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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Mason, Ph.D.

Phonological Awareness: What is it?


If you ever wondered why your child learned nursery rhymes in pre-school in kindergarten, the answer is these activities teach phonological awareness.

What is phonological awareness? It is the ability to hear sounds in a language. There are three phonemes in pen and pan. If you can’t hear the difference between the short e in pen and the short a in pan, you will have difficulty reading and spelling.

It differs from phonics. In phonics, you are matching the sounds to a letter or a pair of letters. For phonological awareness, you are just focusing on the sounds. In fact, to teach about or test on phonological awareness, you don't use any written materials.

With phonological awareness, there are a continuum of skills that are developed over time. Different phonological awareness skills typically emerge in preschool, kindergarten, first grade, and second grade. These skills are particularly important in pre-school, kindergarten, and first grade.

Frequently, older children who are struggling with reading have issues with phonological awareness, and you may have to review or re-teach the earliest skills.

If you are looking for activities to help your child with phonological awareness, Reading Rockets has great activities. Florida State University also has many activities to help with phonological awareness.

Below are the list of phonological awareness skills in order:


Recognizing a rhyme—Which two rhyme—cat, pig, bat?

Clapping and counting symbols—Literally clapping each syllable bear (I clap), carrot (2 claps)

Syllable Blending—/pop/ + /corn/= popcorn; /o/ + /pen/=open

Creating a rhyme. Tell me a word that rhymes with bit (sit, hit, kit, rit). Need not be a real word.

Blends onset and rhyme. /b/ + /ox/ = box; /h/+ /ouse/ = house (combines the first sound with the latter sounds)

Ability to identify words with the same beginning sound—Which two have the same beginning sound—cub, cot, bag?

Identifies beginning sound. Say the first sound in man.

Syllable deletion. Say cupcake. Now say it without cup.

Blending 2-3 phonemes (sound) words--/b/ /e/ = be; /h/ /e/ /n/ = hen.

Ability to identify words with the same final sound. Which two have the same ending sound—book, bat, clock? (book and clock)

Ability to segment words into individual sounds: see = /s/+ /ee/, ad= /a/+/d/, and van=/v/ /a/ /n/.

First Grade

Ability to segment words into individual sounds with blends: flag= /f/ /l/ /a/ /g/, black= /b/ /l/ /a/ /c/ /k/.

Substitute sounds to blend new words—Change the /b/ in bat to /r/ (rat).

Phoneme deletion in first and last position of a word no blends. Say can. now say it without the /c/. Say ride. Now say it without the /d/.

Second Grade and Beyond

Delete first phoneme including blends. Say black. Now say black without the /b/ (lack).

Delete middle and final blends. Say smell. Now say smell without the /m/ (sell). Say milk, now say milk without the /k/ (mill).

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