The Ultimate Guide to Phonemic Awareness

The Ultimate Guide to Phonemic Awareness

Phonological awareness is the understanding that our spoken language comprises words. Phonemic awareness is the understanding that our words are made up of sounds called phonemes. Phonemic awareness is a critical skill that should be explicitly taught in the following process. Download your FREE printable guide here.

Phonological awareness is a crucial skill that children need to develop before they can learn to read and write. It refers to recognizing and manipulating individual sounds, or phonemes, in spoken words. This skill is essential because it allows children to understand that words are made up of different sounds and that these sounds can be combined in various ways to create new words.

In this ultimate guide on phonological awareness, we will explore the different aspects of this skill, including recognizing rhyming words, identifying beginning and ending sounds, segmenting words into individual sounds, blending individual sounds to form new words, and manipulating sounds within words.

Isolating Phonemes

Even though there are only 27 letters in the alphabet, there are 44 phonemes in the English language. Phonemic awareness activities involve the smallest units of sound only. Hearing and isolating the individual phonemes (sounds) in spoken words represents the first step of skills in phonemic awareness. 

Isolating phonemes involves identifying the individual sounds within spoken words. For example, in the word “cat,” there are three phonemes: /k/ /a/ /t/. Children who have developed strong phonemic awareness skills can easily isolate these sounds and understand that changing one sound can create a new word (e.g., changing the /k/ sound in “cat” to a /b/ sound makes the word “bat”).

Blending Phonemes

Blending phonemes is combining sounds. This involves listening to and pulling together isolated phonemes to create words. When beginning readers sound out a word, they use letter-sound knowledge to say each sound in a word and then blend the sounds quickly together to read the word.

Blending phonemes is a crucial part of phonemic awareness instruction that helps children develop the ability to blend speech sounds to form words. Phonemic awareness is hearing, identifying, and manipulating individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. This skill set serves as a foundation for reading and spelling success.

Phoneme blending involves combining individual speech sounds or phonemes into one word. For example, if you say the separate sounds /k/ /a/ /t/, it creates the word ‘cat.’ Blending requires students to listen carefully as they hear each sound in isolation before putting them together to make a word. It’s essential that teachers provide plenty of opportunities for students to practice this skill, using various games, activities, and strategies to ensure students master this fundamental concept.

Segmenting Phonemes

Segmenting phonemes is an essential skill for fluent readers, and it plays a significant role in developing good progress in literacy skills. Phoneme segmentation involves breaking words down into individual sounds or phonemes, which helps children learn to read and spell new words independently. When students have mastered this skill, they can easily differentiate between different sounds within a word and understand how they work together to form the word.

To segment phonemes accurately, students must be able to hear individual sounds within different words. Teachers often help children develop this skill using sound games involving rhyming or alliteration. These games enable students to quickly identify various words’ beginning, middle, and ending sounds. Furthermore, teachers can encourage their students to use their fingers as a visual aid when segmenting phonemes to break down each sound without getting confused.

Segmenting Phonemes is the ability to divide a spoken word into its sounds. Here are two great segmentation activities: Students say the sounds with their fingers and then blend the phonemes. Students tap the wrist, elbow, and shoulder for each sound. They then blend the word together while sliding their hand back down to the wrist.

Adding Phonemes

Phoneme addition involves adding phonemes to a given word to produce a new word. Sounds can be added to the word’s beginning, middle, or end. This starts with the more advanced skills of phonemic awareness. It may take a child longer to grasp this skill. Once they grasp this concept, they realize they can change words by adding phonemes. This is exciting!

One effective way to incorporate additional phonemes is by introducing similar areas, such as adding the “k” sound to “at,” which results in the word “cat.” This technique helps children recognize patterns and makes it easier to apply this knowledge in new situations. Furthermore, using similar areas allows teachers to introduce new sounds gradually without overwhelming students.

Another advantage of incorporating additional phonemes during phonics instruction is that it provides opportunities for multisensory learning experiences.

Deleting Phonemes

One strategy for addressing this issue is deliberately deleting phonemes during phonics instruction. By intentionally removing a sound from a word and asking students to identify the new word that results, teachers can help older students build their awareness of individual sounds within words. This straightforward approach helps fill any gaps in knowledge that may exist due to earlier assumptions about student mastery.

As with adding phonemes, deleting phonemes to a given the word will produce a new word. Here is an example of a deleting phoneme activity: Start with the word stop and delete the initial phoneme, /s/; this results in the new word, top.

Substituting Phonemes

Good news for parents and educators alike: research shows that teaching children to substitute phonemes can boost their speech production and improve their pre-reading skills. Phonemes are the smallest units of sound in a language, and substituting them involves changing one sound for another to create new words. 

Studies have shown that practicing phoneme substitution exercises can help children develop better speech articulation and oral language skills. It also helps them with the essential pre-reading skill of phonemic awareness, which is recognizing and manipulating individual sounds in words. This is vital for learning to read and write as it lays a strong foundation for decoding words.

Parents can easily incorporate phoneme substitution into their child’s daily routine by playing word games like rhyming or asking them to substitute one sound in a word with another. Teachers can use these exercises during small group instruction or as part of literacy centers.

Phoneme substitution is the most advanced of all phonemic awareness skills. It requires that a student knows how to both add and delete phonemes. Although substituting phonemes should be taught explicitly, students can do several fun activities to reinforce this skill. Word family wheels and word flipbooks are a great way to in-force this skill. You can see these activities here.


Articulation is a crucial aspect of communication that involves the ability to enunciate words clearly and accurately. Young students need to develop good articulation skills, as it can impact their ability to express themselves effectively in academic settings and social situations. However, not all children naturally acquire good articulation skills; some may require explicit instruction to improve.

Several skills are involved in developing good articulation, including tongue placement, breath control, and vocal cord coordination. Students will use the articulators, including the tongue, teeth, lips, alveolar ridge (ridge behind your teeth), hard palate, and soft palate. Targeted exercises and activities can be beneficial for young students who struggle with these skills. These might include practicing specific sounds or syllables through repetition or using visual aids like mirrors to help them better understand proper mouth positioning.

Explicit instruction from trained speech-language pathologists can also be invaluable for young students who struggle with articulation.


Phonemic awareness is a set of skills that develop over time and are crucial for reading success. It is important not to skip over a step so that it does not confuse the student. Teachers should make sure that struggling readers have not missed these skills. If they have, they will need to reinforce these skills to become better readers.

Grab my FREE resources for Mastering Reading Rotations.

In conclusion, phonological awareness is a crucial skill that is the foundation for successful reading and writing. The ability to manipulate sounds in language can aid in decoding words, spelling accurately, and comprehending written text. Therefore, providing children with explicit instruction and practice in developing phonological awareness skills is essential. By incorporating fun and engaging activities into their learning environment, teachers and parents can help children master this skill set from an early age. It’s time we recognize the importance of phonological awareness and ensure that every child has access to quality instruction to set them on the path toward lifelong literacy success.

Here is another article that you may be interested in: 

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *