Noel and Vowels

16th December 2020

let it snow

I am writing today to promote Winter Carols on the Doorstep!

It starts tonight at 6pm. Have a look, enjoy the singing and raise some money for charity.

During a previous blog post I looked at Music and dyslexia. You can see this and all my previous posts on my home page at

Prof Goswami (a Neuroscientist from Cambridge University) is of the opinion that:

“Children who are dyslexic struggle with speech rhythm. All kinds of rhythmic experience can be helpful, nursery rhymes, dancing and music as long as the beat is matched to language.”

Goswami feels that the (dyslexic) brain needs more training in this area. Always a bonus to start singing those nursery rhymes to your baby!

A study by Elisabeth Demont in 2003 showed some indications that children can use some ‘implicit’ learning in rhyme but needed more ‘explicit’ learning at small unit phoneme level. She suggested:

“An educational implication is that dyslexics maybe better able to benefit from instruction about larger units like rhyme”

Speech sounds in the history of language came first. The letters to represent those sounds followed on later. On average, speech comes naturally to us (but not all of us). We make sounds as babies and as we are immersed in language our speech development grows implicitly. We are not born with the ability to read , this is developed when connections are made in the brain.

There has been numerous debates as to which is best in the tuition of reading, implicit or explicit? Can you learn to read by principally being exposed to print and the language structure? Or does it require a more detailed approach of explicitly teaching from the smallest phonic level upwards? It is now generally recognised that explicit, systematic phonic learning is beneficial.

I have previously written about Phonological Awareness, put simply it is a child’s first introduction into language before the written symbols. Listening to the sounds and being able to manipulate them in your mind. This can be seen as an auditory skill. People with dyslexia often have difficulty with phonological skills which maybe due to auditory processing issues. I would always note here though, that a hearing test to discount any hearing defects would be beneficial.

As Goswami suggests, Musical activities may help to develop skills required for phonological awareness, such as rhyme.

If you are interested in researching more into the possible benefits and activities to use music to promote literacy, maybe have a look at this book…

Within the phonological awareness umbrella you will see the area of ‘onset and rime’. Onset is the consonant or consonant blend at the beginning of a word/syllable that precedes the first vowel. Not all words have onsets. You can see some onset and rime activities here..

It is very important to be aware of ‘vowels’ and their sounds. The English language is very complex, there are numerous ‘exceptions to the rules’ and irregular words. To be looked at in more detail on another day. But when you think of the history of the English language you probably wouldn’t be surprised at the complications. For example we have the Normans to thank for the word ‘son’. Apparently, as words with ‘u’ and ‘n’ were difficult to read as similar looking they changed the ‘u’ to a ‘o’!

There are 26 letters in the English alphabet. In the Standard Southern British English (there are regional differences in pronunciation) there are 44 phonemes, 24 consonants and 20 vowels – 12 are single vowel sounds and 8 are diphthongs or vowels ‘glides’. No wonder it gets confusing.

As mentioned above sounds came first then they introduced letters as a way of recording. In the adopted alphabet there were limited vowel letters (a e i o u and semi vowel y) so they had to be used separately and in combination to cover the full 20 vowel sounds.

Vowels are very important as there is at least one in every syllable in the English language! Remember ‘y’ can be a vowel and a consonant. At the beginning as in yellow it make the consonant sound. In other locations a vowel making the sound of the letter ‘i’ or ‘e’ as in ‘fly’ or ‘happy’. Also each vowel has a long and short sound!! Think about the short ‘sound’ and the long ‘name’.

A vowel digraph (2 letters making one sound) can be remembered by the use of a mnemonic “When 2 vowels go out walking the first one does the talking”. However, important to note that this is true for most but not all (surprise surprise, there are exceptions!)

That is just a quick overview on vowels and onset and rime, under the phonological awareness umbrella.

When assessing an individuals phonological awareness of rhyme there is often a test performed which was developed by Bradley and Bryant in 1978. You may like to test the individuals memory first by seeing if they can remember a random selection of 3 words. So its not a memory issue but phonological.

Child listens to 3 words, 2 of which have a common sound pattern that is missing in the third. The Phonological ‘oddity’ test, find the odd one out! For example : Cat, put, sat

Its an easy test you could try at home with your child, see if they can hear the odd one out.

When teaching onset and rime give the individual time to reflect on their learning and have explicit discussions on ‘why’ you are learning this skill. How can it help with an unfamiliar word? Maybe looking for similar word patterns? Along with introducing the skill, giving examples, activities and practice. Provide exposure to print and books to see their new skills in operation and in meaning.

Dyslexic children often use the strategy of association to aid learning and progress to long term memory store. When looking at rhymes add movement and action. For example, clapping when they say or hear the rhyming word.

Try cloze procedures either in writing or orally. Leave a rhyming word at the end of sentence out and ask child to provide a suitable addition.

Now, back to Winter Carols on the Doorstep! One of the songs is The First Noel! Lets look at some of the words….

The First Noel, the angel did say

Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay

See the onset and rime? Maybe remove the ‘lay’ and ask your child what word would fit in ‘stood, talked, or lay’?

If you can spell ‘say’ you can spell ‘lay’! If you can spell ‘would’, you can spell ‘could’ and ‘should’.

So could you raise money for charity, you would have a good time and you should feel in the Christmas spirit.

Stay safe and get singing! This is my last post this year so I wish you a Merry Christmas (as best as you can this year) and I will be back in 2021.

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