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A writing system is a family of scripts that share a common focus.

There are different writing

systems or scripts around the world. Different writing systems may require somewhat different
skills to learn to read and to write them. For example, what is useful for learning to write in
Korean Hangul might be different from what is useful in learning to write in Hindi. This is
because scripts around the world are different in terms of how phonology, meaning, and
orthographic representations are written down. To understand this better, we will first look at
different features of scripts. Then, we will introduce different types of writing systems around the

Features of Writing Systems

Visual Symbols and Diacritics
Words are written with different visual symbols or graphemes using different lines, curves,
dots, and other symbols. These written words represent spoken words. If you are reading this
now, then you know that the English words that you are reading are made of visual symbols
called letters. When these letters are put together, they make up words. Other languages do not
use an alphabet, but use other types of visual symbols. Later you will see examples of these in
Chinese, Japanese Kana, Korean Hangul, and Indic writing.
Another unique feature of some writing systems is their extensive use of diacritics. Diacritics
are signs, written above, below, or through letters or syllables to show a change in meaning and
sound. Arabic, Thai, and Vietnamese (which is written in the Roman alphabet), as well as Indian
aksharas, use diacritics a lot. English does not. See Figure 1 for some examples of diacritics in
different scripts. Click here to view Figure 1.

General Differences among Scripts

Writing systems can be generally defined as how the written language is represented in
linguistic units. Is the smallest written unit at the letter level, or at the syllable level, or at the
morphemic level? New research helps us look at these classifications differently. For example,
English, Spanish, German, and Arabic are all classified as alphabetic writing systems. However,
there are many differences among these systems. English writing is considered to be deep or
opaque (or inconsistent) due to a lack of correspondence between letters (graphemes) and
sounds (phonemes). English is very hard to learn to read and write! In contrast, Spanish is a
transparent (or consistent) system due to a close correspondence between the letters and
sounds. It is relatively easy to read and write.

"Untitled" (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. by Tayeb Mezahdia via Pexels is licensed under CC0 (Links to an
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Arabic is very different. First of all, there is a difference between spoken Arabic and written
Arabic. Also, after about second grade or so, markings (diacritics) for most vowels are not
included. Thus, CT could be CAT, CUT, or COT, based on the context. Also, Arabic letters may
take a different form depending on whether they appear at the beginning of the word, middle or
final position of the word. Some letters can join with other letters, and some cannot. Some
letters may join with other letters only in certain positions. Furthermore, Arabic (like Hebrew)
is written from right to left, whereas English and Spanish are written from left to right. So, even
though Arabic, English, Spanish, and German are all alphabetic writing systems, they are not
the same.
Thus, even though many languages may be grouped in one category such as an alphabetic or
syllabic writing system, there are a lot of features to consider. As many as 10 different
categories were suggested to classify the writing systems. We won't be able to talk about all of
these categories in detail here. Just remember that scripts could have differences in their
representation of linguistic units, directionality of text, and consistency of symbol-sound (or
grapheme-phoneme) relationships.
Below we will introduce five types of writing systems.

Writing Systems Around the World

Writing system 1: Alphabetic

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A first system is the alphabetic writing system. The alphabetic writing system includes many
Indo-European languages such as German, Italian, and English. Arabic, Hebrew, and Greek are
other alphabetic systems. Alphabetic scripts make use of a set of letters that represent speech
sounds. Most alphabets contain between 20 and 30 letters. For example, there are 26 letters in
the English alphabet. There are 28 in Arabic, and 22 in Hebrew.
WATCH: As mentioned earlier, different alphabetic writing systems have important differences
with each other. In the following video clip, Prof. Karin Landerl talks about the similarities and
differences between German and English. (Approximately 1 minute)
Click here to see the video.
WATCH: Many alphabetic scripts use both letters and diacritics, just like Arabic. In the following
video clip, Prof. Elinor Saiegh-Haddad talks about Arabic and the use of diacritics.
(Approximately 1.5 minutes) Click here to see the video.
Writing system 2: Kanji/Chinese
The second family of scripts is Chinese, or Japanese Kanji. In this script, each unique unit of
writing is known as a character. In Chinese, one character usually also represents one syllable
and one morpheme. Therefore, Chinese is referred to as morphosyllabic. The basic written
unit may be at the syllable level, but it contains meaning (morpheme). In Figure 2, you can see
examples of Chinese characters that represent one syllable and one morpheme each. Click
here to view Figure 2.

"Chinese Characters" by Gina Ngo Ching Mak for World

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Furthermore, Chinese is made up of at least 1,000 different radicals. Radicals make up the
different characters used in Chinese. You will learn about two types of Chinese radicals in the
next section. In Chinese, strong skills in noticing small visual differences in writing are needed.
See Figure 3 for some examples of Chinese characters that look very much alike but are
actually different from each other. Do you notice the differences between them? Click here to
view Figure 3.
Another interesting about Chinese is that it has many examples of homophones. In spoken
language, the words sound the same. This is like the examples of to, too, and two in English. In
Chinese, in writing, you can tell the words apart because they are represented by different
characters. See Figure 4 for different forms of homophones in Chinese. Click here to view
Figure 4.

Writing system 3: Japanese Kana

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site.)Links to an external site.

Japanese Kana is a third system of writing. Each kana represents a sound in the Japanese
language. In most cases, this is a vowel (like お or /o/) or a CV syllable (consonant vowel, like
も or /mo/). Unlike the syllables in Korean Hangul (see #4) or the Indic writing systems (see #5),
kana characters do not always give clues about the individual phonemes contained within the
syllables, so kana may have to be learned as whole units or through memorization. For these
reasons, Japanese Kana is considered a syllabic writing system. In Japan, children learn to
read Japanese Kana first before learning to read in Kanji, which is similar to Chinese
characters. See Figure 5 for examples of words written in two types of Japanese Kana:
hiragana and katakana. Click here to view Figure 5.

Writing system 4: Korean Hangul

"Korean Hangul structure" by Gina Ngo Ching Mak

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Korean Hangul is a fourth writing system. It is referred to as an alphasyllabary. It has this name
because the syllables are made up of individually identifiable phonemes within them, unlike
Japanese Kana. Letters representing consonant and vowel sounds are combined into syllable
blocks called Gulja. This is a unique writing system in the world. It is quite easy to learn to read.
See Figure 6 for an example of a word written in Korean Hangul. Click here to view Figure 6.
WATCH: In the following video clip, Prof. Jeung-Ryeul Cho provides an introduction to Korean
Hangul. (Approximately 1.5 minutes) Click here to see the video.

Writing system 5: Indic writing system

"Aksharas" by Gina Ngo Ching Mak for World Learning

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A fifth writing system is the Indic writing system. This writing system is used in and around the
Indian subcontinent and other southeast Asian countries. Some examples include Tamil,
Sinhala, and Marathi. The basic unit of the Indic writing system is referred to as an akshara. An
akshara is arranged with the basic vowels represented first and then the consonant syllables
with the inherent vowel. Aksharas have some unique properties that make them different from
the other types of scripts. For example, unlike Japanese Kana, the sound can be identified
within the syllable. Also, unlike Korean Hangul, the vowel symbol is not added separately but is
built into the syllable. One akshara can be a CV, CCV, or CCCV syllable. The name of the
akshara is also its sound. What you see is what you read. Aksharas are transparent both for
reading and writing. However, aksharas are visually complex. For example, four
phonemes/sounds can be represented in one akshara, as in ‘sthree’ (lady). Even a single dot
can change the sound of the akshara [e.g., ರ (ra) vs. ಠ (da)]. The length of the line can also
change the sound [ಒ (o) vs. ಬ (ba)]. Aksharas in most of the languages are written in a curved
round shape, perhaps due to the early practice of writing on palm leaves with a stylus. It may
take about 4-5 years of formal instruction to master the skills needed to read aksharas. See
Figure 7 for examples of different types of Indic writing systems. Click here to view Figure 7.
WATCH: In the following video clip, Prof. R. Malatesha Joshi provides an introduction to
reading aksharas. (Approximately 4 minutes)
Click here to see the video.

The requirements of learning to read and to write in your own script vary. Special properties of
your script might be at the phonological, morphological, or orthographic levels. Writing systems
can be different in the visual symbols that they use, including diacritics. There are also important
differences in terms of the direction of writing and how easy it is to learn the sounds that the
visual symbols represent.
It is impossible to cover all the specific aspects of reading and writing that are unique to your
language and script. All we can do is point out here that different writing systems have different
requirements and simply name a few. Can you give an example of a word in your
language/script and what is special about how to write it?

What is common for all writing systems is a set of symbols, either small, medium, or large, to be
learned by children. These must be memorized and applied to word reading. Around the world,
adults use different ways to help beginning readers to remember these basic symbols such as
songs, charts, learning letter-sound relationships, grouping characters that are similar to each
other, copying, and diacritics.

Reading requires explicit instruction

Children are capable of understanding and speaking languages quickly. Yet, learning to read is
not as easy for children. It is hard for children to learn to read without being taught. In most
cases, adults need to show them how to do it.
Children begin by learning the basic visual symbols in their language. Children must then
understand how these visual symbols come together to form words. Learning to read words on
a page is calledword recognition. There are two levels to this kind of understanding. On one
level, children can use their phonological skills to make connections between sound and print.
On another level, children develop the sense of how a word should be written. This ability to
recognize words visually, or using visual-print information, is called orthographic processing.
Both phonological skills and orthographic processing are important for children to read and write
words. How can you help them develop these skills? It is important to adjust your techniques to
match children’s skills. You will know what helps children partly based on your own experiences.
It is also important to pay attention to what is suitable to your script.
Here are some examples of techniques used to help children to read and to write:

Making sound-print connections: Phonics

For most scripts, teaching phonics is important. Phonics basically means that the symbol-
sound correspondences are learned systematically. This could be at the syllable or phoneme
level. Korean Hangul, aksharas, and Chinese characters are probably all learned more at the
syllable than the phoneme level. Some other languages may emphasize the phoneme level. For
example, in many African languages, such as Cinyanja, the relationships between letters and
sounds are consistent, so awareness of phoneme sounds is important. In English, the phoneme
level is important, but so is the syllable level and other units such as the rime unit. For example,
we memorize “ought” as in “brought,” “sought,” and “fought.” You will learn more about different
levels of phonological awareness (syllable, onset-rime, and phoneme) in Module 3.
To become a good reader, it is important to know the basic rules of phonics in your writing
system. Rules are helpful because children can be taught how reading in their language works
some or most of the time. It is better to teach rules, even if these rules don’t apply all the time.
When children know the rules, they don’t have to memorize how to read each word correctly.
For example, the letter “p” usually makes the /p/ sound. This could help children learn to read
English words such as “pat,” “pitch,” and “flap.”
Children who are taught phonics are better readers and spellers. When children know the rules,
then they can remember more. In many scripts and languages, there are also exceptions. An
exception word does not fit the rules. In English, “pint” and “know” are exception words. Once
children know some rules, they can learn the exceptions too. Teach the symbol-sound
correspondences that are easiest first. This will help children to feel confident and remember
more early.

WATCH: Prof. Karin Landerl emphasizes the importance of 'sounding out' or applying letter-
sound correspondences for learning to read in German. (Approximately 1.5 minutes) Click here
to see the video.

Making visual-print connections: Orthographic processing

How do you know if a word "looks" right? Even very young children can sometimes spot when
words look like they could be written in their language or script. In experiments, a child asked to
pick which word is more ‘wordlike’ tends to select the one that fits the rules of her language
more than 50% of the time. For example, given a choice between these two (“ssgeit” vs.
“gelitare”), a child is more likely to pick “gelitare” as a possible real word. Why? In English, “ss”
cannot begin a word.
Even if we know the rules of a language, we cannot rely on symbol-sound associations only. In
English, we learn the rime segment “ought” as in “brought,” “sought,” or “fought.” If we only used
symbol-sound associations, we would pronounce “ought” in different ways. It looks like “ow-guh-
huh-t”. Furthermore, we would spell words incorrectly. “Wenzday” seems like a better way to
spell “Wednesday,” and “neumonia” is better than “pneumonia.” The word for an ancient
Egyptian king, a “pharaoh,” should be spelled “fairo,” but it is not. This is why orthographic
processing skills are also important for reading and writing.
There are many ways that children can practice their orthographic skills to remember what
words look like visually. Here are just some of them.

Memorization can be used to learn letters or other visual symbols as well as characters or
words. Find fun ways to memorize! One way to memorize is to use flash cards. In Figures 1, 2
and 3, words are paired with pictures. This helps children with sound and meaning. Click here to
see Figures 1, 2, and 3.
Children can read and write words when adults give them clues about the shapes of letters. A
Spanish adult could say that the letter “M” looks like two mountains put together. Visualization is
a very common teaching method in Chinese. Some Chinese characters were created to look
like some things in real life. An adult can give children clues about the shape of the word
“mountain (山)” by showing pictures of a mountain. Both this character and M can remind us of
mountains through visualization. See Figure 4 for an example of visualization in Chinese and in
alphabetic scripts.

Adults help children to write by giving them examples to copy. In alphabetic systems, younger
children trace dotted lines to write letters in words. In Chinese, there are thousands of
characters. You need to know about 3,000 characters to read a newspaper. Copying practice is
used to help Chinese children remember these characters better. But it is also important to
remember certain rules of writing in Chinese. Younger Chinese children are often asked to copy
or trace words in a specific stroke order. Numbers indicate which step the line or curve is written
in. Stroke order is an important aspect of education in this writing system. Figure 5 shows what
these could look like.
Children can also copy just by using their finger. Use your finger to write a grapheme on the
table. Then ask the child to do the same. In this case, they will not see the grapheme after you
write it. They have to remember what you did. Copying is important everywhere, but especially
in China, India, and elsewhere where the writing system is very visually complicated.

Activities that focus on word spelling

A focus on the spelling of words is important to develop word recognition. One way is looking at
homophones and asking children to pick the right one. For example, ask them this question:
"What is the opposite of "yes"? Is it "no" or "know"? Children need to know how the word is
written in order to answer this correctly.
Dictation tests are traditional ways of practicing spelling. Ask children to write down the words
you read to them in a sentence. This helps them to recall how to write them. But be careful! One
thing that teachers should NOT do is to provide a mix of real and false versions of the same
word and ask the child to pick the correct one. An example would be the following: Select the
correct spelling of this word: 1) embarrass 2) embarass 3) embarras. The problem with this sort
of exercise is that it confuses everyone. You should try only to give the child the correct models
of words so that he or she does not confuse them.
WATCH: Adults use different ways to help children spell words. In this video from Zambia, the
adult writes the word "inyeleti" on the page. As the child spells the word, the adult gives
guidance on the letters and sounds that the word has. (Approximately 1 minute) Click here to
see the video.
A great way to make writing fun is to ask children to write with different materials. They might
like to write with chalk, a new pen, crayons, or with paint. You can also ask them to write in the
sand or on another child’s back. You can ask one child (A) to write on another child’s (B) back.
Child A should not tell Child B what she wrote. Then Child B has to guess the word or letter. It is
easier to memorize words or graphemes if they are meaningful. Be creative in making them
Figure 6. "Word Shapes" by Katrina May Dulay for World Learning is
licensed under CC BY 4.0 (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Another way is to demonstrate how different arrangements of print can lead to big confusion. It
could be helpful to show how misspellings can signal changes in meanings. An anagram is a
word that can be rearranged to make other words. Examples are “ate-tea-eat” or “won-now-
own” or “stop-pots-opts-tops-spot”. Making a game of spelling anagrams might get children to
understand the importance of correct spelling.
Other activities that can help make spelling better are crossword puzzles or word searches. For
young children, word shapes or asking children to fill up each box with one letter might help. In
Figure 6, you can see that the words “pit”, “good”, "bug", "clue", and "train" have distinct shapes.

There are many ways to help children to read and to write. One way is to help them develop
symbol-sound (sound-print) connections. Another way is by developing children's orthographic
or visual-print skills. Both are important skills for children to master. Phonics, memorization,
visualization, copying, and spelling-focused activities are useful teaching techniques. Some
techniques are better than others in different situations. Always pay attention to what is helpful
for children at their age and their level of reading skills.

In this module, we looked at the types of writing systems, and we looked at techniques that help
children learn visual symbols and words, across different writing systems.
Different writing systems require different skills to learn to read and write. These differences
could be due to the visual symbols and diacritics used as well as other features of the script
such as directionality and consistency. The Kanji/Chinese, alphabetic, Japanese Kana, Korean
Hangul, and Indic writing systems were introduced respectively in this module. These writing
systems are different in their orthographic representation not only in the visual symbols used,
but also in the way phonology and meaning are represented. In some languages like English,
letters or strings of letters could represent individual speech sounds. In some languages like
Chinese, each character represents a syllable and a morpheme. These differences are
important to know to understand what children need to learn to read.
Various teaching techniques for visual symbols and words were introduced. For example, for
the English alphabet, children tend to learn the first and last letters of the alphabet more quickly
than those in the middle. They also learn more quickly the letters that are in their name. To
understand how these letters form words, children need to develop both print-sound and visual-
print skills with the help of adults that will teach these explicitly. These ideas inspire us to
consider more effective ways to teach early literacy. This also happens in other languages.
In Module 3, we will focus on phonology. We will explore speech sound sensitivity and its
relation with visual symbols, and will discuss ways to build children's phonological awareness.
The module had two quizzes. One was on the basic knowledge on techniques for learning
letters and other visual symbols, and the second one was on techniques of teaching word
reading and building orthographic skills. We hope that these questions helped you apply the
concepts that you learned and imagine different situations where the different teaching
techniques introduced in the module could be useful. There was a discussion on the types of
writing systems too. This gave you the opportunity to share with others who are also doing this
course about your language's writing system. Share with others, and learn more about aspects
of other languages!

Alphasyllabary Morphosyllabic Visual symbols

Anagrams Orthographic processing Word recognition
Diacritics Phonics Writing system
Graphemes Radicals

There are two types of phonological processing skills. One is the ability to pay attention to
smaller speech sounds that make up words. This is calledphonological awareness. Another is
the ability to pay attention to the sounds that change how a whole word sounds by adding stress
or tone. We will give you many examples of these skills in this module. In this section, we focus
on phonological awareness.

Levels of phonological awareness

There are different levels of phonological awareness: syllable, onset-rime, and phoneme.
Children find it easiest to focus on syllables. Syllables are easier than phonemes. Another way
of saying this is that bigger sounds (syllables) are easier for children to process than smaller
sounds (phonemes).
Between syllables and phonemes, there is also the level of onset-rime. Onsets are the initial
sound of the word. This could be a consonant (like d in ‘doll’) or a consonant cluster(where
two or three consonants appear together, like dr in ‘drip’). In short words like ‘doll’ and
‘drip,’ rime is composed of the sounds that follow the onset. See Figure 1 to see how words are
segmented into onset-rime units.
Phonological awareness is an important component of learning to read across scripts. Children
who experience reading difficulties often have difficulties in phonological awareness as well. But
there are differences in phonological awareness that could be seen in children around the world.
For example, Italian-speaking children can be quicker to develop phoneme-level awareness
than English-speaking children. This is because letter-sound relationships in their language are
easier to learn than in English. Phonological awareness in English can be especially difficult
because there are many consonant clusters. It is hard to hear the individual sounds in such
clusters. Other languages, such as Chinese or Bemba, have few or no consonant clusters.
The experience of Korean-speaking children is also a bit different. In Korean, words are divided
into the body and coda. Body includes the beginning of the word until the vowel sound.
The coda is the part of the word after the vowel. In Korean, it is easier to divide ‘cat’ into ‘ca’
(body) and ‘t’ (coda) than into ‘c’ (onset) and ‘at’ (rime), as is more typical in English. This could
be because Korean children hear more words that have the same body than the same rime.
Because Korean children are used to dividing words by body and coda, they will find it harder to
do activities that ask them to delete just the first sound or the onset of a word. Hebrew-speaking
children might also prefer dividing words by body and coda rather than by onset and rime.
WATCH: Prof. Jeung-Ryeul Cho talks about the role of body-coda awareness in learning to
read in Korean Hangul. (Approximately 1 minute) Click here to see the video.
Next, we will look at stress and tone as other types of phonological processing skills. Then we
will look at how phonological processing skills can be taught and assessed in children.

Focusing on sounds in the environment

A really easy way to start to think about sounds is to focus on sounds in the environment. For
example, you can talk about the sounds that animals make. Do you know the song called "Old
MacDonald Had a Farm" (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.? This is a good
teaching song. It teaches a variety of animal sounds, and it is fun to sing.
"Old MacDonald had a farm"; Example: duck
Old MacDonald had a farm, EE-I-EE-I-O.
And on that farm he had a duck, EE-I-EE-I-O.
With a quack quack here and a quack quack there
Here a quack, there a quack, everywhere a quack quack
Old MacDonald had a farm, EE-I-EE-I-O.
In every language, animal sounds are different. It is fun for children to talk about them and to
make the sounds. It is also useful for them to see how these sounds are written or spelled.
Seeing and writing sounds can help to strengthen the development of basic phonological
sensitivity skills. Another fun activity for children is to recognize and to write onomatopoeias.
Onomatopoeia is a word that imitates or suggests the source of the sound that it describes.
Common onomatopoeias include animal sounds, machine noises, and human sounds. Figure 1
lists some of these for English. Click here to view Figure 1.
Here are some suggestions for activities that you could do in the classroom. Can you think of
ways to make these activities work in your language?

Classroom activities
“Little Detectives”
Demonstrate to children how daily life materials, e.g. comics, advertisement, package,
headlines, poems, etc., use onomatopoeia. In short, discuss how onomatopoeias are applied in
different situations. Of course, the internet is also a great resource for onomatopoeias.
Encourage children to keep track of onomatopoeias in their own environment. Compare sounds
in your native language and English (or other languages). Consider how to write them using
your writing system too.

Same or Different?
A direct way to emphasize speech sounds is to ask children to compare them. For example, you
can ask whether each pair of words begins with the same sound or a different sound.
Remember, you are asking them to think about the sounds, not the appearance of the words.
Do these pairs of words start with the same sound or a different one?
Bed and bug (same)
Fin and fast (same)
Goat and jam (different)
Sip and son (same)
Game and giant (different—remember to focus on the sound, not the letter)
Simple and cereal (same—remember again to focus on the sound, not the letter)
You can make up your own exercise like this for your students in your language.

Poems that rhyme are very helpful to children’s sense of speech sounds. Rhyming poems make
language and speech sounds easy to predict. Consider this silly poem:
John is glad today.
It is the end of May.
He can go out and play.
He has a holiday!
In this simple poem, each line ends with the rime of “ay.” This makes the poem easy to read.
Beginning and struggling readers can use this to predict the sentence. The poem also sensitizes
children to the “ay” sound.

Apart from whole-word sensitivity, children should be trained to recognize the onsets, or first
sounds, of words. This sensitivity is usually helpful for word reading, especially in languages
such as English which divide words into phonemes. A good way to focus on onsets of words is
to use alliteration.
Alliteration refers to the repetition of a particular sound in the first syllables of a series of words
and/or phrases. It has historically developed through poetry. Alliteration is commonly used in
modern music, as well as advertisements, business names, comic or cartoon characters, and
common expressions. Some common expressions that make use of alliteration are “right as
rain,” “busy as a bee,” “jump for joy,” “labor of love,” and “good as gold.” From Disney, we have
“Donald Duck,” “Peter Pan,” and “Mickey Mouse” as examples of alliteration. It can be fun to
have children make up names or products that make use of alliteration. Here is one activity:
Recently, Mr. Rabbit opened a supermarket in the center of the city. He would like to attract as
many customers as possible. Would you help to name his products, using alliteration, so that
they will leave strong impressions on the customers?
Compare children’s responses and vote on the most creative or best ones.
Alliteration is also fun and challenging in the form of “tongue twisters.” These are phrases that
make use of alliteration. When the alliteration is too much, they are difficult to say. One example
is “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.”
To make the activity more challenging (and fun!), you can also ask children to read and create
their own tongue twisters with alliterations.
e.g. A: An ape ate Ace’s acorn.
B: Baby Bobby's bed bounced better by bedtime before Billy bounced.
C: Cory collected cola cans counting continuously.
Check the internet for many classic alliteration poems as well, including “Betty Botter” and “Silly

Tests of phonological awareness

We know that children develop phonological awareness from bigger to smaller speech sounds.
We also know that phonological awareness is important for reading. Difficulties in phonological
awareness could also mean difficulties in reading. Therefore, it’s important to know how we can
test this skill. Children as young as 3 or 4 years old could answer simple phonological
awareness questions. There are many types of tests. Some are easier or harder than others.
When testing for phonological awareness, tests where children have to focus on syllables are
usually easier than focusing on the onset-rime level. Focusing on the onset-rime level is easier
than focusing on phonemes. This also depends on the language/s that children speak and read.
Figure 1 shows examples of phonological awareness tests where children are given answers to
choose from. In the two examples, children need to focus on the rimes in words. Click here to
see Figure 1.
WATCH: In this example from Iran, a teacher administers a phonological awareness test to a
child in Persian. Pay close attention to the final sounds of the words given. To get a correct
answer, the child must say the word that did not match the others (odd one out). The child got
the first question right, but not the other two! (Approximately 30 seconds) Click here to see the
Figures 2 and 3 show examples of tests where children need to give their own answer. In these
examples, children need to pay attention to syllables and phonemes. Click here to see Figures 2
and 3.
To understand how these tests work, it is important to experience them yourself. Let’s test your
phonological awareness!

Try it yourself: Syllable and phoneme deletion task

This is an example of a deletion task to test phonological awareness. You could try it at different
levels (syllable and phoneme). These levels are important for English. Syllable awareness is
easy. Deleting the first sound from a word is easier than deleting the last sound from a word.
Deleting a sound from a cluster of sounds (e.g., school without the first sound, which is /s/ is
pronounced as cool) is VERY DIFFICULT. Try some of these. But do not worry if you do not get
them right. If you are not teaching in English, think about what sound-related games are
important in your language.
Complete each deletion task and then listen to the clip to see if your answer was correct. Click
here to take the test.
How many correct answers did you get? If you want to try, here are some more challenging
questions. They involve deleting phonemes from consonant clusters in English. Can you get the
correct answers for these questions? Click here to take the test.
Tests of lexical stress and tone
Here are a couple of suggestions for teaching or testing stress and tone sensitivity in your
For both, give children two choices and ask which one is correct (e.g., ‘SOfa’ or ‘soFA’; ‘RElax’
or ‘reLAX’).
For lexical stress only, ask children to clap louder on the stressed syllable. For example,

‘baNAna’, ‘umBRElla’, ‘BASketball’, ‘TUnafish’, ‘deLETE’:

Clap louder on the syllable written in capital letters.
For lexical tone only, ask children who have learned the number of each tone (in tonal
languages) to say what number it is. In Mandarin, children know that the numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4
indicate different tones.
These are also easy to do in print by underlining the stressed syllable or writing the number
above or below each tone.

P – Prompt: The adult starts a conversation by asking a question or encouraging the child to
say something about the story. Read about the different CROWD prompts (below) for examples
of how to do this.
E – Evaluate: The adult evaluates the child's response. An adult might say, "Good!", "That's
right!", or "Let's see if you're right!"
E – Expand: The adult rephrases what the child said and adds more information to it.
R – Respond: The adult encourages the child to repeat the new information. This is to make
sure that the child learned what was said in the Expand step.

Dialogic reading: about CROWD prompts

In the first step of the PEER sequence, the adult asks questions or encourages the child to say
something about the story. Dialogic reading introduces five types of prompts that you can give
to children. Descriptions for each type of prompt are given below. To remember them easily, just
think of the acronym CROWD.
C – Completion: The adult starts a sentence but leaves a “blank” that the child will complete.
For example, the adult says, “The cat is wearing a ____,” and the child says “hat.” This is a
good prompt for books with rhymes and repetitive phrases.
R – Recall: The adult asks the child to remember what happened in a story that he/she already
read. This is a good prompt to use at the end of the story or before reading the book for the
second or third time. For example, “What happened to the crab in the story?” or “What
happened next?” This helps the child learn the sequences and events in stories.
O – Open-Ended Questions: The adult focuses on the pictures in the books. This is good
when the pictures have many objects or details. This is also good when the child knows the
story already. While looking at the picture, the adult can ask, “Tell me, what’s happening in this
picture?” or “Tell me a story about this page.” This helps the child express himself/herself more
W – Wh- Questions: These are “what,” “where,” “when,” “why,” or “how” questions. This prompt
can be used while looking at pictures in the book. Questions like these are good for teaching
new words. For example, the adult can point at an object and ask what it is called (e.g., “an
apple”). If the picture shows the characters in a certain place, the adult can ask where they are
(e.g., “a beach”).
D – Distancing: The adult connects the story with things that happened to the child in real life.
For example, if the story happened at a beach, the adult can ask, “Remember when we went to
the beach on Sunday? What did we pick up from the ground?” (e.g., sand, sea shells).
Some prompts are harder than others. Recall and distancing can be harder than completion,
open-ended questions, and wh- questions. Make sure to ask simple questions that children can
understand at their age. Listen carefully to what they like to talk about, and encourage them to
talk more!

What is morphological awareness?

Morphological awareness helps children understand how words are formed through units of
meaning or morphemes. The ability to put together and take apart units of meaning enables
children to understand words in different forms. For example, it helps them tell the difference
between the meanings of "faints" (present tense verb) and "fainted" (past tense verb), "love"
(noun or verb) and "lovable" (adjective), and "starlight" and just "star" or just "light" on their own.

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When we talk about units of meaning, it is important to know four terms. These are root,
inflections, derivations, and compound words. We will first give examples in English, and then
we will give more examples in other languages:
A root is a word that carries the main unit of meaning. It cannot be divided into smaller
morphemes. In English, examples are “help” in unhelpful or “act” in acting.
Words can also have inflections. Inflections sometimes indicate tense (past, present, future),
gender (masculine, feminine), or other parts of grammar. In English, word endings like -s can
indicate a plural form of a noun. Examples are hats and apples. Word endings like -ed change a
verb to the past tense. Examples are walked and picked. Native speakers as young as 2-6
years old are good at learning inflections. Have you ever heard a child say, “I have two foots” or
“I goed to the store”? It might sound wrong, but it shows that children are learning some rules of
Derivations happen when new words are formed from existing words. Usually, this is done by
adding prefixes and suffixes to change the meaning or grammatical category of a word. For
example, “unstoppable” is formed by adding the prefix un- and the suffix -able to the
word stop. Stop and unstoppablemean different things. English-speaking high school students
might try to learn Latin and Greek root words, as this helps in understanding the meaning of
many English words, such as microscope (micro means small) and hydrogen (hydro means

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Compound words are words that are combined to make new concepts. For example,
putting foot (the part of the body) and ball (the solid spherical object used for kicking, throwing,
or hitting in a game) together makes the word football (the game). The process of making
compound words is called lexical compounding.
Morphological awareness is important for learning new vocabulary words. It is important for
children to understand words that they might read for the first time. Children with strong
morphological awareness skills tend to have broader vocabularies and better reading skills too.
Now let’s see how morphological awareness is important in non-English languages.

Morphological awareness across languages

To summarize, it is important to focus on understanding the four major skills involved in word
reading in all languages. These are

 phonology
 meaning
 orthographic representation
 automatization