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Activities to Directly Develop Phonemic Awareness Skills

Free Activities for Teachers and Parents

Phonemic Awareness:
Phonemic awareness, the ability to hear, distinguish, recognize and manipulate sounds within words, is critical to
reading success. We know that phonemic awareness training has a significant positive effect on reading and
spelling. We can directly teach children how to hear, recognize and manipulate sounds within words to intentionally
develop the phonemic awareness skills necessary for proficient reading. For complete details on phonemic
awareness including the seven specific skills students need to develop see the article Phonemic Awareness
Note: Throughout this article, sounds are indicated between slashes /_/. For example the letter m has the sound /m/.
*Note:If you suspect a child has any hearing difficulty, it is critical to get them evaluated by a professional. Children
with unmitigated physical hearing limitations may be challenged or unable to develop PA because they can not
physically hear well enough.

Phonemic Awareness Instruction/Activities:

You can help your child or student develop phonemic awareness with the following simple activities. These phonemic
awareness activities directly teach students to identify, distinguish, segment, blend and manipulate sounds. These
activities can be conducted with individual children or groups of students.

General Information on PA Instruction:

Develop phonemic awareness skills systematically. Start simple and then increase complexity as the child
develops skills. Design and sequence instruction to progress from easy to difficult. Start with beginning sounds. Once
the student gets the hang of beginning sounds (the easiest to hear and distinguish), you can move on to ending
sounds and finally to manipulating middle sounds. Start with the continuous beginning sounds that can be stretched
out without distortion (/m/, /s/, /f/, /l/, /n/, /r/). These continuous stretchy sounds are the easiest to distinguish. The
fast sounds (/d/, /t/, /k/, /g/, /b/, /p/) that must be said quickly are harder to distinguish. In addition, start with single
consonants before moving to blended consonants. In blended consonants, the blends with only stretchy or
continuous sounds (sl, fl, sn, sm, fr, ) are easier to distinguish/separate than the blends with fast sounds (dr, tr, cr,
gr, sc, st...) than. The ending double fast blends are very difficult (such as /kt/ in act or /pt/ in kept). In addition,
certain sounds are difficult to distinguish. Avoid the difficult and complex until after the student has developed
proficiency in the beginning and simple skills.
The following list summarizes the relative difficulty for elements of PA skills. These are listed left to right, from simple
(easier to distinguish) to more difficult/complex (harder to perform).
sounds: (easier more difficult)
continuous sounds that can be stretched out the fast or quick sounds
stretchy /m/ /s/ /f/ /a/ /r/ /l/ /n/ /o/ /sh/ /r/ quick sounds /t/ /d/ /b/ /k/ /g/ /p/
(example: /m/ in mat is easier to distinguish than /b/ in bat)
location of sound within the word: (easier more difficult)
beginning sounds ending sounds middle/interior sounds
(example: /s/ in sit /s/ in miss /s/ in mistake)
(example: /t/ in tag /t/ in mat /t/ in stop)
consonants/consonant blends: (easier more difficult)

single consonants blended consonants with continuous sounds blended consonants with fast
sounds blended consonants with 2 fast sounds
(example: /s/ in sit /s/ in slip /s/ in scar /t/ in kept)
single consonants 2 blended consonants 3 blended consonants
(example: /t/ in tap /t/ in trap /t/ in strap)
phonemic complexity of word: (easier more difficult)
short, simple words with 2 or 3 phonemes longer words with >3 phonemes
(example: at, in sun, tub, mom slap, milk split, plant, strap, trunk)
difficulty of task: (easier more difficult)
comparing words isolating and segmenting sounds deleting/manipulating sounds
(example: identifying words that start with the same sound cat, cut, fun (cat & cut start with the same
sound) determining what sound the word cat start with (/k/) segmenting the sounds in the word cat
(/k/ /a/ /t/) deleting sounds in the word cat such as say cat without the /k/ (at) change the first sound in
cat to /m/ (mat))
note: tasks that can be very difficult include: interior fast consonants within 3 blended consonant blends
(example: /t/ in strip, /k/ in scratch) and the ending double fast blends (example /p/ in kept, /k/ in act, /p/ in
challenge of differentiating certain sounds:
Certain sounds tend to be more difficult to differentiate. Sound pairs that are more difficult to distinguish
include: the sounds /f/ and the soft /th/ (as in bath), the sounds /f/ and /v/, the sounds /t/ and /d/, the
sounds /k/ and /g/. Speech wise these sounds are very similar and are harder for some children (especially
preschoolers) to differentiate. The dr combination is also tricky as many youngsters hear it as almost a /j/.
Also be aware, age development does influence the ability to differentiate sounds. The youngest students
(preschool and kindergarten) often have difficulty manipulating middle sounds and some of the blended
consonants even when they are developing overall phonemic awareness necessary for reading. If a child
has difficulty pronouncing particular sounds see the article

Tips to help the child develop PA skills: The key is to directly help children develop this ear for sound. While
some students will naturally have terrific PA, the seamless nature of speech makes it challenging for some individuals
to recognize the phonemic nature of language. Individuals with phonemic weaknesses need direct instruction help to
develop PA skills. An informal tool to check your childs PA is located atEvaluation of Phonemic Awareness: A Free
Informal Tool for Checking Phonemic Awareness Teach and correct to help the child learn. A few tips include:
If the child has difficulty hearing sounds within a word, say the word slowly and repeat the word if necessary.
Saying a word slowly makes it easier for the child to hear the individual sounds. In the same way it is easier
to distinguish details on a slow moving vehicle than one speeding by at highway speed. Repetition is also
Once again, remember it is important to start simple and build skills systematically. The student who can not
distinguish /p/ in pit will face even more difficulty distinguishing /p/ in tip or /p/ within split. Build skills!
Design correction to help build skills: When a child can not perform a task, correct in a manner that intentionally
builds necessary skill. Help them learn HOW to distinguish sounds. For example, if you ask the child to
make the word drop and they make dop, have them read dop, point to the word and say, You made the
word dop. You needed to make the word drop. Repeat the word emphasizing the /r/ sound /drrrop/. What
sound is missing? If you are working on the /m/ sound and ask the child to come up with words that start
with /m/ and he gives you cat. Say something like oops, cat starts with the /k/ sound. listen/k/ /k/
/kat/ you need to give me a word that starts with /mmm/

Always demonstrate! It is important to demonstrate the activity, showing the child exactly how to perform the
skill. Instructions or descriptions often dont explain adequately. Provide examples.
Keep activities age appropriate. Phonemic activities will be conducted differently for preschoolers than for older
students. Design activities with target age in mind. For younger students play sound games and keep it fun.
A wide variety of oral games can be conducted on the move to match the energy of preschoolers. (saying
/s/ words each time they come down the slide at the playground slide, sun; playing I spy the __ sound
when walking to school). For older students it is important to keep instruction focused to print and age
appropriate. A 13 year old is not going to appreciate playing the silly name game. Activities for older
students need to be directly tied to print. With older students much of the PA can and should be developed
in conjunction with the direct systematic phonics program. Word making and word writing activities can be
very effective.
Link PA to print. For reading success, it is absolutely essential to link the auditory PA skill to print. (More details
at the end of this article)
USE PHONICS PHONES!!!!! Phonics phones are an effective tool for enhancing phonemic awareness
instruction. A phonics phone is a simple tube shaped like a telephone receiver, often made from plastic
PVC pipe. The tube design funnels sound directly to the ear and tends to block out other background noise.
Not only do the phones likely boost physical hearing they also directly focus the child on listening to and
hearing sounds. When a child holds a phone, they intentionally listen to the sound coming out the earpiece.
This direct focus on sound is vital to developing necessary phonemic awareness. Phonics phones are
particularly useful for conducting phonemic awareness activities in a classroom setting. The students say the
sounds or words into the phones when conducting the phonemic awareness activities. For additional details
on phonics phones including instructions for making and using phonics phones, see the article Phonics
Phones Explained

Specific Phonemic Awareness Activities:

PA Activities to identify sounds: The ability to isolate and distinguish individual sounds is an essential PA skill.
Remember to develop PA skills systematically. Start simple and then increase complexity as the student develops PA
skills. Beginning slow continuous sounds are the easiest for students to identify.
What Sound Starts the Word: Give the student a word. The child repeats the word into his phone listening
carefully. Have the student say the word slowly if necessary. The student then identifies the beginning
sound/. The format is to ask What is the first sound in _____ or What sound starts the word _____
Example: What sound starts the word sun. The child repeats /sun/ and then says /s/.
What Sound is Last (the Caboose) or What Sound Ends the Word: This game is similar to the What Sound
Starts the Word game except the student identifies the ending sound of the word. The format is to ask:
What sound is last in _______? or What is the ending sound in ___________? Example: What sound
ends the word sun. The child repeats the word /sun/ and then says /n/.
What words start with /__/? In this variation you give the child or class a beginning sound. They repeat the
sound into their phones and then give you a word that starts with that sound. The format is to ask What
words start with the sound /_/? Example: What word starts with the /m/ sound? The child repeats the
sound /mmm/ and then says a word such as /milk/ or /mom/ or /mat/.
I Spy the Sound: In this variation you play the I Spy Game with your child except you spy word that start with
the /_/ sound. This is perfect for active preschool children as this game can be done walking or running
around. Format: I spy a /__/ sound, what do I spy? Example: I spy something that starts with /d/. What do I
see? Have the child say the sound /d/ as they look around and find dog or dad or duck, desk, door.
Which One Doesnt Belong: This is a fun PA version of the Sesame Street game. Give the students a list of
three words. Have them say the words and then identify which one does not belong. Carefully select the
words to meet the childs level. Build skills systematically. Verbally direct the student to listen for the PA skill
you are targeting. such as we are listening to beginning sounds. . Example: Say We are listening for the
starting sounds. Which one doesnt belong? . fun, fig, beach. If you dont specify/direct the students on
exactly what to listen for, you can guarantee some children will say be thinking fun & beach obviously go
together and will miss the entire PA intent.

Rhyming activities. Rhyming is terrific for developing phonemic awareness. Help the child learn how to rhyme.
Say a word like cat and see how many rhyming words the child can say. At first this rhyming needs to be
demonstrated as children will often just say a word that starts with the same sound. Example: What would
rhyme with cat? hat, mat, pat, sat.. See if you can come up with any silly rhyming wordszat.. dat..

PA Activities to Distinguish Sounds: The ability to distinguish different sounds is an important PA skill. The
phonics phones are a terrific tool as they enhance focus on listening carefully and therefore help the student
distinguish similar sounds.
Listen to the difference between /--/ and /--/: Give the student two different sounds and have them listen to,
distinguish and identify the sounds. For example have them listen to the difference between /a/ and /e/. The
phones help tremendously!
Rhyming Activities: Various rhyming activities help the student distinguish sounds. Have the child say rhyming
words or pick out which words rhyme.
Why not games: Help the child recognize the distinguishing differences. Give the student two words and ask
why they dont rhyme. For example, give the student bat and bit and have child say words into the phone
and then tell you why they dont rhyme. By asking them to figure it out they learn to distinguish the
What vowel sound is it? Distinguishing short vowels can be tricky. Most short vowel sounds are within words.
Interior sounds require more developed PA to identify than beginning sounds. In addition some of the short
vowels sound similar. The phones help in the careful listening that is often needed to distinguish the
difference. Give the student a pair of similar words. They repeat the words listening carefully and then pull
out, distinguish and identify the sounds. Select specific word pairs to build the precise sound/skill the student
needs to work on. For example at-it, fat-fit, ham-him if you are working on /a/-/i/ difference; not-nut and
cop-cup if you were working on /o/-/u/ difference.
What is different: Give the student pairs of words and ask them to repeat the words into their phones and then
identify the difference. Select word pairs to meet skill level and PA objectives. For example, tip-dip, dot-tot
and tin-din if the student was struggling with distinguishing beginning /t/-/d/ sounds.
Why this one doesnt belong: This game helps the student distinguish the difference between words. Conduct
the game similar to the which one doesnt belong activity, except ask the child to identify and tell you exactly
why the word does not belong. Having them point out the specific difference helps develop skills. Format:
Give the students a list of three words. Have them say the words, identify which one does not belong and
then tell you exactly why it does not belong. Once again pick sets of words carefully to develop target skills.

PA Activities to Blend Sounds: The ability to smoothly blend sounds is a PA skill as well as a necessary skill for
proficient reading. You can use oral sound blending activities with young students to develop and practice blending
skills. Additional information including specific activities can be found in the articleBlending Explained.
Slow-Regular Speed: In this activity, you give the child or class a word. The students orally practice saying
this given words slowly (stretching out the sounds) and then at regular speed. Example: Give the class/child
a simple word (mom). The class/child repeats the word into the phone, then says the word slowly stretching
out the sounds (mmmooommmm) and then at regular speed (mom). Complete instructions and a list of
appropriate words are given in the Blending Explained article.
Blending Sounds (older students) OR Smoosh the Sounds or Glue the Sounds Together(younger children)
- In this activity the students practice blending sounds together. Give the child the individual sounds of a
word separated and then the child smoothly puts the sounds together into a word. Examples: give /m/
/o//p/ and then the child says a smooth mop, give the student /s/ /u/.. /n/ and the student then says
a smooth sun.

PA Activities to Segment Sounds: The ability to segment phonemes in a word is where the child can unglue the
sounds within a spoken word. The ability to separate the individual sounds (phonemes) that make up a word is an

essential PA skill. Remember this is based on the sounds (phonemes) NOT letter names. Say the word slowly and
clearly to help the child hear and distinguish all sounds.
Tell me the sounds in the word _____: Give the child a short word and have him segment the sounds in the
word. Examples: Tell me all the sounds in the word cat; the child should say /k/ /a/ /t/, Tell me all the
sounds in the word shut. the child should say /sh/ /u/ /t/; Tell me the sounds in the word place - the child
should say /p/../l/../ay/../s/), Tell me the sounds in the word shade -the child would say /sh/../ay/../d/).
Writing spelling words by sound is a terrific way to develop this segmenting ability. Have the child write/spell
the word rug by sound. The child must listen to the word, distinguish and separate the individual sounds /r/..
/u/.. /g/. Spell by sound, not letter name.
Conduct specific PA segmenting activities with the blended consonants. (After basic segmenting with easy
sounds/words has been mastered). Children need direct practice with these more difficult blended
consonant combinations.

PA Activities to Manipulate Sounds: The ability to manipulate phonemes within a word (delete or change sounds)
is a phonemic awareness skill. Remember to start with beginning simple sounds as these are the easiest to
distinguish and then increase complexity as the childs skills advance.
Give the child a word and directions for deleting a sound. For example:

Say the word fast without the /f/ (the child should say ast)

Say the word train without the /t/ (the child should say rain)

Say the word swim without the /m/ (the child should say swi)

Sound Changing activities. Give specific directions on what you want the student to change.

What would the word ____ be if you changed the /__/ to a /__/? For example, What would the
word rug be if you changed the /r/ to a /m/? (child should say mug)

How would you say ____ if the /__/ sound was changed to a /__/?. For example, How would you
say sing if the /s/ was changed to /r/? (child should say ring)

For younger children, play silly word games with beginning sounds. Have the child modify the first sound in a

Silly name game - Use the childs name and make silly words. For example, Jessica, if your
name started with /mmm/ what would it be?... Messica; How about /t/?.. Tessica;How about /b/?

Silly animal game - Give the child an animal name and then have them make silly animals by
changing the first sound. For example, If my zebra started with /m/ what would it be? mebra
started with /t/? tebra. (Select animal names starting with consonants that can be changed; ox
doesnt work!)

Sound manipulation activities with older students should be conducted with print. (Word making or word
changing with tiles, writing/spelling/recoding words)
A few initial fun phonemic activities you can conduct with young children are listed at Fun Activities to Help Your Child
Develop Phonemic Awareness (Most of these are targeted for preschool aged children)

Link Phonemic Awareness to Print:

For reading development, the child MUST link the auditory Phonemic Awareness skills directly to
print. Children need to develop the alphabetic principle where they associate the specific print (letters) with the
correct sound. In other words, when the child hears the word mom, he can not only distinguish the beginning
sound /m/, he also knows this sound is shown by the printed letter m. He learns the link between sounds
(phonemes) in the word and the specific black squiggle representing the sound. In this case, sound /m/= printed m.
Explicit and systematic instruction teaching children to manipulate phonemes with printed letters effectively develops
this necessary link.
Phonemic awareness instruction is most effective when children are taught to manipulate phonemes by using
the letters of the alphabet. Such instruction makes a stronger contribution to the improvement of reading
and spelling when children are taught to use letters as they manipulate phonemes rather than when
instruction is limited to phonemes alone. (Highlights from the evidence-based research on phonemic
awareness instruction - listed in National Institute for Literacys (NIFL) Summary on Phonemic Awareness
Explicit instruction in the PA to print link should begin in kindergarten. Teachers can add printed letters to the PA
activities. Sound tiles or letters printed on cardstock work very well for manipulating print and developing the print=PA
link. This can and should be done in conjunction with a direct systematic phonics program where printed sounds (the
phonemic code) are introduced and taught in a direct systematic manner. See the article The Building Blocks of
Written English - The Phonemic Code: Why Knowledge of the Complete Phonemic Code Is Important to Proficient
Reading and How to Help Children Learn the Complete Accurate Phonemic Code, Teaching Phonics

How to Link PA with Print:

Explicitly introduce and teach the print=sound. Teach the direct print=sound link by pointing to the printed letter
and saying the sound correctly as you conduct PA activities.
Conduct these activities in a systematic manner as discussed earlier in this article under Develop Phonemic
Awareness Skills Systematically. Coordinate print/PA link with the progression of PA skills. In early activities
the child can simply point to the correct printed symbol.
Be sure and use accurate phoneme = grapheme representations. In other words make sure the written symbol
(letter or letters) correctly represents the single phoneme. Remember, some graphemes have more than
one letter (ie th, ch, sh). Base print on single accurate phonemes. Dont use word families or blended
consonant clusters as these are NOT accurate phonemic representations. .(ie mat = /m//a//t/, run=
/r//u//n/, chop = /ch//o//p/, this = /th//i//s/, stop= /s//t//o//p/, flip= /f//l//i//p/.)
Sound tiles or square cards are a fantastic tool for manipulating print with PA. Sound tiles are simply a tile or
square cardstock with the accurate grapheme (letter or letters) printed on the tile or card. For example tiles
for m, s, a, t, o, th, ch, sh, If conducted correctly, activities with the sound tiles provide an highly
effective multisensory tool that allows students to see and physically manipulate the phonemic structure of
For older students in remediation situations: Word making activities and writing/spelling are highly effective
multisensory tools for directly developing phonemic awareness skills in older students/remediation
situations. Not only do these tile activities explicitly teach PA and link PA=print, they also allow the student to
see and physically manipulate the phonemic structure of language.

Examples of activities explicitly linking PA to print:

Introduce Print to Beginning PA Activities: The necessary link between PA and print can be established when
conducting the early PA activities to identify and distinguish sounds. Simply add the print to the previously
described activities listed under PA activities to identify sounds and PA Activities to distinguish sounds. For
Link print to What Sound Starts the Word: Give the child the word mom. Have the child identify the beginning
sound /m/. Then hold up a tile or printed card of the letter m. Say This letter m represents the sound /m/.
Have the child repeat the /m/ sound while looking at the printed m. Practice other words that start with /m/,
having him point to the printed m when he identifies a word that starts with the /m/ sound.

In playing I spy the /_/ sound have the student point to the correct printed letter when saying the beginning
sound and giving the word he spied.
Linking print to sound distinguishing activities by having the student point to the correct printed letter(s) as they
identify the difference. In what vowel sound is it, the student would point to the correct printed a when they
heard /a/, e when they heard /e/..etc.

Word making with sound tiles: In these activities, give the child a pre-set selection of tiles and then ask him to
make a simple word. The words need to be decodable and pre-planned to meet the childs knowledge. Example
give the child the sound tiles m, a, t, s, f i. Then ask him to make the words sit, fat, it, fast, fist &
mast. In making the words, the child must listen to the word, segment sounds, and then link the segmented
sound directly to print. Word making activities directly link PA to print.
Word changing activities with the sound tiles: These are conducted similar to the word making with the
sound tiles except the child makes a word and then makes changes to the word based on your request. For
example: Please make the word mud, now what would you change to make the word say mad. OK now you
have the word mad, what would you change to make the word sadetc
Spelling/Word Writing by Sound/ Recoding: Activities where the child listens to a word and then writes/spells
the word by sound are effective for directly developing PA. This is not memorizing spelling words but rather
listening to words and then writing the sounds. It is directly converting sound to print. To be effective, the words
given in this spelling activity need to be decodable based on the students knowledge. Keep it simple and
coordinate the spelling with the direct systematic phonics instruction.

Additional sources of information on phonemic awareness and teaching phonemic awareness are located at:
University of Oregons Big Ideas in Beginning Reading: Phonemic Awareness in Beginning Reading
National Institute for Literacys (NIFL) Highlights from the Evidence Based Research on Phonemic
Awareness Instruction
Put Reading First: The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read - This teacher's guide
provides a framework for using the findings of the NRP in the classroom. It includes a complete section on
phonemic awareness with suggestions for classroom instruction with examples of how the findings can be
implemented. Click on the phonemic awareness instruction under contents.
Report of the National Reading Panel Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the
Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction:
~ Summary Report
~ Reports of the Subgroups
This article was written by Miscese Gagen a mother with a passion for teaching children to read proficiently by using
effective methods. She is also a successful reading tutor and author of the reading instructional programs Right Track
Reading Lessons and Back on the Right Track Reading Lessons. The purpose of this article is to empower parents
and teachers with information on teaching children how to read. We CAN improve reading proficiency, one student at
a time! More information is located at ~ Copyright 2008 Miscese R. Gagen