Improving Pre-school English Literacy

000229With the English Literacy Foundation, we crafted five wonderfully accessible storybooks – perfect for eager pre-school readers.

These books are a cinch to read because every word in them is a snap once you’ve got the hang of the 22 simplest sounds (phonemes) in English.

You might spot a couple of longer words in these books, but don’t worry! We’ve handpicked them so that new readers can easily figure out how to pronounce them all on their own.

Back when I was in primary school, I took pure joy in mastering the longest Welsh word (Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch), and like every other kid who watched Mary Poppins, I had “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” memorized. Honestly, I still have no clue what it means, but those lengthy words are like a magical spell that can leave even the wisest parents scratching their heads.

Our author, Dr. J. Ford, faced quite the challenge writing these five tales because words like “the” were off-limits. Surprisingly, even though “the” seems simple, it can be a tongue-twister when you’re just starting to master English.

Our goal? To make sure every eager young reader can pick up any of our five books and breeze through them without any grown-up assistance. That’s the key to sparking curiosity and giving young minds that fantastic sense of accomplishment. After reading one book independently, these budding bookworms will be hungry for more.

While many popular books for early readers toss in lots of tough words, we decided to go in the opposite direction by using only the easiest words to create a laid-back and enjoyable reading experience.

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“Teaching English language skills to young children between the ages of 3 to 5 is an important foundation for their literacy development. Focusing on phonemes is a common and effective approach to help them grasp the fundamental building blocks of language. We decided to start with the simplest 22 phonemes and use a limited vocabulary as it aligns with the developmental stage and capabilities of these young learners.” (Peter Scott, Image of Learning)

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If you are thinking of publishing books for early learners, here’s some tips we’d like to share:

  1. Age-Appropriate Material: Ensure that your books are age-appropriate in terms of content, language complexity, and illustrations. Use colorful and engaging visuals to capture the child’s attention and make the learning process enjoyable.
  2. Repetition: Repetition is key for young learners. Incorporate frequently used phonemes and words throughout your books to reinforce their understanding.
  3. Interactive Activities: Include interactive activities like games, puzzles, and exercises that encourage children to practice pronouncing and recognizing the phonemes they’re learning. Hands-on activities can make the learning experience more engaging.
  4. Progressive Difficulty: Gradually introduce more complex phonemes and vocabulary as children progress in their language development. Start with the simplest sounds and gradually work your way up to more challenging ones.
  5. Phonemic Awareness: (defined below) Besides pronunciation, emphasize phonemic awareness, which involves recognizing and manipulating individual sounds within words. This is a critical skill for reading and spelling.
  6. Phonics and Reading: Introduce basic phonics concepts to help children connect phonemes to letters and words. Consider creating follow-up books that focus on blending sounds to form words and early reading skills.
  7. Parental Involvement: Encourage parents or caregivers to be actively involved in their child’s learning process. Provide guidance on how they can support their child’s language development at home.
  8. Assessment and Progress Tracking: Consider including tools for assessing a child’s progress, such as simple quizzes or activities that can be used to gauge their understanding of phonemes and vocabulary.
  9. Teacher and Parent Guides: Provide accompanying guides for teachers and parents to help them effectively use your books to teach phonemic awareness and language skills.
  10. Diversity and Inclusivity: Ensure that your books reflect diversity and inclusivity in both characters and themes to make them relatable and inclusive for a wide range of young readers.

“Remember that each child’s learning pace is unique, so it’s important to be patient and flexible in your approach. Books play a valuable role in laying the foundation for a child’s lifelong language and literacy skills.”

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Phonic Awareness

The term “phonic awareness” typically refers to the development of phonemic awareness skills in children, which are crucial for early reading and literacy.

Phonemic awareness is the ability to recognize, manipulate, and work with individual phonemes (the smallest units of sound in language) in spoken words. While there isn’t a universally standardized framework of phonic awareness levels,  here is our simplified breakdown of the seven different stages, or levels, of phonemic awareness development:

  1. Awareness of Environmental Sounds: At this early stage, children become aware of various sounds in their environment, such as the sound of a car, a dog barking, or a doorbell ringing. While not directly related to phonemic awareness, this awareness of sounds is a precursor to more specific phonemic skills.
  2. Listening for Rhymes: Children start to recognize words that rhyme, such as “cat” and “hat.” They can identify and produce simple word endings that sound the same.
  3. Syllable Awareness: Children learn to identify and count the number of syllables in words. For example, they recognize that “cat” has one syllable, while “banana” has three.
  4. Onset and Rime Awareness: In this stage, children can separate the beginning consonant sound (onset) from the rest of the word (rime). For example, they can recognize that “cat” is made up of the onset “c” and the rime “at.”
  5. Phoneme Isolation: At this level, children can isolate individual phonemes within words. For example, they can identify the first sound in “dog” as /d/.
  6. Phoneme Blending: Children learn to blend individual phonemes together to form words. They can, for example, blend /c/, /a/, and /t/ to say the word “cat.”
  7. Phoneme Segmentation: This is the most advanced level of phonemic awareness. Children can break words down into their individual phonemes. For example, they can segment the word “dog” into /d/, /o/, and /g/.

“These levels of phonemic awareness typically develop sequentially in young children as they progress toward becoming proficient readers. Developing strong phonemic awareness skills is a critical foundation for learning to read and spell words in an alphabetic writing system like English.”

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Elf Books are published by littlepeoplebooks.co.uk

PROJECT UPDATE

On Amazon the first title “On Robin Hill” (Paperback) sells at £7.99p+ £2.80 (UK delivery)
Amazon are listing an “Orange Second Series” title “Mister Porter’s Alarm Clock” (Paperback) £5.17p+ £2.80 (UK delivery) which was only ever printed in demo.  form. Ten copies of this exist Worldwide which may explain why they are being offered by some collectors at a far higher price.

  • As some of the characters from the first five books make a come back appearance in a series of ten books written using all 44+ phonemes, all reprinted covers of the first five include the words “22 Phonemes” in bold.

Early  comments:

Julie Craddock “an avid reader” on 27 May 2009
“The kids loved it. THEY read to ME for a change. I liked the pictures but the story was way above my intellectual level! Now I am being nagged to get more books in the series. A boxed set would be nice then I wouldn’t have to check which they have got already. I think this is going to be a kind of 21st century Beatrix Potter collection.”

anotherreader on 16 January 2009
“At last a proper phonic reading scheme. Real stories with carefully chosen vocabulary. The pictures are fabulous. Highly recommended.”

V. Linnetton 29 May 2009
“I bought this book as I wanted to provide more fiction stories that my son can read himself. However, the words may be phonetic, but are not the sort used in everyday life. I think it is unreasonable to expect a child to read words that he has never heard of, just because they can be sounded out.  I shall stick to Kipper, Floppy and the Oxford Reading Tree

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Our phoneme list, along with examples of words containing each phoneme:

  1. /p/ (pen)
  2. /b/ (bat)
  3. /t/ (top)
  4. /d/ (dog)
  5. /k/ (kite)
  6. /g/ (goat)
  7. /m/ (mat)
  8. /n/ (net)
  9. /s/ (sun)
  10. /z/ (zebra)
  11. /f/ (fan)
  12. /v/ (van)
  13. /θ/ (thumb)
  14. /ð/ (this)
  15. /ʃ/ (shoe)
  16. /ʒ/ (treasure)
  17. /h/ (hat)
  18. /w/ (wet)
  19. /j/ (jam)
  20. /l/ (lip)
  21. /r/ (rat)
  22. /i/ (pig)
    1. /e/ (red)
    2. /ə/ (sofa)
    3. /ʌ/ (cup)
    4. /ɑ/ (car)
    5. /ɔ/ (dog)
    6. /ɪ/ (sit)
    7. /ʊ/ (book)
    8. /ɛ/ (bed)
    9. /æ/ (cat)
    10. /aɪ/ (bike)
    11. /aʊ/ (house)
    12. /ɔɪ/ (coin)
    13. /eɪ/ (cake)
    14. /oʊ/ (boat)
    15. /juː/ (cube)
    16. /aɪə/ (tire)
    17. /aʊə/ (hour)
    18. /ɪə/ (fear)
    19. /eə/ (care)
    20. /ʊə/ (tour)
    21. /ɔː/ (law)
    22. /ɜː/ (bird)

 

Nursery Question

We received an email from a nursery asking about the earliest and very simplest sounds that a 2 year old forms as many of the simple 22 phonemes above are still difficult to pronounce when a child has not mastered many of its sound producing muscles.

So editing the list down further (excluding the phonemes which are hard for a very young vocal muscle system to sound) we arrive at just 8 consonant phonemes and 2 vowel phonemes:

Consonant Phonemes:

  1. /b/ (as in “ball”)
  2. /d/ (as in “dog”)
  3. /m/ (as in “mama”)
  4. /n/ (as in “nose”)
  5. /p/ (as in “pop”)
  6. /t/ (as in “top”)
  7. /w/ (as in “water”)
  8. /h/ (as in “hat”)

Vowel Phonemes: 9. /a/ (as in “cat”)

  1. /e/ (as in “egg”)
  2. /i/ (as in “big”)

We suggest you start with this simplified list then gradually explore the more complex phonemes listed earlier.

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