Monthly Archives: November 2013

Phonetic, Phonemic; Tomāto, Tomȯto

“Potāto, Potȯto; tomāto, tomȯto
Let’s call the whole thing off”

When speaking about phonetic versus phonemic, things are not as simple as this song.  Phonemic and phonetic are often used interchangeably when discussing skills an emerging reader has.  Although these two words are connected, they are two different aspects of learning to read.

phonemic awareness vs phonics blog

My interpretation of the two terms:

Phonemic awareness is a student’s understanding that individual sounds make up words.  Phonemic awareness is an auditory skill!  Although there are 26 letters in the alphabet, there are 43 distinct phonemes (18 vowel, 25 consonant).  The minute your lesson involves printed word, it becomes a lesson of phonological awareness (phonetics).

Phonological awareness is a student’s understanding that individual sounds in words are associated with a specific letter (grapheme).  A student understands that words can be segmented into syllables, onsets and rimes, and letter sounds.  They use their knowledge of phonemes to phonetically spell during writing, chunk words while decoding during reading, etc.

Phonemic awareness falls under phonological awareness, phonological awareness is part of phonology, etc.  If you really want to blow your mind – read this The Phive Phones of Reading.

Confused yet?  The differentiation between the terms is not necessary when teaching – the concepts are more often than not taught simultaneously.  Below is a great table I found from Literacy Resources, Inc.

Phonemic Awareness Phonics
Main focus is on phonemes / sounds Main focus is on graphemes / letters and their corresponding sounds
Deals with spoken language Deals with written language / print
Mostly auditory Both visual and auditory
Students work with manipulating sounds and sounds in words Students work with reading and writing letters according to their sounds, spelling patterns, and phonological structure

The times that I find the differentiation important, is when I am working with struggling readers.  This year, I have been thinking about it a lot.  When assessing a student in my class, I found that she did not identify some letters just by looking at them.  If I prompted her with the letter sound, she would then identify the letter correctly. For example:  I hold up T. She stares blankly. I say /t/. She says T.  However, the reverse was not always true.  I could ask, “What does T say?” and receive a blank stare.  To me, this was a conundrum so I asked colleagues and did some research.  I wanted to find activities to add to the poems, rhymes, songs, chants, and games I was already doing.

I’ve compiled some great resources for you – resources I’ve actually tried.  I’m happy to report my student is making great progress with both phonemic and phonological awareness.

Phonemic Awareness activities – Remember this is an auditory skill:

Amazing presentation from the 2008 Reading First conference – Info and activities:

Patti’s Electronic Classroom (some typos on the website, but you’ll get the gist of the activities):

Michigan Learning Fundamentals: Pages 6-14

Always love Reading Rockets:

Sing a Song of Poetry, Fountas and Pinnell (book for purchase):

Phonological Awareness/Phonics activities:

Reading Rockets breaks down the development of phonological awareness:

PBS Kids:

Michigan Learning Fundamentals: Pages 14-22

Florida Center for Reading Research:

Fountas and Pinnell Phonological Awareness Assessment:

Letters, Words, and How They Work – Fountas and Pinnell (book to purchase) :


Filed under Literacy, Reading Workshop

Food Scientists and #GRA13EC

Earlier, I mentioned the power of students having voice and choice in their learning.  My students’ voices led us to discovering maple syrup, where it comes from, and how it is made.  Being southerners, we do not know much about winter – let alone tapping trees for sap.  So, we went on a search for our own answers.  As we continued to explore fall, we learned about other trees and how they change with the seasons.

download (4)

One of our “go to” resources for questions we have is Brainpop Jr.  We absolutely LOVE Annie and Moby.  The videos are short, direct, and keep the students engaged.  My students already know that Annie and Moby can help us with most things.  We watched the video about seasons and then ordered changes that happen.



Our exploration of seasons and trees ended with our “experiment” involving maple syrup and regular pancake syrup.  We watched how maple syrup is made – from tree to bottle.  We connected our Global Read Aloud author, Eric Carle, with our activity as well by reading Pancake, Pancake.  Finally, we started put on our scientists thinking caps and got down to business.


Our experiment began with observations about the two kinds of syrup.  As the syrup was poured we noted the speed it flowed out of the bottle (fast or slow), the thickness of it (like water or glue), and the color (light brown or dark brown).  We poured the syrups into clear cups to make it easier to see.  Next was our taste test.  Each group of students had waffles to use as tools for tasting.  We made sure to only taste one kind at a time and we didn’t drink anything while tasting.  We tasted regular pancake syrup first.  Next, we tasted maple syrup.  Some of us were nervous, because we had never had it before.  Everyone was a brave scientist and tried a little! After tasting, we voted.

20131111-141110.jpgWe counted the votes and then compared the numbers.  In math we are talking about more/less and greater/fewer.  We knew that regular pancake syrup had the most votes because 11 is greater than 7.  Once the votes were counted, we finished our waffles.

All good scientists discuss their experiments when they are over.  Some questions we asked and answered were:

  • Why did you like regular pancake syrup better?
  • Why did you like maple syrup better?
  • Where did the maple syrup come from?
  • How was the maple syrup made?
  • Where do you think the regular pancake syrup came from?
  • How do you think the pancake syrup was made?

How can you be a scientist today?


Leave a comment

Filed under Global Read Aloud 2013, Literacy, math literacy, Read Alouds, Science

Writing as readers, reading as writers

Today was one of those great days – where so much learning happens that you’re not sure how you’ve gotten them there.  I owe this type of day to listening – listening to my students.  Since the end of last school year, I have been exploring what personalized (student centered) learning means in my classroom.  In the end, what it means to me is listening to my students.

This week, we have been talking about fall.  The season of fall led to discussion of other seasons.  We read A Tree for All Seasons at the beginning of the week.


The book follows a maple tree through all seasons of the year.  Winter captured their attention immediately.  Hands flew up in the air – syrup comes from trees?  The discussion took another direction, syrup.  Their scientific minds were churning, asking questions and thinking about how it all could work.  Our inquiry continued today with an experiment, but that will be another post…

In the theme of following the turns my students take on our path to learning, the writing mini-lesson for today was completely based on their questions.  Often, when teaching my kinders writing concepts, I can get caught up in the process.  When really, deep down, all I want them to do is consider themselves writers.  It was how I was taught to teach writers.  Yes, I was taught the writing process and writing workshop.  But the main point driven home to me by JoBeth Allen (near and dear) was that our stduents must see themselves as writers.  We are all writers – whether we like to write or not.  We do it every day.  It is a part of our everyday life.  Whether we are texting, tweeting, blogging, emailing, journaling, listing, or writing stories – we are writing.  We. are. writers.  Even as I know these things, I have “off” days.  Days when I ask myself – what would JoBeth do?  What would Katie Wood Ray do?  What would Lucy Calkins do?

My literacy class reminded me with a quote from Katie Wood Ray (jumbled and shortened – but this is the jist): “Focus on your writers, rather than a finished piece.  The process is not something you do, it is something you use.  Writing is an amazing, powerful tool to rock the world.  What are you going to do with it?”

Wednesday, I read Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst.  This book is a good reminder that we all have bad days – that was my point for reading it.

download (1)

However, my kids noticed something about the illustrations that shocked them.  “Why do the pictures not have colors?”  Of all my years of reading this book, no child has ever asked me that.  I admitted I didn’t know.  We have been tweeting everyday and one student suggested we tweet and ask.  Judith Viorst is not listed on twitter, but we hashtagged it to see what would happen.  This one question sparked a mini-lesson in my mind.  We would connect reading and writing (yet again).

So today, I brought good ole Alexander back out and asked what we remembered about the story.  The students gave great summaries.  Then, I opened the book and showed the pictures.  “Oh yeah, there are no colors!”  We discussed why the author may have done that.  We discussed why we didn’t like it.  I then held up two photocopies of a page from the book – one untouched and the other I colored.


“Which version do you like better?”  All said the one with colors.  The reasons varied from “It’s prettier” to “I know what he looks like”.  We then explored another Judith Viorst book.  We wondered if all of her books were like this.

download (2)Super, Completely and Totally the Messiest has a different illustrator.  However, the illustrations are half color/half black and white.  We noted that the important parts of the pictures (the parts that matched the words) were color and the rest (background) were black and white.

All this student led exploring brought us to the mini-lesson for the day.  Details.  Using details in our writing in kindergarten most often starts with our picture.  I told the students I wanted to write about a day I went to Battery Park with my family.  While we were looking at the water,  we saw dolphins.  I started drawing.  I drew the fence that blocks the sidewalk from the water and stopped.  I asked if I included everything I told them in my picture (No).  I added water and dolphins, then asked again (No).  I continued with this process until I completed my picture.  The details of pictures became very important.  We couldn’t see anyone’s eyes because everyone was looking at the water.  My nieces are seven and three so they were smaller, etc.


After checking my pictures for all details, we began to craft my sentences.  First I wrote, “My family went to Battery Park”.  I said I was finished.  Most students argued that point by reminding me about the dolphins.  I then modeled adding a second sentence by writing, “We saw dolphins”.


I know it seems long – but honestly, the entire mini-lesson took no more than a mini-lesson should (15-20 minutes).

From this point, the students went into center rotations ready for writing groups.  Using the guided writing method, my assistant and I are able to conference with children everyday.  Today was no different – “What do you want to write about?” was the question of the day.  Our more confident writers sat down and immediately started writing first.

20131108-142626.jpg  20131108-142642.jpg

Our more self-conscious writers, started with their picture just as I did.

20131108-142634.jpg  20131108-142650.jpg

Even writers with developing motor skills found success today.


Today was one of those days – a day you love your job, you love being a teacher.  The only difference is, I wasn’t really the “teacher” in the traditional sense.  They were in control of their learning – and that makes all the difference.

1 Comment

Filed under Literacy, Mentor Text, Read Alouds, Writing Workshop