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Impact of Raising Phonological Awareness and Phonics

Impact of Raising Phonological Awareness and Phonics

The Impact of Raising Phonological Awareness and Phonics to Improve Reading and Spelling Skills in Elementary Students in Saudi Arabia


This research identifies the impact of raising phonological awareness and phonics to improve reading and spelling skills among elementary age students in Saudi Arabia during learning English as a second language instruction. To clarify the terminology for this paper, phonological awareness pertains only to the sounds in spoken words, whereas phonics refers to the relationship between sounds and how they are spelled.


Many studies have indicated that reading is the most important linguistic skill for academic success in any language.  Reading provides access to written knowledge. It radically affects the academic achievement and educational career of students. Saudi students have a low level of achievement and proficiency in reading and writing English. According to the results of several English like TOEFL, Saudis rank as the worst in the middle east region. Their reading and writing scores placed them in the 20th position out of 20 countries in 2016. Also, IELTS scores of 2015 showed that Saudi Arabia ranked 39th out of 40 countries in reading and writing on the Academic test.

Reading Writing
IELTS,2016 39 out of 40 39 out of 40
TOEFL,2016 20 out of 20 20 out of 20

Statement of the Problem

In fourth grade, students need explicit instruction on the link between letters in English and the sounds they make. Otherwise, they will find it hard to remember which letter represents which sound.  Most teachers in Saudi Arabia do not work on developing their students’ phonological and phonemic awareness, which are both critical for learning to read and write in any alphabetic writing system. They mostly concentrate on teaching students the alphabet system.

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Phonological and phonemic awareness can be primary factors separating normal and disabled readers and later normal and disabled writers. Good and Kaminski (2007) supposed that we can predict whether that student will be a good reader or a poor reader by the end of third grade and beyond, even before a student learns to read based on their phonological knowledge. It is now widely accepted that the primary cause of reading disability for most children lies in phonological processing inefficiencies that interfere with the development of phonological skills such as phoneme segmentation, verbal memory, and name retrieval (O’Shaughnessy & Swanson, 2000). Studies showed that poor phonological and phonemic skills are predictors of poor spelling development. Instruction in speech-sound awareness reduces and alleviates reading and spelling difficulties (Adams et al., 1998; Gillon, 2004). When students attempt to write a word, they must first listen to the word phonemes, and try to match them with letters. Then they can use invented spelling and explore sounds through writing. This helps them to discover more about how sounds and letters work in English and how to utilize this knowledge as they are reading.

Literature Review

Saudi EFL (English as Foreign Language) students face a lot of reading and writing barriers in their first three years of learning English in the elementary stage. They are involved in a teaching system which pays little attention to learning the sounds of the new language. They start reading and writing English by using traditional learning strategies such as repetition and guessing. Therefore, most simple new words are mispronounced and then misspelled. After learning Arabic in their first three years at school they begin to read and write all over again in English, which is a totally different language with completely different structure.

Studies indicated an overall low reading proficiency and low reading comprehension among Saudi EFL (English as Foreign Language) students at all levels of education (AlAbik, 2014) and most of Saudi students lack the major reading skills (Al-Qahtani, 2016). Researchers have listed the causes of this general weakness to include: teacher centered instruction, traditional teaching methodologies, memorization, lack of student motivation, lack of practice (Alrashidi and Phan, 2015) and lack of the essential phonological and phonics skills. Thus, Saudi education ministry has developed new English curriculums. The new curriculums contain some elements focusing on teaching the English sounds, but the teachers still need professional development on how to effectively teach phonics and phonological skills to help students overcome difficulties in learning to read and write.

Phonological awareness

Studies have shown that phonological awareness is a very important literacy skill and it has a remarkable influence on enhancing reading and writing abilities. Ehri, Nunes and Willows (2001) emphasize that phonological skill is important to the reading process because of its association with improvement in reading and spelling. Whitehurst and Lonigan (1998) add that children must obtain it at an early age. Those findings were replicated with the findings of a study conducted by Ehri (2013). He found that phonological instruction improved word reading skills and spelling knowledge. To be more precise, recent studies report that phonological awareness is associated with the reading and writing development of EFL(English as Foreign Language) learners with different native languages such as Chinese , Spanish, Turkish and Japanese. Even though, Lesaux and Siegel (2003) illustrate that EFL learners can perform as well as English native speakers in reading and writing skills after receiving just one year of phonological awareness instruction at an early age, Antunez (2002) reports that learners who have learned a different symbol system such as Arabic may be unable to hear or produce the sounds in English. Overall, some Saudi researchers examine the effects of phonological awareness instruction on Saudi EFL (English as Foreign Language) students’ abilities of reading and writing. For instance, Adam & Mohammed (2017) demonstrate the importance of phonological awareness on improving EFL reading comprehension skills. The results revealed that phonological awareness skills significantly improved the reading performance of the students. Also, Alshammari (2015) finds out that students significantly improved in spelling and in reading after providing explicit phonological awareness instruction during reading class.


The efficacy of phonics as a method of acquiring the basic reading and spelling skills among young English learners is approved throw out many studies. A research by Ehri and Robbins (1992) demonstrated that children must have at least some knowledge of phonics before they are able to read and Ehri (2013) proposed that reading is a process in which phonics is an important determiner of reading acquisition. In 2000, the NRP examines the effects of phonics instruction on the word reading skills of young elementary age students and results verify that phonics improved children’s reading of decodable, regularly spelled words, irregularly spelled words, and reading comprehension. Lesaux, (2012) found that teaching phonics improved word reading, spelling and even comprehension skills. On the other hand, Johnson (2001) proposed that phonics rules have numerous exceptions and are very complex. This makes it difficult for students to apply and teachers to teach.  This fact does not lessen the need to include phonics as a core component of efficient reading programs.

To summarize, previous research clarifies that phonological and phonics instruction are beneficial for improving the reading and spelling skills of young learners.  The question that remains to be answered is how teachers in other countries can use this research to the benefit of students learning English as a second language.

Implementation Plan

The purpose of my plan is to describe in detail a proposal that will be implemented over the next three years to increase reading and spelling abilities of primary school students in Saudi Arabia.  In order to reach this goal, phonological awareness and phonics instruction will be utilized. The plan consists of four phases and relies on collaboration with the Ministry of Education, 44 teachers, and an American mentor.

Phase One

In this phase I will basically share my experience with the forty-four elementary school teachers in Al Baha centre. My objective will be to: (1)

convince the forty- four primary school educators of the value in phonological and phonics instruction, and (2) motivate them to integrate phonological awareness and phonics in their curriculum during 1441/1442.


  • Through collaboration with administrator, Mrs. Nora Al zahrani, I, will give four, two-hour workshops starting from 3 to 6 /1/1441 in the Educational Training Centre in Al Baha. There will be eleven teachers in each workshop.
  • Share the content (via videos, audios, and readings) with the intended teachers before the workshop and use the actual workshop as a space where teachers can practice and apply content.
  • During the workshops, there will be a discussion about the positives of using phonics in raising reading and spelling skills. Consensus will be reached regarding which methods of teaching suit our students.

Phase Two


Choose the pilot team that will introduce and supervise the phonological and phonics instruction at each school.


  • After finishing the four workshops, the administrator will recruit 4 to 6 teachers based on their enthusiasm and across-team work to start phonological and phonics instructions in their classrooms for one school year.
  • Provide the participants with the teacher’s book, students’ notes, flash cards and the evaluation tests and train them to use these materials.
  • Hold a professional development meeting for the pilot team every month. Ms.Amy Martz, who has been teaching for twenty two years and has a unique style in teaching literacy, will be the consultant for the team. She shows her willingness to be the guest of honour during meetings.

Phase Three


Apply the phonological and phonics instructions in all Al Baha elementary schools during 1442/1443.


  • Measure the growth of the reading and spelling skills of students after getting one year of phonological and phonics instructions and compare the scores with students who don’t receive such instructions.
  • The pilot team participants will train new educators and be consultants for them.

Phase Four


Integrate phonological and phonics instructions into all elementary schools in Saudi Arabia in 1443/1444.


  • Include more phonological and phonics lessons in the elementary school English curriculums.
  • Develop computer programs or an application that will help teachers teach sounds. Also, students can use these tools to practice during the activity hour at school or at home.
  • The College of Education in Saudi Arabia will provide the new English teacher with the necessary skills to teach phonics.

In conclusion, a key factor in the overall success of this initiative are the people who are selected to lead and teach.  Jim Collins (2011 )wrote “Get the right people on the bus, set them in the right seats and then figure out where to take it” (pg. 13).  Without the right participants with the right skills in the right place, implementation becomes impossible. In all the four phases of this project, I will act as an educational consultant and I will facilitate the professional development of the educators.

Evaluation plan

The main goal of this initiative is to improve the reading and spelling performance of young Saudi Arabian students by incorporating the use of phonics and phonological awareness into daily literacy instruction. To reach this goal, we need to motivate teachers to promote their capacities to use this approach to teach reading and spelling the right way. To evaluate the outcomes of this project, qualitative and quantitative tools will be used. Several tests of reading nonsense and sight words will help to determine whether the target population improve their abilities in decoding and spelling. A questionnaire will investigate each teacher’s attitude and perspective toward teaching phonics and phonological awareness as part of their reading instruction.

In this study, students everyday will receive 15-minute of explicit intensive training in phonological skills (blending, ssegmentation, rhyming) and intensive phonics instruction. They learn to decode words into sounds and encode sounds into words. They begin by learning the appropriate sound for each letter of the alphabet, including letter combinations. Each letter of the alphabet is featured in its own lesson, and lessons build on one another systematically.

At the same time, Daily writing activities encourage learners to translate the sounds they hear into written form using invented spelling. Phonological and phonics method help learners understand and acquire how English spelling patterns at the phoneme, syllable, and morpheme or word levels correspond to pronunciations. In this way, learners will be able to acquire detailed orthographic or spelling forms more quickly and thoroughly.

To monitor the experimental group progress and analyse instructional effectiveness, we must include a control group. This group is the group who does not receive any phonological or phonics instruction and used as a benchmark against which other test results are measured. This group includes students who are very similar to the individuals who are receiving the instruction, in terms of age, gender and race.

All experimental and control students will be tested by their teachers in spelling and reading skills (see appendix A) at the end of each semester. The tests will evaluate the students’ necessary skills to master the ability to decode and encode familiar and unfamiliar words. Variable lists of (short/long vowels, digraph, multi-syllabic) nonsense and sight words will be used to test students’ mastery of the sound/spelling relationship. Pseudo words make learners think a little dipper about the patterns in the words and what sound they create. Then they have to blend sounds together to read the word. The results of both groups will be compared to the grade reading levels and determine if individual scores are at, above or below what is expected from an average student. A follow-up evaluation test will be at the beginning of the next school year to further validate the end-of-the-year results and to test the stability of the achievement gains.

Research has shown a relationship between teacher performance and student achievement. Thus, during the professional development sessions, the collaborative teachers will discuss interpretation of students’ assessment data and figure out how to respond to student needs and strengths. Also, the supervisor will schedule regular visits to the participant teachers’ classrooms to review and rate their performance and evaluate the students’ response to the new method. The findings from these evaluations are used to provide feedback to teachers and guide their continues professional development. At the end of the year, an online questionnaire will be shared with forty-four female elementary school teachers. It will highlight the specific areas of needed improvement and investigate each teacher’s attitude toward using the phonics approach of teaching reading and spelling to elementary school students (see appendix B).

To conclude, the anticipated finding of this study is that including phonological instruction and phonics skills in the current English curriculum will be beneficial for young Saudi students, thus they can read and spell words more accurately.  This will be determined by the scores on the student tests the are included in the Appendix.  With the anticipated success of the students in this project, there will hopefully be a benefit for teachers as well.  This teacher benefit could materialize in all or some of the following ways: (1) renewed interest in teaching reading, (2)  the incorporation of new phonics and phonological skills in

their curriculum, and/or (3) an overall increase in positive attitudes regarding reading instruction. A survey of teacher attitudes (Appendix B) will be administered to give insight into this aspect of the project.

Appendix A

Sample of the Reading Nonsense Words test • All Elements

Name                                                                                    Date  

Number of words read                          Number of errors                        Time  

DIRECTIONS: Tell the student that she is going to read some made-up words and that you will time her. If the student does not read all the words in two minutes, stop the reading. Note the time, it takes if she reads all the words in less than two minutes. Demonstrate with the first word.

PRACTICE: Point to the word yeck. Say: Look at this made-up word. Watch my finger as I read the word. I will sound out each letter, then I will read the word. Point to each letter as you read the word. After sounding out the letters, say the word while running your finger under it. Say: /y/ /e/ /k/; yeck. Now it is your turn to sound out and read words. See how many you can sound out and read in two minutes. Remember that some sounds are represented by more than one letter and that some letters have no sound.

Yeck Zair Splook Stoil
Spail Dring Bligh Prome
Lanch Plesh Flop Ny
Glimp Creat Brund Grube
Strow Smout Trank graught
Scaft Churd Thike Slarp


Appendix B

The questionnaire to evaluate the teachers attitude toward phonological and phonics instructions.



Disagree very much

Disagree moderately

Disagree slightly

Agree slightly

Agree moderately

Agree very much

 1  Phonics and phonological instruction allows students to learn new words independently and read more            1     2     3     4     5     6
 2 Phonics and phonological methods help students become better spellers.            1     2     3     4     5     6
 3 This method is very beneficial for students with dyslexia or other reading difficulties.            1     2     3     4     5     6
 4  Students were engaged when using phonological and phonics instructions.            1     2     3     4     5     6
 5 It is easy to teach phonics and phonology skills.            1     2     3     4     5     6
 6 Current curriculum contains the needed knowledge to teach phonological and phonics skills.            1     2     3     4     5     6
 7 Phonics and phonological instruction will be recommended to other teachers.            1     2     3     4     5     6
 8 More professional development training is required for teachers.            1     2     3     4     5     6


  • Adam, N. A, & and Mohammed, M. (2017). The Impact of Raising Phonological Awareness on Improving EFL Learners Reading Comprehension: A Case Study at Preparatory Year Najran University. International Journal of English Language Teaching . Antunez, B. (2002). Implementing reading first with English with English language learners (Directions in Language and Education #15). Washington, DC: National Institute of Education.
  • Alsowa . H (2017).  A Systematic Review of Research on Teaching English Language Skills for Saudi EFL Students. Advances in Language and Literary Studies,32. AlAbik, W. (2014). Assessment of Reading Comprehension of Saudi Students Majoring in English at Qassim Uni- versity, Saudi Arabia. Studies in Literature and language.
  • Al-Qahtani, A. (2016). Why Do Saudi EFL Readers Exhibit Poor Reading Abilities? English Language and Litera- ture Studies, 6(1), 1-15.
  • Alrashidi, O. & Phan, H. (2015). Education Context and En- glish Teaching and Learning in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: An Overview. English Language Teaching, 8(5), 33-44.
  • Alshammari, M. (2015). Impact of explicit phonological awareness instruction on spelling knowledge, orthographic processing skills, and reading speed and accuracy of adult Arab ESL learners (Doctoral dissertation, The Florida State University).
  • Ehri, L. C. (2013). Grapheme—Phonerne knowledge is essential for learning to read words in english. Word Recognition in Beginning Literacy,, 1.
  • Ehri, L.C., Nunes, S. R., Willows, D.M., Schuster, B. V., Yaghoub-Zadeh, Z., & Shanahan, T. (2001). Phonemic awareness instruction helps children learn to read: Evidence from the National Reading Panel’s meta-analysis. Reading Research Quarterly, 36, 250-287. Ehri, L. C., & Robbins, C. (1992). Beginners need some decoding skill to read words by analogy. Reading Research Quarterly, 27, 13–26.
  • Gillon, G. (2004). Phonological awareness: From research to practice. New York: Guilford Press.
  • Good, H. R., & Kaminski, R. A. [Eds.]. (2007). Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (6th ed.). Eugene, OR: Institute for the Development of Educational Assessment.
  • Johnson, F. (2001). The utility of phonics generalizations: Let’s take another look at Clymer’s conclusions. The Reading Teacher, 55, 132-143.
  • Lesaux, N. K. (2012). Reading and reading instruction for children from low-income and non-English- speaking-households. Future Child, 22(2), pp.73-88.
  • Lesaux, N. K., & Siegel, L. S. (2003). The development of reading in children who speak English as a second language. Developmental Psychology, 39, 1005–1019
  • National Reading Panel. (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction (NIH Pub. No. 00–4754). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office
  • Smith, F. (1994). Understanding Reading. Fifth Edition. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • O’Shaughnessy, T. E., & Swanson, H. L. (2000). A comparison of two reading interventions for children with reading disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 33, 257–277.
  • Whitehurst, G. J., & Lonigan, C. J. (1998). Child development and emergent literacy. Child Development, 69, 848–872


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