Unlocking the Doors to Academic Success for Children With Hearing Loss

Unlocking the Doors to Academic Success for Children with Hearing Loss! The Keys: Reading Aloud, Phonemic Awareness, and Oral Narration


Today I attended an excellent seminar given by Kathryn Wilson, M.S., CCC-SLP, LSLS Cert. AVT on how parents and professionals can use phonological awareness skills to give children with hearing loss the best chance of becoming successful masters of language in both its oral and written forms.

The basic premise of working on phonological awareness skills is this:

Phonological awareness does not come free with language acquisition” — Shankweiler, 1999.


In other words, just because we give children access to sound and spoken language doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be able to successfully manipulate the individual sound units (phonemes, syllables, etc.) necessary to really “own” the language. We can’t take it for granted that just because a child can talk, that reading will come easily for them – this is true for hearing children, and even more critical for those who are hard of hearing or deaf.


So first, some definitions:

PHONOLOGICAL AWARENESS is the understanding of different was that oral language can be divided into smaller units and manipulated

PHONEMIC AWARENESS is the ability to think consciously about and perform mental operations on speech sound units.

PHONICS is a system of teaching reading that builds on the alphabetic principle, a system of which a central component is the teaching of correspondences between letters or groups of letters and their pronunciations.


Clear as mud, right? Let’s break it down with some examples.


Speech Babble. Our children with cochlear implants and high-powered hearing aids can access the phonological code of spoken language through listening. It is our job, as the adults, to give them auditory input that helps develop a “finely tuned ear” from day one. Speech Babble is one Auditory-Verbal technique that you can use to highlight the differences between the sounds of speech. Speech Babble can be used with children as young as six months up until children have sufficiently mastered spoken English. Even preteens can “babble” if necessary… though I’d advise you not to use that name to introduce the activity! Basically, Speech Babble is where the adult provides a string of nonsense sounds or syllables for the child to imitate. This can be used to work on listening skills, articulation, and enhances the auditory feedback loop.


Simser (1993) provides the following hierarchy for Speech Babble. (Note that t is based on LISTENING age, not chronological age… it doesn’t matter how old the child is, we must meet the at the “age of their ears’)


Listening Year 1:

  • imitate duration, intensity, and pitch

  • imitate vowel and diphthong variety

  • imitate alternated vowels and diphthongs

  • imitate consonants varying in manner (manner = how sounds are made – nasal /m/ versus plosive puff of air from the lips for “p”, for example)


Listening Year 2:

  • Imitate consonants varying in voicing (“voice on” vs. “voice off” like /p/b/, /t/d/, /k/g/)


Listening Year 3:

  • Imitate consonants varying in place (place = where the articulators in the mouth are to produce the sound, i.e. /t/ with the tongue at the front of the mouth vs. /k/ which is made at the back of the mouth)


Rhyming Skills. These can also be started at birth! Nursery rhymes provide a rich base for children to develop rhyming skills like:

  • Spontaneously produces rhymes (3-4 years)

  • Identifying rhymes (“Hey, that rhymes!”) (4-5 years)

  • Generation (“Can you tell me a word that rhymes with ball?” “Tall!”) (5+ years)

  • Judging (identifying rhyming matches, which one doesn’t rhyme, etc.) (6-7 years)

  • Categorizing (sorting rhyme families) (6-7 years)


Word Level games are the next level in phonemic development. According to Candace Goldsworthy, Ph.D. word-level skills that help children learn to read include:

  • Counting the number of words in a phrase or sentence

  • Identifying missing words (from a previously given list of words or a phrase/sentence). The place of the missing word can also affect the difficulty of this task. Missing words at the end of a sentence are easiest, followed by removing a word from the middle. Removing the first word from the list/phrase/sentence is the most difficult level of this skill.

  • Supplying words as adults reads a story.

  • Rearranging words (adult gives the words in a sentence all mixed up and the child rearranges them to give the correct phrase)


Syllable Level (also from Goldsworthy)

  • Counting (or clapping, or using dots, manipulative markers, etc.) the number of syllables (start with familiar words, like the child’s name!) (by 4 years old)

  • Segmenting words into syllables (“What word is but-ter-fly” “Butterfly!”) (by 4 years old)

  • Syllable deletion (“Can you say walker without the “er”?” “Walk!”)

  • Syllable addition (“Can you add “ing” to the end of run?” “Running!”)

  • Syllable reversal (“Can you switch the parts of baseball?” “Ball base!”)

  • Substitution (“Can you take “somebody” and put in “not” instead of “some”? “Not body!”)


Phoneme Level tasks are easier when the phoneme (speech sound) being manipulated is at the beginning of the word, then the end of the word – sounds in the middle of words are hardest. Consonants are generally easier than vowels, and longer sounds (sounds you can hold out, like /f/ and /s/ vs. /b/ which is over quickly in a burst of air). The hardest sounds are /r/ and /l/, especially when the occur after vowels and nasal sounds like /m, n, ng/. Goldsworthy lists the following tasks as a hierarchy for phoneme level skills:

  • Matching words that start with the same sound (by a language age of 3 years)

  • Blending sounds (“What word is b-a-l?” “Ball!)

  • Beginning and ending sound identification and comparison (“What sound do you hear at the end of “rip”? Is it the same or different than the sound at the end of “rack”?)

  • Supplying initial and final sounds (“What do you hear at the end of “pat”?)

  • Segmenting initial and final sounds (h – air = hair)

  • Deleting initial and final sounds (take the /b/ off of “bat” = “at”)

  • Substituting initial and final sounds (put /s/ at the end of “kid’ = “kiss”)

  • Identifying all sounds in words (“What sounds do you hear in “face”? “F-A-S”)

  • Deleting sounds with words within blends (“Say “spring” without the /s/” “Pring”)

  • Pig Latin and Spoonerisms (phonemic switching like “Haptain Cook” for “Captain Hook”)

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