Knowing the learner
Phonological awareness is assessed orally only; it is about hearing sounds, not making connections with written letters. Assessment is used to find out what level of awareness a learner has already. With this information, explicit instruction can then follow to extend their awareness by building on what they can do. The following notes indicate areas that can be assessed; they are not designed to be used as assessment tasks in this form.
To determine whether the learner can hear and count syllables, check if they can:
- tap out and count the syllables in words
- complete a word when only a part is given (for example, say table when the first part only is said, “ta-”), and
- identify syllables that are the same or different in words (for example, the “tel/e” in television, telephone; the “day” in Monday, Saturday, birthday).
Hearing rhyming words
To determine whether the learner can detect rhyme, check that they are able to:
- add a rhyming word to a list (for example, hair, chair, bear, fair), and
- identify the odd word out in a list of rhyming words (for example, fit, hot, sit).
The ability to detect rhyming words is part of onset– rime awareness. To check for further awareness of onset and rime, find out if learners are able to:
- play with (manipulate) the parts of words (for example, changing the /th/ of thing to /s/, /cl/, /w/, /sh/ to form sing, cling, wing, shing; changing the /ing/ of thing to /ick/, /ink/, /og/ to form thick, think, thog).
Because adults who are non-readers will probably not be able to distinguish sounds at this fine-grained level, it will be more useful to focus on syllables and rhyming words until you are sure that they are hearing the sounds. Next, check learners’ ability to rearrange sounds at the onset–rime level. Finally, assess for phonemic awareness using contextualised tasks; for example, picking up on a word used during a shared reading lesson (see here). Use the activities described here as a general guide to check for phonemic awareness, substituting words that are familiar to the learners. Check one or two areas only in any one session.
The activities typically used to assess phonemic awareness include:33
- isolating phonemes: “What is the first sound in bed?” (/b/)
- identifying common phonemes: “What is the sound that is the same in bed, boy and back?” (/b/)
- categorising phonemes: “Which word does not belong?” bike, car, bus (car)
- segmenting phonemes: “What sounds can you hear in bag?” (/b/ /a/ /g/)
- blending phonemes: “What word is made with these sounds: /m/ /a/ /t/?” (mat), and
- deleting phonemes: “Say not. Now say it again without the /n/.” (/ot/).