Teaching Phonological Awareness on the iPad

As I wrote in last week’s post I believe the iPad, and tablet computing, if it is to play a part in transforming schools, will have one of its biggest impacts on early childhood education. One area ripe for touch manipulation is the building of phonological awareness.

Sharon Walpole and Mike  McKenna point out that phonological awareness is a progression from basic alphabet knowledge, letter sounds, and then using letter patterns. In their book on differentiating K-3 literacy instruction they highlight the importance of direct and explicit instruction for basic reading skills.

I thought the whiteboard apps would be great for introducing and providing direct instruction in phonological awareness. I have had success using the magnetic letters app but I have been intrigued by the idea of using the iPad as a replacement for interactive white boards…So I gave the white board app a try.

The Letters


The first problem I encountered was the lack of a typing tool in most (at least the ones I tried) of the whiteboard apps. I tried Screenchomp and educreations and I could not find either. So I had to create a series of images for individual letters, onsets, and rimes.

I have made these publicly avaialable in my dropbox account as a zip file. Currently they are limited to a few onsets and rimes for CVC words. I hope to add blends, digraphs, CVCe, and other sound combinations in the future.

The images are also not perfectly sized. Basically I typed the letters in Word and used skitch to capture a screenshot.

If you would like the images visit my public dropbox folder (If you come across letters that need to be reformatted or would like to request specific elements drop me a comment)

The Apps


I must say I was underwhelmed by the whiteboard apps I tried (Screenchomp and educreations). If anyone uses a better app please let me know. First the good. Both the apps allowed me to import images from dropbox.

UPDATE. Explain Everything is clearly the most powerful whiteboard app, and one I would recommend without reservation.

However, with Screenchomp, I could only have one image on the board at a time. The ability to manipulate multiple images is either nonexistent or not intuitive. Not something I am looking for in an app.

Educreations provided a workspace much more suitable to my needs. However I could not save whiteboards for later use. Worse still, each time I tried to record the activity I got an error message and lost the slides I had just spent time working on.

I must say both of these apps are young in their developmental lifespan and I have had a few conversations with either PR folks or developers and more feature rich (and hopefully stable) versions will be released in due time.

My solution: I used educreations, but I mirrored onto my laptop with reflection and did a screencast.

The Activity


For the lesson I focused on different elements of phonemic awareness (which is a subset of phonological awareness). Basically I wanted three activities that focused on the individual sounds of phonemes in words. I tried to create an example of onset and rime awareness, sound isolation, and phoneme manipulation.

First I put letters on the board. Specifically, m, r, and r. 
-Open the whiteboard app.
-Choose dropbox.
-Select the letter.


Next I found images of a rat, a map, and a rag. I saved these to my camera roll on the ipad.
-Go to an image search engine.
-Search for the required image
-Navigate to the image source (if quality is a concern)
-Hold down on image and select save image.
-Go back to the whiteboard app
-Add an image
-Select camera roll.
-Select image.

Next I added the required rime.


From there students could go in and draw lines from an onset to a rime. They could also move ending letter sounds to their corresponding image. Finally they could switch letters and sounds to make new words.

The Example


This is a real quick mock-up I did with my son. I hope over the next few weeks to create a variety of these examples with my pre-teaching students. Note: Even though I set out to build a lesson on phonemic awareness the letters and the semantic clues (pictures) does expand the activity beyond the realms of just phonemes (sounds) and into letter and sound relationships. In fact separating out lessons focused specifically on phonemic awareness without highlighting other elements of phonological  is rare.

Either way the iPad provided a great outlet to focus on sounds, letters, and the sounds letters make.