Phonological awareness does not involve the written word.  Phonological awareness is the ability to identify and manipulate parts of SPOKEN words.  (This is the hardest aspect to understand.  Take a minute to wrap your head around it.)

If you need a little more context to make sense of it …

Imagine a pre-K class in which the teacher, Ms. Teacher, asks her class a series of questions.  Furthermore, Ms. Teacher and her class are walking outside on their way to the playground.  Key piece of information: When letters are placed within the symbol /   /, it indicates the spoken form of the word.  Since we are discussing phonological awareness, we are only working with the spoken word.

Ms. Teacher: How many syllables are in the word cupcake?  Harry: 2

Ms. Teacher: What is the first syllable in the word fortunate?  Galen: /for/

Ms. Teacher: What is a word that rhymes with sweet?  Nina: feet

Ms. Teacher: Do face and race rhyme?  Kim: Yes

Ms. Teacher: Do boy and blag rhyme? (Note: it is fine to work with nonsense words like blag.)  Tony: No

Ms. Teacher:  What word is formed when I put together the parts /b/ and /ug/?  Isla: bug

Ms. Teacher: The word skimp has two parts.  What is the ending part or rime? Giacomo: /imp/

Ms. Teacher: What is the onset or beginning part of skimp? Lucia: /sk/

Ms. Teacher and her students practiced phonological awareness skills while walking.  They were simply talking.  NO WRITTEN WORDS.

Given that the students are in a pre-K classroom and likely ages 4-5, most of them are likely still pre-emergent or emergent readers.  A few are beginning readers.  See Developmental Stages of Literacy for more information.  That means that the majority of the students are only reading a few words.  All of the students are better speakers than readers.  The students practice analyzing the architecture of the spoken word without ever needing to see anything in print.

The phonological awareness skills that Ms. Teacher’s students practiced dealt with rhyming, syllabication and onset-rime.  Onset-rime is more difficult than rhyming and syllabication.

Why Phonological Awareness Skills are Important

Phonemic awareness is a part of phonological awareness.  It is a more advanced form of phonological awareness.  It again deals with the spoken word, but analyzes and manipulates the smallest unit of spoken sound called a phoneme.  Phonemic awareness, along with an understanding of letter-sound relationships, is necessary for developing proficient beginning reading skills (Ehri et al., 2001; National Reading Panel, 2000).  The phonological awareness skills that Ms. Teacher’s students practiced are a precursor to the more advanced phonemic awareness skills that contribute greatly to beginning reading skills.

Parents:  Like Ms. Teacher, you can help your child to develop better phonological awareness in your home, on a walk, in the car, etc.  Click here to learn more about Rhyming, Syllabication and Onset-Rime and recommended activities to promote phonological awareness.


Ehri, L.C., Nunes, S.R., Willows, D.M., Shuster, B.V., Yaghoub-Zadeh, Z., & Shanahan, T. (2001).  Phonemic awareness instruction helps children learn to read: Evidence from the National Reading Panel’s meta-analysis.  Reading Research Quarterly, 36, 250-287.

National Reading Panel. (2000).  Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. Washington, DC: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.



  1. […] Below I suggest some activities to build syllabication skills at home.  Syllabication skills are a component of phonological awareness. […]

  2. […] sounds; and segment, blend, add and delete sounds in words.  It is a more advanced sub-category of phonological awareness, which includes the skills of rhyming and […]

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