I have two purposes for writing this blogpost. Firstly, in Part 1, I would like to explain why it is important for learners to learn Hebrew phonics as part of literacy program. We should teach all six levels of of the Hebrew language including: morphology, syntax and semantics. Secondly, in Part 2, I would like to show how educators can teach phonics while engaging children on all the levels of language for purposeful Hebrew literacy learning. I will cover teaching the five pillars of a literacy lessons including: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.
What is wrong with these pictures of a public courthouse and Lincoln Memorial?
These structures do not have universal access! A parent with a stroller, a kid with a sprained ankle and a wheelchair user would have a very difficult time accessing these structures.
Architects were the first people to realize that we need to build with universal access. After building extravagant staircases that blocked out important members of our society, architects tried to make costly and challenging amendments by adding ramps and elevators, sometimes compromising esthetics and beauty. Eventually, they learned that we need to first plan for universal access and then plan the rest of the design. Are these pictures better? I think they are pretty good examples of environmental inclusion!!!
Clever and beautiful too!
The curb cut is an interesting phenomena that brings out an important point. City planners initially started making curb cuts for the wheelchair users. Yet, who uses the curb cuts? Almost everyone. Delivery and mail carriers, scooters riders, parents with strollers… Basically, by making public spaces accessible for differently-abled individuals, we help everyone too. The same is true in education. When we provide better access for learners with exceptionalities, we provide better learning for everyone. This is my hope when planning curricula. I hope to make the curricula so versatile and flexible with a wide array of strategies for: differentiating the ways learners are presented with information, the way they express what they know, and the way they are engaged and motivated. I hope to sequence the learning so both the student and the educator feel like climbing a smooth ramp, not like a jagged mountain.
To learn more about the Universal Design of Learning you can visit CAST.org.
What would universal access look like for Hebrew language instruction? How can we first plan curricula for universal access before constructing a model that may exclude the needs of many of our students? Can we first think about the needs of all the learners that belong in our classrooms and then plan learning that allows everyone to use their assets for success?
What are the obstacles some of our learners are facing when they try to climb the Kriah Steps? Let us back track a bit and briefly discuss one of the dimensions neurotypical reading process.
There are three cuing system readers use when attacking a new word: the meaning, structure and visual cuing systems. Fluent readers can use these systems efficiently, automatically and seamlessly, without even realizing. They can look at the letters in the words and think about the sounds they represent, they can think about what sound right based on their knowledge and experience with oral language and they can think about what would make sense based on the context and finally comprehend the text.
Now lets talk about the exceptional learners and the many learners that may have some challenges in literacy acquisition. We are talking about thirty percent of our students. Dyslexic learners make up about 10% of our population. They typically have deficits in using graphophonic clues and usually have an asset to read for meaning and to use the semantic cueing system. What happens when they are expected to read phonics in a foreign language? How can they read for meaning if they have not acquired the vocabulary? How can they use syntax clues if they are not familiar with how the oral language works? Maybe you know a learner that spent upward from five to seven years trying to develop Hebrew fluency. A lot of time and energy is spent drilling and memorizing syllables and learning to blend multisyllabic words, leaving little working memory space for reading for meaning and vocabulary acquisition.
The National Reading Panel, after reviewing all the literature on effective reading practice, has identified the Big Five/ The Five Pillars- the core of every effective reading lesson. Lessons should be designed to incorporate learning in all the five foundational skills of reading.
It would be logical and more effective to teach phonics in conjunction with: phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, vocabulary and comprehension, so it would be possible for children to use all three cuing systems when reading. In short, really short, to acquire reading fluency and to comprehend text independently, many learners need to work on the five pillars simultaneously and not just focus on phonics alone.
I am thinking of one particular third grade student that I have taught. He had an extreme deficit in phonemic awareness and phonics, but a strength in vocabulary and comprehension. For example, he had a hard time discriminating between sounds, spelling and reading small words. Yet, he was able to read texts of interest and decode most of the words in almost grade levels texts because he was able to read for meaning. He couldn’t spell men or man, yet he was able do read easy chapter books. This student benefits from reading meaningful and engaging texts to practice phonics.
I call this the Animal Back Ride Strategy! The graphophonic cuing system can take a ride on the semantic cuing system’s back. Practically, if a child finds purpose in reading for meaning or pleasure, he can read meaningful texts while practicing his phonics.
There is so much more to discuss here. We didn’t even touch upon the hyper-decoders and other literacy acquisition challenges. Another time, G-d willing. Let’s move on to practice.
I will show you one segment of a phonics curriculum that is focused on teaching Patach. this should follow learning Kamatz as part of the sequence of Mesorah. One of the benefits of this curriculum is that it is picture based, as way to support vocabulary acquisition and reading for meaning.
This program considers the needs of many kinds of learners. Yet learners’ needs and the strategies we can use to help them learn successfully are endless and would not fit into just one post. I tried to include strategies that would be beneficial for most learners. There is one particular strategy that I would like to mention, yet, I will not cover it here. It is the strategy used in the Ezer Movah L”Kriah where each lesson introduces either a letter or a vowel, however, vowels are introduced after only a couple of lessons so the learner can start reading real words right away, even before they know all the letters very well.
I try to learn about all the strategies that I have access to, so that I can select targeted strategies based on my students’ strengths, interests and needs.
Part 2 is organized into a couple of sections.
A. Learning the vowel sound, name, shape, meaning and spiritual story
B. Phonemic Awareness
C. Os Nekudah blending (one letter and one vowel blending)
D. Decoding and encoding one syllable words with vocabulary pictures
E. Decoding and encoding multisyllabic words with vocabulary pictures
F. Word level fluency
G. Reading comprehension with sentences
H. Reading comprehension with passages
Section A: Learning the Nekud Patach
Just like the Hebrew letters have their own secret to tell, the Hebrew vowels, the Nekodos have stories to tell on Jewish spirituality. The Hebrew vowels are the souls of the letters and learning these stories can provide both a wonderful spiritual experience and a way to help remember their sounds, shape and name. Did you know that besides for having a name, sound a graphic symbol, every Nekud also has a Gematria, Sefira and meaning?
You can listen to Rabbi Raskin talking about the secret of Patach as part of a series on Chabad.org.
Below is pictorial expressions of the Nekud Patach. Based on a learner’s ability to think abstractly, you can teach them mystic secrets of Patach and use the pictures as visual mnemonics.
Patach means open and when we say the sound we have to open our mouth big, in comparison to the Kumatz, where we constrain our lips together. (Learners can look in the mirror while making the Patach sound “Ahh’ and see and feel how their mouth opens wide just like its meaning.) Kamatz is the hidden light, or the hidden wisdom of Hashem; it is so concealed that it is dark. Whereas Patach is the revelation of the light. It is the light of Hashem that He allows to be revealed to us. This light can be understood as science and the natural wonders of our world. Patach is the servant of Kamatz- it reveals the hidden light which is Kamatz. Similarly, Moshe Rabeinu is Hashem’s servant that helped bring the Torah down to earth. At first, the Torah was hidden in heaven, and since Matan Torah, we were able to learn and enjoy the revealed Chochmah, the wisdom of Hashem. Patach is like the letter Vuv. It is a channel and its Gematria is six too. This is just part of the secrets of Patach.
After hearing the story, learners can create their own artistic expression of the Nekud Patach.
SECTION B: Phonemic Awareness
Once a learner has learned the sound of Patach, they should continue working on phonemic awareness. They should be able to discriminate the sound ‘ahh” from other vowel sounds, and they should learn how to segment the sounds in a words so they can identify the sounds, at least in beginning, end and middle position of words. Learners should also be able to blend three or more phonemes to make a word.
To learn more about phonemic awareness you can visit Reading Rockets.
In short, phonemic awareness is the ability to notice, think about, and work with the individual sounds in words. The Hebrew print system consists of graphic presentation of oral sounds, so in order to understand the written form of the language it is essential for children to first have sufficient phonemic awareness, otherwise, print will not make sense to them.
I have included some essential phonemic awareness learning activities in this post, however, some children may require some more phonological and phonemic learning.
Here is a great hands-on activity to practice vowel sound discrimination, where the vowel is in the initial position. Collect some miniature objects that start with an Aleph or an Ayin, so phonetically the first sound of the word is a vowel sound. Tell the learner the name of the object and ask the learner to repeat it, and listen if the word starts with the ‘Ah’ sound or not and sort it accordingly.
You can play a ‘thumbs up thumbs down’ with oral words. Tell the student thumbs up if you hear ‘ah’, thumbs down if you do not hear ‘ah’. You can use the following words, Mah, Rah, Nuh, Buh…
You can use the one syllable pictures that have the vowel in the middle position. Learners can sort the pictures by middle sound.
Segmenting and Blending:
This fishing game can help children prepare for Os- Nekudah segmenting and blending. The teacher calls out a letter name in segmented form, for example ‘h’ and ‘ay’ and the child needs to blend the two sounds to hear ‘Hay’ and cover the letter. The student can get good practice segmenting sounds of the letter name if they take a turn too. You can find Aleph Bais posters at WalderEducation.com
These clip cards can provide additional phonemic awareness and encoding practice where the learner has to select the letter that has the correct vowel. This is both a phonemic awareness and phonics skill that a student can practice independently if they have the vocabulary. Otherwise, a teacher can say the word and the student can check the marking on the back to see if they got it right.
Some children will be ready for Os-Nekuda blending after they have mastered identifying and segmenting the initial sounds of the letter names. For example, once a child knows that the letter Bais starts with the sound ‘b’ and they know that Patach says ‘Ah’, they can blend the sound ‘b’ with the sound ‘ah’ to derive at ‘bah’. However, this task may be difficult for many children for a couple of reasons. Some children may need to improve on their phonemic awareness skill, specifically blending sounds. Some children may need further practice with letter-sound associations. Finally some children may just need a little more practice with with segmenting and identifying the first sounds of the letters.
I used the Waseca language drawers to keep all my vocabulary pictures phonics cards. Starting from the right, each color drawer contain the materials to learn one vowel. Each vowel has seven drawers and I will show you the engaging learning materials that I put inside. (Waseca.com)
Section C: Os Nekuda Blending
Objective- Os Nekudah Blending
Follow this link for a short KabbalaToons animation and a short article by Tzvi Freedman “Souls for Letters ” on what happens spiritually when we combine Hebrew letters and vowels.
Learners need to know that when reading Hebrew, we read from top to bottom and then from right to left. This is an integral learning point and it would make sense to use a multi-sensory approach so we can make long term memories.
You can first model how you use numbered sticky tabs to order the parts of the words and then read the word accordingly while pointing. You can then have students do the same before decoding. You can test them to see if they can arrange the numbers properly.
This is a file I just made, I hope to put in on TPT really soon.
The following set of cards provides a hands-on opportunity to practice blending Os and Nekudah, using Mesorah methodology. These cards can be used for alphabetizing and fluency drills. They can also be use to sort between the cards that are mastered and cards that need to be practiced. You can also use these cards for an encoding activity by playing ‘I spy’, where the student needs to find the card. You can also divide the cards by the Siddur quadrants for students who have not mastered all the letters but are ready for blending (Ezer Movah L’Kriah Method).
Learners should first say the vowel name, then the letter and then blend the Os-Nekudah together working downwards. For example: Patach Alef Ah, Patach Bais Bah, Patach Gimmel Gah etc.
Here is another stack of cards where the children can work on saying the Os-Nekudah once the two are already visually together. Get playful. You can find such cards on Waldereducation.com
Here is another variation that you can use for practicing Os-Nekudah blending. Move the vowel flag under the letters either in order or out of order. I took a quality Alef Bais chart and cut it up to make this work.
Drawer 2: “I have__! Who has__?” Card Game In sequence
This game can provide a fun opportunity for practicing encoding and decoding the Os-Nekudah- blends independently or in a small group. Divide up the cards and have fun!
Drawer 3: “I have__! Who has__?” card game not in order.
Encoding Os- Nekudah
Following is a word building tile set that I made for when learners work with affixes. I like to introduce this board for older learners right away while with younger children I just use the moveable alphabet because of its tactile quality. You can ask learners to encode a couple of Os-Nekuda combinations and it would be worthwhile to mix in some Os-Nekuda with Kamatz to see if the learners can discriminate when to use Kamatz and when to use Patach. First, say the Os-Nekudah sound such as Shah, Dah, and Zah. Have the student repeat the sound and then say which letter and which vowel they will use. Finally, have the student build the sound, and the teacher can give immediate feedback. If the students errs, see if they can correct the error themselves with a small clue.
You can use a sand tray or a chalk board for additional tactile experience. Say the sound, have the student repeat it, spell it, then write it.
Os Nekudah Deck of Cards
Here is a deck of cards that can have various applications. Learners can play go fish where they need to make sets of the letter and read the set once it is completed. Learners can play Uno where they can either match a letter of a vowel. (General material, not stored in a drawer)
SECTION D: One Syllable Words
You can follow this link to another one of Tzvi Freedman’s animation and article “One Plus One Equals a Word“, where you can learn about the real purpose of letters and vowels.
Drawer 4: Encoding and decoding one syllable words with Patach
You can download these cards for free or you can purchase them printed and laminated at Waldereducation.org. I used all three sets of cards and divided them first by vowel and then by syllable count. The first deck of cards has words with only Kamatz. The second deck of cards has Kamatz and Patach. The third deck of cards has Kamatz, Patach and Tzeiray, so all the decks systematically add one more vowel and review the previous ones.
I was happy to realize that we can repurpose these Chumash vocabulary cards as a visual phonics program. It is important to me that when we teach Hebrew as a foreign language we use picture supports, so learners can understand what they are reading. You can not compare this experience to just reading words lists.
Discovering that we can use Rabbi Reitti’s Chumash Vocabulary Cards was a huge high point for me. They can be used in the same way I that I use the Walder Chumash cards, described above, plus they are colorful. They are also perfectly designed for encoding-spelling.
- Divide the cards by vowel and syllable count as described above
- Select words that the learner may know or that are worth learning
- Teach the child the vocabulary word while looking at the picture side of the card
- Have the child segment the word into individual phonemes
- Have the learner encode the word with moveable alphabets or another writing medium
- Turn the card over to check for correctness
- Read the words
- Read the words and try to translate or make sentences
SECTION E: Multisyllabic Words
Drawer 5: Blending Multisyllabic Words
I was so thrilled to find these valuable picture puzzles at Kefar.com. Instead of learners just reading list of words to develop reading accuracy, they can form pictures and acquire new Hebrew vocabulary. Awesome!
Drawer 6: Reading Multisyllabic words
Follow the procedure listed for reading one syllable words.
You can use the multisyllabic words with only Kumatz and Patach from the Climbing Har Sinai Deck for encoding. You may want to choose familiar vocabulary words and/or words that are you think are worth learning. There are many more words than necessary for encoding, and it also may be too burdensome and unnecessary to teach them all. Be selective.
(Follow the same procedures as described for encoding one syllable words.)
You can also use the word building tiles described above. You can review the sequence of encoding the sounds in words working top to bottom and right to left. This may take some practice to perfect.
I do not want to overwhelm you, I just want to provide with a sneak peak into what words building would look like with affixes. We shall talk about this next time.
Section F: Word Fluency
You can check out DotToDot.com to explore a couple of games that can be used for word fluency such as this Candy Corner game.
Section G: Sentences
Pyramid stories, also known as fluency triangles, are a fun and effective strategy for developing fluency on the sentence level. Some learners need extra support to develop the working memory to read a full sentence. This strategy builds in the extra practice so children do not need to return to the middle of the sentence every time they make an error or forgot what they have read in the beginning of the sentence. I have been using this strategy when teaching English and I was so excited to find that Sarah Gross used this strategy for Hebrew reading. The sentences provide cumulative practice of the vowels in a sweet, fun and suspenseful way.
Just a small but important note about Hebrew Morphology. In Hebrew, there are a couple of high frequency prefixes that are added to many words such as Bais- in, Hay- the, Mem- from and more. Learning these important prefixes are integral for sentence work. They need to be taught as high frequency vocabulary words as early as possible. I will talk about this in depth in my next post, IYH.
Take a little look inside too.
You can use the vocabulary picture to form sentence.
Section E: Reading Passages
Ani Koreh has two series of beautiful phonetically controlled readers that provide systematic application of phonics work. The stories build by adding one Hebrew vowel at a time and have many other educational possibilities that I hope to write about really soon. I hope to talk about how we can use these books for comprehension, vocabulary acquisition, learning Hebrew morphology and grammar. These texts can be use as mentor text for writing too! Stay tuned!
Walder education also has a series of phonetically controlled readers. Here is a link to this book about Shabbos that focuses on Patach and reviews Kamatz. LINK
Thank you so much for reading and I hope that you have gained much!!!
Please comment if you have any question, feedback, requests and suggestions! I would love to hear from you! Please tell me if you were able to apply any of these strategies in your learning environment! I would love to see pictures too! Please share this post with anyone whom you think many be interested.
If you would like support with implementing a Hebrew and/or English Literacy program in your learning environment, I can make myself available for consulting and coaching. If you need help meeting the needs of exceptional learners, I can help with that too. Please contact me to hear about the services at Scenic Route Literacy!
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Anyways, the best of luck with all your work and stay tuned for more.
Thank you!! Thank You!!! Off you go!!!
Nechamy Segal Ms.Ed