Phonological Awareness - Stage 5 (4 years - 5 years)

Speaking and listening - continued

By now your child has a large vocabulary and is speaking in complete sentences and understanding more complex sets of instructions. They may not always be grammatically correct and struggle at times with tense, which makes modelling the correct sentence formation and tense use very important. Again, it is not about correcting your child and making them say it again, but you repeating their words clearly using the correct grammatical order and words (modelling).

Onset and rime

Once your child has learnt to detect syllables in spoken words they are then able to detect, manipulate and play with the smaller sound units within a syllable. This is an important stage which supports and develops the essential segmentation skills that are needed later for phoneme awareness (single sound awareness in spoken words).

These smaller units of sound in a syllable are called the onset and rime.

The ‘onset’ of a syllable is the initial sound or sounds (usually a consonant or consonants), which is followed by the ‘rime’ of the syllable (always starting with a vowel sound and any following consonants). For example, the onset in cat and dog is also the first sound for the word (c and d), whereas the onset for stop and splat are ‘st’ and ‘spl’ not their initial sound ‘s’.

Some examples:

One syllable words – cat; the ‘c’ is the onset and the ‘at; is the rime; Stop; the ‘st’ is the onset and the ‘op’ is the rime.

Two syllable words – snowman; the ‘sn’ in the first syllable and the ‘m’ in the second syllable are the onsets and the ‘ow’ in the first syllable and the ‘an’ in the second syllable are the rimes.

Some syllables do not have an onset as they are vowel sounds only. For example; in the five syllable word hippopotamus the second and fourth syllables have no onset.

Once a child understands that the rhyme element of a word is the last rime in the final syllable it makes it easier for them to identify and generate rhyming words. This ability is based on the sounds they hear, not on spelling conventions. A spoken rhyming group could be: chair, bear, stare, hair, fare. This helps a child understand and focus on the sound structure of our language.

Learning to group words by sounds also helps children later, as part of their de-coding strategies for learning to read and letter-string patterns for learning and developing spelling strategies.

Most children by this stage will find it fun and fairly easy to produce rhyming words, even if they consist mainly of nonsense words to begin with. However, this is not the case for all children, so moving on to the next stage and coming back to learning how to generate rhymes may be a more practical approach; as they will have developed other skills by then that will help them. But it is important to come back to cover this element later, when letter visual aids can be used to help and support your child’s learning.