Reading

Phonemic Awareness

The understanding that spoken words are made up of sounds.

The first and most foundational of the Five Essential Skills of Reading.

The Basics

Phonemic Awareness is the Foundation

When students know that spoken words are combinations of the 45 sounds of English and are able to use this knowledge to blend and segment words, they are equipped with the most foundational skills needed for reading and writing.

Why It Matters

Phonemic awareness is an important predictor of reading ability. Many struggling readers mistakenly believe that reading at its most elemental level is about words and not sounds.

This results in students guessing randomly when reading unknown words.

Teaching Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness skills can be divided into eleven building blocks. The building blocks increase in linguistic complexity, so that students add new skills step by step without large leaps. Some blocks include more than one skill.

See a complete list of Phonemic Awareness skills.

Remember:

Phonemic awareness skills are auditory. They should be taught through speaking and listening, with no printed text.

A Kinesthetic Awareness of Sounds

A kinesthetic awareness of sounds is the understanding that different sounds are made by shaping the mouth into different positions and by turning the voice box on and off. It is the most basic skill of phonemic awareness.
Ear
Download an activity and try it with your students

Distinguish and Identify Sounds

The ability to distinguish whether two sounds are the same or different is essential for reading and spelling. Sounds that are formed in a similar manner in the mouth are often the most difficult for students to spell correctly. Applying their knowledge of the kinesthetic awareness of sounds helps students not only to feel the differences but to hear them as well.
two kids
Download an activity and try it with your students

Blend Words into Compound Words

By auditorily blending two words into a compound word (with no print involved), students are introduced to the idea that words can be broken apart and put back together. This is a bridge skill to learning to blend and segment words into their individual sounds.
Sailboat
sail • boat
Download an activity and try it with your students

One-Syllable Words Without a Consonant Blend

Blending One-Syllable Words with Only Two Phonemes from an Auditory PromptA word with two phonemes has two sounds. The words may be spelled with more than two letters. Examples: knee /n-ē/, toe /t-ō/, bee /b-ē/.

The skill of auditorily blending individual sounds into a spoken word is foundational to reading. Practicing blending two sounds into a word prepares students to blend longer words.

Bee
/b-ee/
Download an activity and try it with your students

Blend One-Syllable CVC Words In the context of phonemic awareness skills, a CVC word is any word with a consonant sound, vowel sound, consonant sound, regardless of how those sounds are spelled. Examples: cat /k-ă-t/, fish /f-ĭ-sh/, boat /b-ō-t/.

Practicing blending the sounds of Consonant-Vowel-Consonant words prepares students to decode these words. Students should practice this skill until they can hear the individual sounds and immediately say the word.
Dog
/d-o-g/
Download an activity and try it with your students

Segmenting One-Syllable CVC Words

As students master blending one-syllable words without a consonant blend, they are ready to begin segmenting them. The ability to segment a spoken word into its individual sounds is the first step in being able to spell it.
Cow
/c-ow/
Download an activity and try it with your students

One-Syllable Words with a Consonant Blend

Blend Two Consonants

Many students struggle to read words with consonant blends. By practicing the skill of blending consonants auditorily in isolation, students develop a foundational skill needed to decode these words.

Clam
c-l • /cl/
Download an activity and try it with your students

Blend One-Syllable Words with a Consonant Blend

Practice blending one-syllable words with consonant blends helps to build confidence and teaches the foundational skills needed to read words with consonant blends.
Frog
/f-r-o-g/
Download an activity and try it with your students

Segment One-Syllable Words with a Consonant Blend

Since blending and segmenting are related skills, being able to identify each of the sounds in a word with a consonant blend further reinforces students’ growing understanding of words. The ability to segment is foundational for spelling and further reinforces students’ ability to decode.
Crown
/c-r-ow-n/
Download an activity and try it with your students

Initial Sound

Once students have mastered the skill of segmenting one-syllable words and understand that words are comprised of individual sounds that can be separated, they are ready to identify the initial sound. Changing the initial sound to create new words builds further upon this skill.
Pig
/p/
Download an activity and try it with your students

Final Sound

Identifying the final sound is a bit more difficult than identifying the initial sound. As students practice each step, they become increasingly aware of the sounds in words and able to identify, isolate, and manipulate the sounds in words, preparing them for success in reading and spelling.
Cat
/t/
Download an activity and try it with your students

Medial Sound

Identifying the medial vowel sound is difficult for many students. This results in students misspelling vowels. Learning to accurately hear and identify vowels in the context of words prepares students to become strong readers and spellers.
Fish
/i/
Download an activity and try it with your students

Two-Syllable Words

Blend Two-Syllable Words

Blending two-syllable words is more difficult than blending one-syllable words. Blending practice with two-syllable words is beneficial for beginning readers as well as for any student struggling to read longer words.

Flower
/f-l-ow-er/
Download an activity and try it with your students

Segment Two-Syllable Words

As students become comfortable segmenting one-syllable words, increase the difficulty by adding two-syllable words. This skill is vital to learning how to spell longer words.
Pumpkin
/p-u-m-p-k-i-n/
Download an activity and try it with your students

Three- and Four-Syllable Words

Blend Three- and Four-Syllable Words

Just as reading longer words is more difficult than reading shorter words, blending them auditorily is more challenging than blending one-syllable words. Practicing blending multi-syllable words strengthens the foundational phonemic awareness skills students need to read longer words.

Computer
/c-o-m-p-u-t-er/
Download an activity and try it with your students

Segment Three- and Four-Syllable Words

Segmenting longer words prepares students to read and spell advanced vocabulary. Mastering these skills ensures students will have the tools necessary for learning in higher academic environments.
Elephant
/e-l-e-ph-a-n-t/
Download an activity and try it with your students

Rhyme

Rhyming enhances the enjoyment of language and word play. However, it is not a prerequisite for developing strong reading skills. Logic of English recommends formal instruction of rhyming skills once students have developed the more foundational skills.
Bat and a cat
/b-a-t/ • /c-a-t/
These skills can be assessed.

Let's dive deeper

Curious for more details?

Check out our comprehensive FAQ.

Learn More