3 min read

Developing Phonemic Awareness

Developing Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is our ability to hear every individual sound (phonemes) in words. It consists of segmenting and blending phonemes. We blend phonemes together to read words and we segment phonemes in order to spell words. Typical progression of phonemic awareness starts with identifying the initial (first) sound in words, then the final (last) sound in words, then the medial (middle) sounds. 

There is some disagreement in research about whether students should work on phoneme segmentation without looking at letters or whether they should look at letters. You can do these activities with pictures, instead of words as well. The point of hearing every sound in a word is to be able to read and spell words, so attaching the sound to letters by showing students the word as you describe the sounds is good practice as well. The below activities are designed to have students look at the word, so they are practicing phonemes with letters. 

Initial Phonemes 

Initial sounds are the first skill a student develops. It typically begins in Kindergarten, but can begin earlier, depending on the student.

It’s easier to start with what we call continuous phonemes, which means we can hold the pure phoneme as long as we have breath. Continuous phonemes include consonant sounds like /m/, /n/, /ng/, /f/, /v/, /th/, /th/, /s/, /z/, /sh/, /zh/, and /l/. For example, find a word that starts with /m/ like 'mop.' Write the word (in lowercase letters) so they can look at it and say, “This word is mop, mmmmmmmmmop.” Hold the /m/ sound a long time to help them hear that first sound. Say, “what is that word?” and they respond with, “mop.” Tell them to say it long like you did and say the word together, “mmmmmmmop.” Ask them, “What is the first sound you hear in mmmmmmmop?” They should say, /m/. Tell them that’s right! If they get it wrong, tell them what you hear. “When I say the word, mmmmmmmmop, I hear the /m/ sound. /m/ /mop/, /m/ /mop, /m/ mop. Now say it with me, /m/ /mop/, /m/ /mop/, /m/ /mop/. What’s the first sound in mmmmmmop?” And they should say /m/. If they struggle with identifying that sound, do many examples until they get it. 

Do this as many times as you need with as many words you can think of that start with the phoneme you want to focus on. Work with those continuous phonemes first, then move to phonemes that you have to clip off, like /p/, /b/, /t/, /d/, /k/, /g/, /h/, /w/, /ch/, /j/ and /r/. You can also use words that start with vowel sounds as well, if you like. 

what-is-phonemic-awareness_11zon

Final Phonemes 

Final phonemes are the next skill students gain. This typically begins toward the middle of Kindergarten, but can occur earlier.

Again, it would be easier to start with words that end in continuous phonemes, described above. For example, a word like 'can.' Write the word (in lowercase letters) so they can look at it and say, “This word is can, cannnnnnnnnn.” Hold that last sound a long time so they can hear it. Say, “What is that word?” and they respond with “can.” Tell them to say it long like you did, “cannnnnnnn.” Ask them, “What is the last sound you hear in cannnnnnnn?” The should say, /n/. Tell them that’s right, “great job hearing the sound /n/ at the end of the word CAN!” Again, if they struggle, you explicitly explain like the example above for mop.

Practice as many times as you want to for each sound until they are accurate and automatic, then move to the phonemes you have to clip, described above. 

Medial Phonemes 

Medial phonemes are the last skill that develops. This typically occurs at the end of Kindergarten or beginning of first grade, but can happen earlier, depending on the student.

Don’t worry about starting with the medial phonemes until they are pretty accurate in identifying the initial and final phoneme. Start with CVC words, which means a word spelled with a consonant, then a vowel, then another consonant. Those words should have a vowel with a short sound, like bag, sit, hut, bed, or dog. 

Show them the word 'dog' (in lowercase letters) and say, “This word is dooooooog,” Hold the vowel sound long so they can hear it. “What is that word?” and they respond with “dog.” Tell them to say it long like you did, “doooooog.” What is the sound in the middle of “dooooooog?” They should say /o/. Tell them that’s right, “great job hearing the sound /o/ in the middle of the word DOG. If they struggle, go through the procedure described in initial sounds for how to explicitly describe what you hear in the middle. 

Practice as many times as you want for each sound until they are accurate and automatic. 

TIPS

Sometimes using things like color chips, or anything students can move will help them identify the sounds. For example, you could even use three different Hotwheel cars. Push up the first car for the initial sound, the second for the medial sound, and the third for the final sound. Whichever position you are wanting them to notice, push that one up longer and hold the sound longer. No matter what manipulative you use, be sure to push up and hold the target sound longer. A video showing you how to do this is here

FCRR resources

Florida Center for Reading Research has all types of activities for phonemic awareness. Find the activities here. All you have to do is print them and follow the instructions.

This link takes you to a resource from the Reading Rockets that indicates what ages 80-90% of students should master the blending and segmenting of sounds.  

Parents + Teachers = Student Success

Parents + Teachers = Student Success

OPSA had the honor of presenting on the important topic of how Parents + Teachers = Student Success at a recent statewide teacher professional...

Read More
Phoneme Exercise: Grapheme Mapping

Phoneme Exercise: Grapheme Mapping

One of the most important activities a parent can do at home with their child is to practice all their reading and spelling skills through...

Read More
Developing Phonemic Awareness

Developing Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is our ability to hear every individual sound (phonemes) in words. It consists of segmenting and blending phonemes. We blend...

Read More