Phonemic Awareness for 1st Graders
by Kim Kianidehkian
Most educators agree that in order for children to achieve reading and writing success, they must develop phonological
awareness. Since successful, fluent readers can simultaneously process visual, syntactic and semantic cues while reading
for meaning, my job as a first grade teacher is to provide direct, explicit instructions in phonics and phonemic awareness
in order for my students to achieve this goal.
Of course, one of the key components to getting my students to become fluent readers is to engage them in experiences
that have meaning and use what they are learning in an authentic way. In order to understand our rule structured system,
students need an ever increasing vocabulary, knowledge of patterns that occur in words and strategies for solving words.
As Gay Su Pinnell and Irene Founas state in Word Matters, they need to become “word solvers.” Eventually
children must become able to do this in a largely unconscious manner so that they can concentrate on the meaning of what they
The following lesson is designed as a mid-year activity for first graders. At this point in the year,
most of the children are readers. Though some may still be at the decoding level, many will be ready to see patterns
in words and will be increasing their vocabularies daily. Their writing skills are developing simultaneously.
As they become better readers, they also transfer that word knowledge to their writing. In an effort to help this process,
I use the “Making Words” approach to word solving in order to explicitly show the connections between words and
the crucial element of letter placement in the construction of words.
The teacher will determine what the final word in the lesson will be. The teacher considers several factors
such as number of vowels, letter-sound patterns, curriculum and standards, interest level of the students. Once that
determination has been made, the teacher then brainstorms a list 2, 3, and 4 (or more, depending on the ability level of the
class) letter words that can be made using only the letters in the final word. The teacher then narrows down the list
to a size that is compatible with the age and ability level of the class. The list is made of words that contain the
concept that the teacher wishes to reinforce, such as letter-sound patterns, that will be sorted in the end. The list
should include words that use the same letters in different places to emphasize that words are different based on the placement
of the letters and that changing the position of the letters creates a new word.
In order to make this a multi-level lesson, the teacher should include words that are short and long and that
most of the children have in their listening vocabulary. The final list of words are each transferred to individual
index cards and ordered from smallest to biggest. They are then further ordered to emphasize the letter patterns.
Make a list of the words, in the order that they will be presented, on the outside of an envelope that the cards will be stored
in for future use.
Teacher: Pocket Chart, Large
individual letter cards, Word cards
Students: Small individual letter
cards; vowels, and consonants, designated by different colors, i.e. red vowels, black consonants.
e b g g s t
is it sit
bit big beg bet
set get bets best
Sort For: b it et
Teaching the Making Words Lesson
1. The teacher places the letter cards that are going to be used in the pocket chart. Students
are designated to pass out each letter needed; one student per letter. The teacher holds up each letter and reviews
the name and sound of each letter.
2. The teacher then holds up two fingers and states “we will be making a two-letter word.
The word is ‘it.’” The teacher chooses a student who has made the words correctly to come to
the pocket chart and make the word using the large individual letters.
The teacher then continues the lesson by saying, “Let’s change one letter in the word
and make the word, “is.” Each time a new words is to be made, the teacher must give clues such as “Hold
up three fingers. The next word will have three letters. The word is ‘sit.’
Now change one letter and make the word ‘bit.’” The process is repeated continuously,
making three, four and five letter words until the class arrives at the last word. The teacher then tells the student
that they are going to use all six of their letters to make a new word.
If the class is not able to figure out the word, the teacher can give clues such as “It has the word ‘big’
in it,” can eventually make the word with them if they are unable to find the word “biggest.”
3. To conclude the lesson, the teacher draws their attention to the word cards that are now in the pocket
chart and the class begins sorting the words for rhyming words, words that end in ‘s,’ words that
have the same beginning letter, etc. The sorting is determined by the letter-sound patterns the teacher is emphasizing
4. At the conclusion of the lesson, the same students who passed out the letters collect them.
Making words is a multi-level activity because there are endless possibilities for word solving. This
type of lesson can be tailored to the needs of the whole class, or it can be used for small group instruction. It is
a versatile activity that can provide structure in short words for the lower level students as well as a challenge for the
advanced students. It includes explicit instruction that children need at this stage of their development by increasing
their phonemic awareness in letter sound correspondence as well as spelling patterns. It also provides the opportunity
for students to discover the patterns in the way words are pronounced and spelled. There are many areas of research
that support the idea that once children can read and spell some words, they can use the known words to help solve new, unknown
Word sorting is also a powerful activity for developing spelling in these areas. This lesson provides
practice in all of these areas. Ultimately this is a fifteen-minute lesson that children love. Since the students
actually manipulate the letters and see the transformation of the words, it addresses the different learning modalities as
All children experience success while participating in this engaging activity and that is the ultimate goal.
Introduction to Mr. Brook's Lesson
by Dr. West
There are very few grammatical rules in English that are truly
consistent. In particular, advanced ESL adult learners will point out inconsistencies and exceptions to the rules they
have been taught. We teachers must be prepared for this, and one way to do so is to become aware of secondary patterns
that emerge when the first general rules break down. This is precisely what Mr. James Brook is exploring in this
lesson plan on the formation of the plural of compound nouns.
The inflectional morpheme –s is one of very few
suffixes that are extremely powerful in the formation of correct grammar in English. It is so widespread throughout
the language that all students must and will learn it in an almost a second-nature manner. Once they have learned it
well, they may apply it too often. When the inevitable pitfalls emerge, learners may be taken aback. Mr. Brook’s
lesson explores the secondary patterns which will allow learners to understand the sometimes surprising results that they
must be able to create in order to gain mastery of English.
Some Perils and Plurals of Compound Nouns
by James Brook
Learning to form the plurals of English nouns
would seem to be easy enough. After all, in most cases you just
add -s or one of its allomorphs as the last suffix to a noun (e.g., stop > stops, hand > hands, language > languages). The plurals of a few nouns must be memorized
because they obey older, now forgotten rules. These include
the seven nouns that require the Germanic vowel shift (analogous to the umlauting
in Mann > Männer in modern German) and the three nouns that use the Anglo-Saxon -en suffix to form their plurals. (Of course, there are other, less common ways of forming plurals as
well, which students will briefly review in the lesson.)
Now, while the basic rule of adding -s (and its predictable Germanic
and Anglo-Saxon exceptions) generally applies just as well to compound nouns, compounds do present – or foreground – at least two problems for even advanced English learners and
native speakers alike: (1) They have to determine which part
of the compound is to be inflected. (2) And they must determine
the form of the inflection to be used. Native speakers usually do this work automatically and unconsciously.
This lesson – one of a series devoted to
plural nouns – helps English learners solve both these
problems in conscious, systematic ways.
To this end, the grammar of compound nouns is
introduced along with the key linguistic concept of the head
of a compound noun. This minimum of technical knowledge will
help adolescent and adult students quickly analyze compound nouns and take some of the guesswork out of forming their plurals. (NB: This lesson does not address some even more difficult
compound plurals, e.g., Greek and Latin plurals, long phrases.
Nor does it address distinctions between count nouns and mass
B. Lesson Plan
The plurals of regular and irregular compound nouns
can be formed systematically without constant resort
to guesswork or the dictionary. The grammar of the compound – the parts of speech of its constituents and the position of the head – reliably supplies the correct plural
form. But some compound nouns present special difficulties
because of their atypical formation – that is, they are headless.
By the end of this lesson, advanced ESL students
will have reviewed the principal ways of forming noun plurals
(presented in earlier lessons in this unit). They will be able to apply this prior knowledge to compound nouns by learning how to find and inflect the head of a compound noun. They will
also know how to form the plurals of headless compound nouns
and begin to understand more ambiguous instances of compound
nouns. Understanding the grammar of compound nouns in English will help them understand how to form their plurals without guessing or memorizing. (A small, well-prepared class could
do this lesson in a single one-hour period. But you may want
to extend the material over two 45-minute sessions, with
a break after Part III.)
I. Introduce the problems of compounds and
their plurals by presenting examples of compound nouns of several
types: noun + noun (stone wall, baby blanket, rainbow), noun + verb (baby-sitter, can opener, screwdriver), adjective + noun (blackbird, greenhouse, cold cream),
preposition + noun (overlord, underdog, underworld),
verb + particle (breakdown, stakeout) (Celce-Murcia 55). Ask students to identify the parts of speech of the words making up each compound.
II. Quickly review the principal ways of forming
plurals of nouns (this is should merely be a refresher for
the students and a bridge into new material):
-s [s], [z], [əz]
0 (many animals)
Irregulars (Anglo-Saxon, Germanic)
Note that some nouns in the first category also
have an additional consonant shift: calf > calves, life > lives. If there is time, review the three Anglo-Saxon plural nouns in -en (children, oxen,
brethren) and the seven Germanic nouns with vowel
shifts (man > men, woman > women, foot > feet, goose > geese, tooth > teeth, mouse > mice, louse > lice) (Pinker, Words 51–52). (You may note that
there are foreign plurals, especially Greek and Latin (e.g.,
bacterium > bacteria, criterion > criteria) (Crystal 201), which students should just look up (at this stage). Don’t open up the question here.)
III. Ask students to pluralize the compound
noun examples presented in Part I. Correct on the fly any errors
they make, without explanation – the explanations will come later. Ask students why they added -s to the rightmost part of each compound. Now give them a few examples of compounds based
on nouns that either (a) vowel-shift in the plural or (b)
end in -en: (a) workman, superwoman, clubfoot, blue-wing goose,
baby tooth, field mouse, book louse; (b) stepchild. Ask students to form the plurals. Here, it is more important that students understand the structure of the words and their plurals
and less important that they understand their meanings.
The main objective throughout this lesson is for students to learn how to apply rules and analysis.
IV. Introduce the concept of head – the
rightmost word in a compound, which “generally indicates the category and general meaning of the compound” (Fromkin 547). Illustrate with this example from Pinker:
“workman is a singular noun, because
man, its head, is a singular noun, and it refers to a kind of man, not a kind of work” (Language 142). Ask students to illustrate this by identifying
the head of each compound in Part I. Give the students
a few contrary examples: notary public, court-martial, attorney general, passerby, right-of-way, mother-in-law. Where are the heads? How do we know? By reading the compound for its meaning as well as its structure. Ask students to form
plurals of these words. In the process, inform them
that two forms may be permitted, depending on social context – and contrary to the grammar of the word. Example: attorneys general / attorney generals.
V. What is a headless compound? Teach by example:
low-life (a person who leads a low life), still life (a kind of painting), sabertooth (an extinct tiger), tenderfoot (a novice), flatfoot (a police
Analysis based on meaning: what appears to be the head
(e.g., life, tooth, foot) is not key to the meaning
of the word – and so cannot determine its inflection (Pinker, Words 143). Ask students to provide plurals – and to justify their choices. Nouns based on names are similar in
that the rule of adding -s applies to them, too: Mickey
Mouses (fools), Batmans (movies), the Childs (family) (145).
A reinforcing game to involve the whole class kinesthetically.
Make up a set of large cards – big enough to
be seen by everyone – that show the elements of some of the compound nouns discussed in the lesson (e.g., rainbow, can opener, underdog, superwoman, baby tooth,
still life, mother-in-law). Put each element
on a separate card and color code the cards so that it is easy to assemble the compounds. (For example, the two cards for super + woman are in red; the cards
for still + life are in green.) Make up a second
set of cards that includes the principal plural inflections (-s, -en, “vowel shift”).
Play the game in two moves: (1) Students holding compound cards move to assemble viable compounds (with the
class offering suggestions and critique). Call on
students to read aloud the singular forms of these compounds.
(2) Students holding inflection cards move to make the
assembled compounds plural (again, with the class offering
suggestions and critique). Call on students to read aloud the plural forms of these compounds.
Students will collect 8–10 compound nouns from
their conversation, their reading, and the media and analyze
them. These examples should include at least one instance of each of the types presented in Part I. And they should include headless compounds. Students will identify the
following components of each compound noun: (1) the
part of speech of each word making up the compound, (2) the head of the compound (if any), (3) the basic meaning of the compound, (4) the plural of the compound. They will share
these with the class at the next meeting.
In this lesson, students build on what they already
know about forming plural nouns in English to extend that
knowledge to understanding how compounds are constructed – in order to gain confidence in forming the plurals of compound nouns. The knowledge itself is empowering and gives students greater
ease in the written and spoken language. But students are
also encouraged to adopt a systematic, rules-based approach to the language conundrums presented – which is a valuable approach to language learning in general, especially for ESL learners, who do not yet have well developed “intuitions”
about what “feels right” in English. For
a time, they must do consciously what native speakers do unconsciously (and sometimes badly). This analytical approach reduces the amount of memorization of “special cases”
and enables students to handle better new compounds (whether
just new to them or newly coined).
D. Works Cited
Celce-Murcia, Marianne, and Diane Larsen-Freeman (with
Howard Williams). The Grammar Book: An ESL/EFL Teacher’s
Course. Boston: Heinle & Heinle, 1999 (2nd edition).
Crystal, David. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge
Univ. Press, 1997 (2nd edition).
Fromkin, Victoria, et al. An Introduction to Language.
Boston: Thomson Wadsworth, 2007 (8th edition).
Pinker, Steven. The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language. New York: HarperCollins, 1995
[New York: William Morrow, 1994].
———. Words and Rules: The Ingredients
of Language. New York: Basic Books, 1999.