"Phonemic awareness" refers to the understanding of how sounds are written in standard English, and how these sounds can combine to make words. Elementary school teachers spend much time teaching phonemic awareness. By the time students advance to middle school grades, many teachers assume that their students have a well-developed understanding of this complex skill. This belief that students already possess the phonemic skills necessary by middle school is often false. Teachers can assist their students in developing these skills by engaging them in phonemic awareness activities.

Onomatopoeia Story

Study words that represent sounds by asking students to compose a a story incorporating onomatopoeia (defined by Webster's as "the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it---as buzz, hiss"). Start this activity by discussing the concept of onomatopoeia with your students and brainstorming a list of onomatopoeia words. After creating an extensive list, copy the student-suggested sound words onto slips of paper. Instruct each student to draw or two slips of paper from a hat or basket. Instruct students to write a story featuring their selected onomatopoeia word.

Syllable Challenge Ball Game

When students comprehend the concept of syllables, they can better understand how they can break up the sounds that make up a single word. Allow students to participate in an interactive ball game to improve their syllable understanding. To play the game, ask students to stand in a circle. Start the game by saying a number between one and four, then tossing the ball to a student. The student must then say a word that contains the number of syllables that you announced. If the student answers correctly, he has the opportunity to pass the ball. If not, he must keep the ball until he correctly states a word containing the specified number of syllables.

Once the student gives a correct answer, allow him to announce another number between one and four and toss the ball to a classmate, who must then provide the class with a word containing that number of syllables. Continue play in this fashion until every child has had the opportunity to participate in the game.

Classroom Rhyming Dictionary

Study the concept of rhyming as an extension to a classroom poetry activity. Each day, present the students with a rhyming challenge. Write a word on the board before students enter the class. As students enter, ask them to write a word that rhymes with the provided word on the board. Discuss the rhymes once class begins. Ask a classroom recorder to create a dictionary page, placing the word at the top of the page, and all of the rhyming matches below it. Combine the daily pages into a classroom rhyming dictionary that students can consult as they use their phonemic skills to compose poems for class.