A series of English phoneme videos to support readers’ phonemic awareness, a foundational literacy skill
Thank you to Anthony Bowser, Crystal Chen Lee, Cynthia Pullen, David Stokes, Heather Bronson, Jonathan Barbee, and Marie Himes for being willing to film their ‘mouth moves’ for these phoneme videos.
Film credit to Ted Richardson.
Made possible with funding from
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is a phoneme? Why are phonemes important to understand when teaching multilingual students to read and write English?
A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound (e.g., /r/ in rat). It is the “mouth move” that is signaled by a letter (grapheme) or letter combination (digraph). Phonemes exist in all languages, but are not the same across languages.
To support the literacy development of multilingual learners, it is important that teachers are explicit about phonemes and how they work in the English language. In fact, this information is important for all emergent readers no matter what their home language(s) are.
Research suggests that the ability to segment a word into different phonemes is an important literacy competency (e.g., say the word ‘rat’, now can you segment the word into three isolated phonemes? r-a-t.). The ability and capacity to practice phonemic segmentation should be practiced to build reading fluency and comprehension. These videos can be used to guide learners in phonemic segmentation.
Keep in mind that phoneme segmentation can and should be practiced in all languages that a student has or is building capacity with. When children and families practice phoneme segmentation in their home language(s), they build capacity for English language development! For more information about this, including home games and letter templates in Spanish and English that can be shared with families, please check out Conciencia Fonémica en Español (Phonemic Awareness in Spanish (Yopp and Stapleton, 2008)). Also, please check out this resource which provides an overview of what research tells us about teaching reading to ELL students from Colorín Colorado.
A song to teach Phonemic Segmentation (to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star)
Listen, listen to my word, Then tell me all the sounds you heard:
race* /r/ is one sound /A/ is two, /s/ is last in race it’s true.
Thanks for listening to my word and telling all the sounds you heard!
*replace the word ‘race’ with your chosen vocabulary word
What is a grapheme? Why are graphemes important to understand when teaching multilingual students to read and write English?
A grapheme is the smallest unit of a written language.
To support the literacy development of multilingual learners, it is important that educators are explicit about how phonemes in the English language can be represented in writing through various graphemes. For instance, the phoneme /ou/ can be represented as ‘ou’, ‘ow’, and ‘ou-e’.
Research suggests that educators should be explicit with students about the connection between phonemes and graphemes and build in regular practice as needed throughout instruction.
These short phoneme videos can be used to help multilingual learners and emergent readers identify and isolate phonemes, pronounce phonemes and understand various ways to represent the phoneme in writing. These videos may be of particular value for practice and enrichment with learners and caregivers and for learners in environments where masks are still being worn due to health and safety concerns.
Each video has three parts: a slide with the phoneme (sound), a person pronouncing the phoneme in a mask with an associated word in English, a person isolating the phoneme, and a person repeating the phoneme and associated word without a mask. Each video ends with a slide listing the various graphemes (or ways to represent the phoneme in the written English Language).
Four quick ways to use these phoneme videos with your learner(s)
- Repeat After Me
- Invite the learner to listen to a phoneme video and repeat the letter sound. Share that the video shows how one’s mouth moves when making specific letter sounds, or phonemes. After listening to the video, the learner will practice making the letter sound and the example word that includes the corresponding letter sound. Provide explicit, constructive, and positive feedback to the learner with regard to their “mouth move” for the phoneme. For example with /p/, “I really like how your lips are coming together to initiate the /p/ sound. When you make the /p/ sound again, place two fingers gently on your throat. Cut the /p/ sound off quickly, like you’re spitting out a watermelon seed. You shouldn’t feel any vibrations, or small, quick movements, at your throat.” Ask the learner if they know any other words that include this letter sound. Come up with three to five more words together that include the letter sound. (Pro Tip: Brainstorm words that include the letter sound at the beginning, middle, or end and utilize different letter combinations to represent the same phoneme.) This article from Bruce Murray, a professor of reading education at Auburn University, provides more information regarding the order in which to teach phonemes.
- Repeat After Me
- Phoneme-Word Connections
- Share three words that include the same phoneme. Choose one word that includes the letter sound at the beginning; one that includes the phoneme in the middle; and one with the letter sound at the end. For example, with /b/ — bag, about, web. Then invite the learner to listen to three phoneme videos, including the video for the common phoneme, e.g., /b/, /a/, /w/. Finally, ask the learner to choose the common phoneme heard in the three words. (Pro Tip: Extend the learner’s phoneme-word connections by asking the learner to identify the words that include the letter sounds from the other videos.)
- Phoneme-Word Connections
- Word Race
- Choose one phoneme video to watch as a group. Point to your mouth or mask as you whisper speak the phoneme. Are your lips making the same shape as the person on the video? Invite learners to take turns (1) saying words that include that phoneme and (2) identifying where in the word the phoneme occurs (beginning, middle or end). For example, after watching /ch/ a learner might say “child, beginning”. See how “far” the phoneme race can get around the room.
- Word Race
- Phonemes All Around Us
- Choose a phoneme on which to focus this activity, e.g., /d/. Listen to the corresponding phoneme video with your learner. Practice making the phoneme and example word together, e.g., /d/ and dinosaur. Then invite your learner to identify items in the environment around them that include the letter sound in their word descriptor, e.g., door, board, desk. (Pro Tip: Once the learner has identified multiple words from their environment that include the phoneme, have them sort the words into three categories: 1. letter sound at the beginning, 2. letter sound in the middle, and 3. letter sound at the end.)
Additional phonemic awareness resources for educators and caregivers
Phonemic Awareness with ELLs
Phonological and Phonemic Awareness from Reading Rockets
44 Phonemes from the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy at the Atlanta Speech School