Here are my best tips, hints, and advice for teaching phonemic awareness with the Michael Heggerty Phonemic Awareness Curriculum, which is an amazing resource for Pre-K, Kindergarten, and primary teachers. Once you know how to use it, it takes NO PREP TIME whatsoever, and the payoffs are HUGE! However, until you develop a routine for using it that keeps your class engaged, it can be difficult to implement. In this post, I will show you how I have made this curriculum work well for me, how to make the lessons go smoothly, and show you a video of my Transitional Kindergarten (TK) class doing the daily exercises.
If you are not familiar with the Michael Heggerty Phonemic Awareness Curriculum, allow me to introduce you to it! The book is compact and easy to use, and each daily practice session can take your class through every single phonemic awareness skill that they will need- all in just about ten to fifteen minutes! I have found it absolutely INVALUABLE in helping my class develop these vital pre-reading skills quickly and fairly easily. The video of my TK class doing the daily exercises will show you just how well the program works. You won’t BELIEVE what they can do- and the video was just taken in JANUARY! And remember: most of them only just turned five in October or November!
First of all, you will want to take a look at what it is. You can download sample lesson plans on their website at this link. They have uploaded a plan from the Pre-K book for week five and week 20. (I’ve been using this Pre-K book this year with my Transitional Kindergartners.) There is also a plan from the Kindergarten book for week eleven, and the Primary book for week 6, which is usually used in first grade. I used the Kindergarten book for several years when I taught Kindergarten.
To help you get a feel for the difference between the three levels, I took a picture of the lesson plan for week 26 from all three of the books. You can see them below and throughout this post. Just zoom in to take a closer look! You’ll notice that each week usually has two or three pages, and you read them going DOWN. So in the photo below for the Pre-K book, Monday starts at the top of page 58 and proceeds down through the left side of pages 59 and 60. Then Tuesday starts in the second column of page 58 and then proceeds down pages 59 and 60.
The basic differences between the books, other than the scope and sequence which can be found here, is that there are a lot more examples in the drills in the Kindergarten and first grade books. So the Pre-K book actually goes much faster, even though there are often three pages per week rather than two, as in the K and first grade books.
Start at the Beginning of the Book- (No Matter What Time of Year You Begin)
I must admit to you that when I was first introduced to the Michael Heggerty Phonemic Awareness curriculum, I quickly developed a love/hate relationship with it. I heard about it at a conference, and decided to purchase one for my own classroom with my own money. (At the time, it was about $60, and it’s now $74.99, and that’s for a FULL YEAR, printed curriculum!) When I got back to my classroom, we were on about the 16th week of school, so I turned to week 16 and tried to give my class their first lesson. I assumed that my class could handle it since I had been teaching them phonemic awareness skills up to that point. (Cue the dramatic music here…) WRONG! I was totally SHOCKED to find that my students absolutely could NOT answer the questions or do the exercises!
So, I studied the manual a bit more, backed it up to week eight, and tried again. But NO- they still could NOT do the drills! I was totally dismayed and more than a little chagrined to find that I had to start at the very beginning! That first year with it was rocky, I got discouraged, and only used the book intermittently. And guess what? It got harder the more I skipped it! That’s because it is designed to be used DAILY.
Consistency is the Key
Like many skills, consistency is the key to learning phonemic awareness, and daily practice makes the difference! I use the program consistently four days a week. (There usually isn’t time on the day we do STEM buddies, go the library and computer lab!) But otherwise, it’s on my daily schedule. It’s actually quite easy to plan for! You just cross off a fifteen minute time block for the Heggerty Book Phonemic Awareness exercises, and turn the page to the next week on Fridays! lt’s an easy lesson plan, no prep habit!
Now that I have used both the Kindergarten version and the Pre-K version, I can tell you that once you get going, you can probably jump forward a week here and there if needed. You can also go backwards and review a week. Just don’t skip the first eight weeks or so, because they help set the stage for the skills that are coming later.
Keep the Pace Up
Once both you and the kids know the routine, the quicker you can take them through the exercises, the happier you’ll all be! It’s easier to keep the kids’ attention if you keep the lesson moving than if you go slowly. The kids will get a TON of repetition on every skill, so there is no reason to dwell on each one. Please note that the video below has been edited for time to make it short enough for you to watch the whole lesson easily. The lesson was seven minutes, and the video has been edited down to just three minutes. However, it still DOES show ALL of the components of the pre-K lesson. This is from week 22 or so.
Don’t Stop the Lesson Once You Start
Let your class know that you will not call on them if they have questions during the lesson. If someone raises a hand to stop you to ask a question, just shake your head, “no,” meaning, “Not right now- wait a few minutes.” Teach kids a secret signal to use if they need to visit the restroom, such as holding one finger up to ask permission.. That way, you can nod or shake your head without stopping. My Transitional Kindergartners have gotten so good at their Heggerty phonemic awareness lessons that we usually get through them in about seven minutes, not counting singing the ABC song at the beginning and the Nursery Rhyme at the end! We use our Nursery Rhyme DVD for that! It even has the Alphabet Song on the end of it, too! Below you can see an example of one of the Nursery Rhyme videos with motions that we do afterwards!
Use Consistent Hand Motions for the Exercises
The Heggerty book includes descriptions of hand motion cues to use for many of their exercises, but not all. You can also see the ones that I use in the video. Of course, you can always make up your own! But I would highly suggest that you be consistent with your movements. If you teach the kids to “punch the ending sound” one week, then stick with that unless there is a reason to change it. And here is a tip: When you are testing your kids, demonstrate the skill you are looking for by using the same motions you use in the book. It will help them understand what skill you are looking for and your scores will be that much better!
Consider Changing the Language of the Book to Match Your Testing Language
If you are required to give your district assessments by using specific language, then consider changing the language in the Heggerty book to match the language of the test. For example, if you are required to say, “What is the final sound of this word?”, then refer to the ending sounds as “final sounds” instead. I hope that makes sense. Your students will likely internalize the language of the book the way you teach it daily.
What if the kids can’t answer the questions?
Every now and then you may come to a new skill drill that your kids are unfamiliar with and cannot answer. So for example, you may say, “Blend these sounds together: /m/ /a/ /t/” and then find yourself waiting for the kids to say “Mat!” but nothing happens! In that case, I just tell them what to say. So if I say, “Blend these sounds together: /m/ /a/ /t/…” and the kids don’t know, then I say, “It’s mat. Say mat.” The kids say it, and then I go on to the next one. “/s/ /a/ /t/” and I wait for a response. If nobody says the answer, then I say, “Say sat.” They all say it, and I continue on like that until we get to the end of the drill.
And then this is the important part: I go back to the beginning of the drill and repeat it, to see if they can remember any of it and give the answers without me telling them. If even SOME of them can, the rest of them will join in, and we’re off! Often, I have to repeat this routine for about a week or so until they get it and can do it without me prompting them. Generally, if just a few of them start to get it, the rest of them will start to follow suit. Soon, the rest of the class has it too!
Watch this other Heggerty lesson that I filmed in my friend Mrs. Rico’s classroom. She was kind enough to allow me to do a demo lesson in her room! This was taken during her third week of school, and it was only their SECOND week using the Heggerty book! So the kids didn’t really know all of the answers, especially in terms of beginning and ending sounds. So if they didn’t know an answer, I told them, they repeated the answers, and we just kept going. In this case, I chose not to repeat the exercises because we were being filmed. But normally, I do!
Another Way to Practice Sound Segmentation
If your students are having trouble finding all of the sounds in a given word, (AKA sound segmentation,) check out our newest version of the Sounds Fun Phonics DVD! It has a “Sound it Out” section after each song, in which letters appear one at a time (with the sounds being said) until a word is formed, and then the kids read the word. I suggest that you have the kids practice doing this WITH THE SOUND TURNED OFF, so that they can give all of the sounds in each word, and then read the word! Give it a try and see if it helps! (The special “Sound it Out” section in the video below starts at about one minute thirty seconds into the movie.)
Use Hand Motions for Letter Sounds
We use the hand motions for the letter sounds from Zoo Phonics when doing the Heggerty book. So if I ask for the beginning sound of a word, I expect them to give me the Zoo Phonics signal for that letter. This helps a great deal because the children are kept actively involved and because I can SEE that they are paying attention and participating. You can find them at ZooPhonics.com or even on YouTube.
Another Way to Practice Sounding Out Words
We use these Word Family songs to practice sounding out words also! Even if the children are not ready to practice sounding out words in print, they can begin to learn how to sound out words orally, and this is a really fun way to do it- via music and movement! It’s available with internet streaming On Demand on Vimeo for a $7.99 per year rental fee, or you can purchase the Word Family DVD for $15 here.
What if kids don’t want to participate?
It’s can be easy for kids to slip into a “phonemic awareness drill coma” during this time. Unless you keep the energy, excitement, and pace up, kids can get bored and will start to tune you out. One year when I taught Kindergarten, I had to first insist that everyone put their hands UP in front of them in the “ready position” before I started any drill, or half of them would just sit there and ignore the drill! I could see that their mouths weren’t even moving at all! However, once I insisted that they put their hands up before I started any drill, that mostly stopped.
Sometimes it helps to point to the kids that call out the answers first and gush over what a great job they did! That usually helps get the kids excited about being the one to be acknowledged and they all start trying harder.
This year in TK, I have a few kids that like to sit and play with their fingers and pick at the carpet while we do the Heggerty book! A few times, I’ve had to warn a child that I would re-do the exercises with him alone during playtime, since he missed them. After that happened a few times, we all know now that I’m not bluffing! A simple reminder that I can do it again later suffices!
I hope that this has helped! And by the way, I am not an affiliate of the Heggerty publisher! Just a fan. Let me know if you have questions about using it and I’ll see if I can help you out!
And by the way, if your kids don’t know all of the letter sounds, be sure to give them a multisensory boost by having them sing and dance to learn their letter sounds!