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Research Bases

Here is evidence for

  • Encouraging playful parent-child activities with speech sounds

  • Equipping teachers to foster explicit auditory learning from an early age

  • Including Playful Sounds in the speech & language clinician's tool kit


Auditory Learning and Speech & Language Development:
"Studies of normal perception and [speech] production skills have shown many instances of perception preceding production." (Groenen, Maassen, Crul & Thoonen, 1996.)


Phonological processes of perception and speech production likely enhance each other. (Adams & Gathercole, 1995; Groenen et al., 1996; Mayo, Scobbie, Hewlett & Waters, 2003; Rvachew, 1994; Rvachew, 2006; Rvachew, Nowak & Cloutier, 2004; Wolfe & Mesaris, 2003.)


Various language skills, such as verbal working memory, word retrieval, and speech comprehension under noise, depend upon phonological processing abilities. (Nittrouer, 2002; Rvachew and Jamieson (1989) cited in Groenen et al., 1996; Rvachew, et al., 2004.)


Short-term phonological memory is correlated with articulation and language skills in young children. (Adams & Gathercole, 1995; Gathercole & Baddeley (1990) cited in Groenen et al.,1996.)


Early development of phoneme awareness is associated with improved speech and later morphological awareness. (Kirk & Gillon, 2007; Rvachew et al., 2004.)


Children with speech and language deficits can make significant and lasting improvement in phonemic awareness skill and reading, in contrast with students whose therapy ameliorates speech or language problems but does not address PA. (Gillon, 2000; Gillon, 2005; Justice, 2006; Kirk & Gillon, 2007; Rvachew et al., 2004; van Kleeck et al., 1998.)


Phonemic Awareness Principles
Phonemic awareness differentiates between children who succeed in reading and those who struggle.
(Catts & Kamhi, 1999; Vellutino et al., (1996) cited in Gillon, 2000; Grossen, 1997; Schuele & Boudreau, 2008; Smith, Simmons & Kameenui (n.d.); Swank & Catts, 1994; van Kleeck, Gillam & McFadden, 1998.)

Because speech sounds do not exist as separate units in natural speech, (Nittrouer, 2002) and because of the consequences of failure to learn to discern and manipulate these sounds in words, instruction in phonemic awareness is critical. (Grossen, 1997; Nittrouer, 2002; Schuele & Boudreau, 2008; Smith et al. (n.d.); van Kleeck et al.,1998.)

Instruction in phonemic awareness is effective and efficient. (Grossen 1997; Schuele & Boudreau, 2008; Smith et al. (n.d.); Swank & Catts, 1994.)

Specific tasks develop phonemic awareness (PA). (Grossen, 1997; Schuele & Boudreau, 2008; van Kleeck et al., 1998)

The focus should be on early instruction and prevention. (Gillon, 2005; Grossen, 1997; van Kleeck et al., 1998).

Children succeed in learning PA skills via instructional structure or 'scaffolding.' Task elements are manipulated from simpler to more complex, and to provide for initial supports, then gradual independence:

  • concrete representations to help focus attention
  • opportunities for student to produce specific sounds
  • control of phonological awareness difficulty (e.g. rhyming tasks are simplest, segmentation and manipulation tasks are most difficult)
  • control of response difficulty (e.g. receptive/pointing tasks before expressive/naming tasks)
  • control of task units (e.g. segmenting by word before segmenting by syllable)
  • control of linguistic characteristics (e.g. 'stretchy' continuant sounds before 'non-stretchy' stop sounds)
  • reduced scaffolding support as children become more proficient (e.g. 'easier' and 'more difficult' task versions)
(Mayo et al., 2003; Schuele & Boudreau, 2008; Smith et al. (n.d.); Wolfe et al., 2003.)

Phonemic awareness proceeds in overlapping stages. Mastery at one step is not required to benefit from the next. (Schuele & Boudreau, 2008.)

Three- and 4-year-olds, including those with moderate or severe speech impairment, can learn phonemic awareness via developmentally appropriate activities. (Gillon, 2005; Schuele, & Boudreau, 2008.) (Phonemic awareness is part of a larger category called 'phonological awareness,' which includes pre-skills such as rhyming. In Playful Sounds, the term ‘phonemic awareness’ is used to include both).


Motor Learning in Therapy for Speech Sound Disorders:
"Phonetic placement has been shown to be effective for teaching a child how to say a new sound."
(Powell, Elbert, Miccio, Strike-Roussos & Brasseur (1998), cited by Rvachew, 2006.)

For speech, research supports approaches that address the phonological system as a whole, improving perceptual, articulatory and phonological knowledge of misarticulated sounds. (Rvachew, 2006.) However, the efficacy of nonspeech oral-motor exercises is not supported. (Lof & Watson, 2008; Powell, 2008; Ruscello, 2008; Steeve & Moore, 2009.)



Adams, A. & Gathercole, S. E. (1995). Phonological Working Memory and Speech Production in
   Preschool Children. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research 38, 403-414.

Gillon, G. T. (2000). The efficacy of phonological awareness intervention for children with spoken
   language impairment. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 31,126-141.

Gillon, G. T. (2005). Phonological awareness: Effecting change through the integration of research
   findings. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 36, 346-349.

Groenen, P., Maassen, B., Crul, T & Thoonen, G. (1996). The specific relation between perception
   and production errors for place of articulation in developmental apraxia of speech. Journal of
   Speech and Hearing Research, 39, 468-482.

Grossen, B. (1997). 30 years of research: What we now know about how children learn to read.
   Retrieved on 12/27/2009 by search at (ERIC Document Reproduction
   Service No. ED415492)

Justice, L. M. (2006). Evidence-based practice, response to intervention and the prevention of
   reading difficulties. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 37, 284-297.

Kirk, C. & Gillon, G. T. (2007). Longitudinal effects of phonological awareness intervention on
   morphological awareness in children with speech impairment. Language, Speech, and
   Hearing Services in Schools, 38, 342-352.

Kleeck, A. v., Gillam, R. B. & McFadden, T. U. (1998). A study of classroom-based phonological
   awareness training for preschoolers with speech and/or language disorders. American Journal
   of Speech-Language Pathology, 7, 65-76.

Lof, G. L. & Watson, M. M. (2008). A nationwide survey of nonspeech oral motor exercise use:
   Implications for evidence-based practice. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in
   Schools, 39, 392-407.

Mayo, C., Scobbie, J. M., Hewlett, N. & Waters, D. (2003). The influence of phonemic awareness
   development on acoustic cue weighting strategies in children’s speech perception. Journal of
   Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 46, 1184-1196.

Nittrouer, S. (2002). From ear to cortex: A perspective on what clinicians need to understand about
   speech perception and language processing. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in

Powell, T. W. (2008). An integrated evaluation of nonspeech oral motor treatments. Language,
   Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 39, 422-427.

Ruscello, D. M. (2008). Nonspeech oral motor treatment issues related to children with
   developmental speech sound disorders. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools,
   39, 380-391.

Rvachew, S. (1994). Speech perception training can facilitate sound production learning. Journal
   of Speech and Hearing Research, 37, 347-357.

Rvachew, S. (2006). Effective interventions for the treatment of speech sound disorders. Retrieved
   12/30/2009, from _Interventions_ for_ the_

Rvachew, S., Nowak, M. & Cloutier, G. (2004). Effect of phonemic perception training on the
   speech production and phonological awareness skills of children with expressive phonological
   delay. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 13, 250-263.

Schuele, C. M. & Boudreau, D. (2008). Phonological awareness intervention: Beyond the basics.
   Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 39, 3-20.

Smith, S. B., Simmons, D. C., Kameenui, E. J. (n.d.). Phonological awareness: Curricular and
   instructional implications for diverse learners. Review of converging evidence. Retrieved
   12/26/2009, from

Steeve, R. W. & Moore, C. A. (2009). Mandibular motor control during the early development of
   speech and nonspeech behaviors. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 52,

Swank, L. K. & Catts, H. W. (1994). Phonological awareness and written word decoding.
   Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 25, 9-14.

Wolfe, V., Presley, C. & Mesaris, J. (2003). The importance of sound identification training in    phonological intervention. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 12, 282-288.

Going Farther
Find out more about Phonemic Awareness here at The Reading Treehouse
A Sound Floor, What Is Phonemic Awareness, Power & Fluency Through Phonemic Awareness, Free Phonemic Awareness Games.

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