness or lowness of a note. And, in art, pitch is related to value, meaning how light or dark a specific hue compares to other hues in the artwork. Without a significantly developed semantic system, it is impossible to understand the meaning of the pitch in the various contexts in which it may be used in school texts. Going back to the Chomsky sentence from above, semantical awareness also helps a child understand that there is something wrong with the phrase despite its correct grammatical form (Pence Turnbull & Justice, 2012).

“Pragmatics (use) pertains to the rules governing how language is used for social purposes” (Pence Turnbull & Justice, 2012, p. 24). There are three areas where understanding pragmatics is important for language learners. They must learn how to express intentions, to communicate during conversations, and use language that adheres to social conventions. Pragmatics can involve additional aspects like language register, cultural awareness and responsiveness, and even body language.

Like phoneme and syntax use, low-level pragmatics comes automatically from experiences in social situations. However, educators must not assume that students have sophisticated pragmatic systems down automatically. The reading states, “…many educators: ‘had been operating on the belief that the semantic, syntactic, and pragmatic cues were straightforward and familiar to children, and, because of this, were wholly available for use in finessing the graphophonemic system’” (Oral Language Reading Selection(1).pdf: 8972_Comp1_Summer2017, p. 12). Instead of teaching literacy under that deficient assumption, it is important to move the children from their automatic understanding of these important areas of oral reading readiness toward understanding them on a more cognitive level.

Ruby Payne, for one, recognizes this idea in her work demonstrating that different groups of children may be unaware of the language register shifts that need to take place for kids to be successful in school (Payne, n.d.). Students sometimes know when to socially switch codes from the casual register they are using with their friends to a more intimate register that they use with their mother, but they may not recognize when and where schools require formal register since schools are a place where many registers can be used correctly. Language register code changing also requires the student to make a shift in the grammatical rules from their local informal dialect to SAE. Therefore, educators need to be cognizant about the pragmatic shifts that take place in various school-related social situations, and must illuminate the rule changes for the children to apply them properly to different social and learning literacy situations.

To tie it all together, while these four areas are essential for language and literacy learning, without knowing that all the students in our classes have had beyond the most basic introduction to oral language literacy at home, teachers need to find ways to compensate in several ways. We must provide some additional language experiences to supplement what is missing. These experiences should be designed to help the students develop automatic phonology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. In my estimation, we can never fully make up for millions of missed language experiences that some children have lost in relation to others in our classes. However, we should not write curriculum based on the assumption that the students have all had the same opportunities either. Once the students demonstrate that they can use phonology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics automatically, there is a need to illuminate the processes for them so that the students can begin to transition from learning how to listen, talk, and converse in social situations to learning how to use these skills cognitively for learning to read and write. It involves ensuring that the children can develop phonologic and graphophonemic awareness to attach letters and other symbols to their spoken language skills.


Hart, B., & Risley, T. R. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday esperience of young American children. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Company.

Oral Language Reading Selection(1).pdf: 8972_Comp1_Summer2017. (n.d.). Retrieved from SCPS instructure:

Payne, R. (n.d.). Understanding and working with students and adults from poverty. Retrieved from Homepages :

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


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