PHONEMIC AWARENESS ACTIVITIES

Phonemic awareness activities will help your child to learn to analyze and manipulate individual sounds in words.  Phonemic awareness is the ability to count the number of sounds; identify the beginning, middle and ending sounds; and segment, blend, add and delete sounds in words.

To understand why phonemic awareness is so crucial to your child’s reading development, read my post, “Phonemic Awareness – The Most Important Pre-Reading Skill.”

Now for some fantastic phonemic awareness activities that work…

1. ALPHABET SOUND TUBS – I really like the ones made by Lakeshore Learning.  The objects are sorted by beginning letter.  For example, the A tub includes apple, acorn and alligator.  The objects provide great practice for identifying beginning sounds.  However, if you wanted to practice identifying ending sounds, you could find multiple objects from various tubs ending with the sound /n/, such as sign, cone and sun.  I also like adding objects and toys to the tubs to expand the activity.

This phonemic awareness activity highlights identifying the beginning and ending sounds in words.

2.  PICTURE SORTS – Google beginning consonant sounds picture sorts, ending consonant sounds picture sorts or middle vowel sounds picture sorts, and you will find a plethora of materials fit for contrasting phonemes within words.  A couple of things to remember:

  1. Start with single syllable words.  Words with only three sounds, such as cat or bus are best.
  2. Contrasting beginning sounds is easiest.  Once that is mastered, move onto contrasting ending sounds.  Contrasting middle vowel sounds is the most difficult.
  3. Start by contrasting only two sounds.  Contrast at most four sounds at one time.

You can do this task with the objects in your alphabet sounds tubs, as well.

This phonemic awareness activity highlights identifying the beginning and ending sounds in words.

3.  ELKONIN BOXES – The Read Rocket website offers instructions how to use Elkonin boxes and the Lanternfish provides a ton of Elkonin boxes templates to download.  Since our goal is to develop phonemic awareness, which deals with sounds within a spoken word, not letters, I would recommend using counters (e.g. pennies or unifix cubes) instead of letters.  For example, when presented with the sheep template below, I would slide one counter in the first box while saying the sound /sh/, one counter in the second box while saying the sound /ee/, and one counter in the third box while saying the sound /p/.  After segmenting the sounds, blend them together to form the word, sheep.

Elkonin box

An Elkonin box template for the word, sheep. There are three boxes for the three phonemes, /sh/, /ee/ and /p/.

This phonemic awareness activity highlights counting, segmenting and blending sounds in words.

4.  USING KINESTHETIC MOVEMENT TO SEGMENT SOUNDS WITHIN WORDS – Start with consonant-vowel-consonant (cvc) word families that produce a lot of words, such as –ap, –ed, –ip and –ot.  Work with only one word family at a time, such as –ap, which includes the words cap, gaplap, map, nap, sap and tap.  Pass a ball back and forth between two (or more) people.  When you catch the ball, you say the next sound in the word.  Over three tosses, the word cap sounds like /c/, /a/, /p/.  By working within the same word family, you will only need to change the beginning sound.  In lieu of tossing a ball, you could stomp your foot or clap your hands for each sound, or phoneme.

5.  COMMUNICATE IN SEGMENTED PHONEMES – Start with single syllable words you use frequently, like car, bike, school, bed, ball, dog, etc.  Also use your child’s name, even if it has more than one syllable.  Say things like:

  1. It’s time for /b/ /e/ /d/.
  2. Do you want to /b/ /igh/ /k/ to /s/ /k/ /oo/ /l/ today?
  3. Let’s play catch with the /d/ /o/ /g/.
  4. /S/ /a/ /l/ /ee/, where is your brother?

At first, you may have to blend the sounds to form the word for the child, but with repetition, his ear will be able to hear the word among the segmented sounds.

This phonemic awareness activity highlights blending sounds in words.

Other amazing resources for phonemic awareness activities

I really find value in many of Heidi Butkus’ recommended phonemic awareness activities.  I specifically like the Segmentation Sliders (similar to the Elkonin boxes) and the Puppets speaking in segmented sounds and alliteration, both on page 3.  Sound blending bingo, songs and eliciting a physical response on page 4 are exceptional, too.

I like the Sound Segmentation Pictures at kellyskindergarten.com.  You can use them with Elkonin boxes or Segmentation Sliders to segment sounds in words.  You can hand your child a fly swatter and have him whack the swatter as he segments each sound within the word.

How phonemic awareness activities evolve into reading and spelling activities

Before your child knows a lot about letters, he can know a lot about sounds, especially if you incorporate phonological awareness activities, such as rhyming and syllabication, and phonemic awareness activities into your everyday life.  But at some point, your child is going to recognize letters and develop alphabetic knowledge (linking letters to their sounds).  With a growing awareness of letters, your child’s phonemic awareness will likely grow exponentially.  This is the time to start incorporating letters into the phonemic awareness activities described above.  It will help develop his reading and spelling skills.

Parents: In your own experience, which activities mentioned above were best for developing phonemic awareness before your child developed much alphabetic knowledge?

 

 

PHONEMIC AWARENESS – THE MOST IMPORTANT PRE-READING SKILL

There is SO much research showing that having strong phonemic awareness skills predicts future reading success.  Want an analogy?  Phonemic awareness is the foundation of reading success.  Just like a house cannot be built on a weak foundation, a strong reader rarely develops without phonemic awareness.

What is phonemic awareness?

Phonemic awareness is the ability to analyze and manipulate individual sounds in words.  It is the ability to count the number of sounds; identify the beginning, middle and ending 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 syllabication.

phonemic awareness picture sort

A picture sort, examining the beginning sounds b, m, r and s. Notice there are no letters/words involved. This is an exceptional activity to develop phonemic awareness in pre-emergent and emergent readers.

The facts regarding phonemic awareness and reading success are cut and dry so it feels right to share them in list form.

1.  Development of phonemic awareness leads to improved reading ability.

2.  Poor readers at all ages are less phonemically aware than same-age good readers (Shaywitz, 1996).

3.  Children with poor phonemic awareness have trouble learning letter-sound relationships (aka alphabetic knowledge) and how to spell (Griffin, 1991; Juel, Griffith & Gough, 1986).

4.  Children who have poor phonemic awareness (and are consequently poor readers) in first grade typically remain poor readers in fourth grade (Juel, 1988).

5.  The more advanced forms of phonemic awareness (e.g. segmenting sounds) are more predictive of reading ability than simpler forms of phonological awareness, such as rhyming (Nation & Hulme, 1997).

6.  Instruction in reading is essential for the most advanced forms of phonemic awareness to develop.  In other words, knowing the letters and their sounds, make learning how to segment and blend sounds in words easier.

7.  In studies, phonemic awareness training in kindergarten and first-grade produces better readers and spellers, both at the completion the training period, as well as years down the road (Lungberg, Frost & Peterson, 1988).

8.  Phonemic awareness training with a component of discussion as to the importance of phonemic awareness and its application in reading is more effective than simply a “skill and drill” approach (Cunningham, 1990).

9.  Reading increases phonemic awareness, but reading is unlikely without a degree of phonemic awareness (Goswami & Bryant, 1990).  So the ideal instructional path is to develop some phonemic awareness, use it to develop reading skills, and then in turn develop even stronger phonemic awareness skills.

10.  When parents teach their children letters and their sounds (alphabetic knowledge), the children’s phonemic awareness improves (Crain-Thoreson & Dale, 1992).

Parents: For activity suggestions to develop phonemic awareness, check out my post, Activities to Build Phonemic Awareness.

Parents, what activities and strategies do you use at home to help your child develop phonemic awareness?  What has resulted in the most positive growth?  Please share your story.

References

Crain-Thoreson, C., & Dale, P. S.  (1992).  Do early talkers become early readers? Linguistic precocity, preschool language and emergent literacy.  Developmental Psychology, 28, 421-429.

Cunningham, A. E.  (1990).  Explicit versus implicit instruction in phonemic awareness.  Journal of Experimental Psychology50, 429-444.

Goswami, U., & Bryant, P. E.  (1990).  Phonological skills and learning to read.  Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Griffith, P. L.  (1991).  Phonemic awareness helps first graders invent spellings and third graders remember correct spellings.  Journal of Reading Behavior, 23, 215-233.

Juel, C.  (1988).  Learning to read and write: A longitudinal study of 54 children from first through fourth grades.  Journal of Educational Psychology, 80, 417-447.

Juel, C., Griffith, P. L., & Gough, P. B.  (1986).  Acquisition of literacy: A longitudinal study of children in first and second grade.  Journal of Educational Psychology, 78, 243-255.

Lundberg, I., Frost, J., & Peterson, O.  (1988).  Effects of an extensive program for stimulating phonological awareness in preschool children.  Reading Research Quarterly, 23, 263-284.

Nation, K., & Hulme, C.  (1997).  Phonemic segmentation, not onset-rime segmentation, predicts early reading and spelling skills.  Reading Research Quarterly, 32, 154-167.

Shaywitz, S. E.  (1996).  Dyslexia.  Scientific American, 275(5), 98-104.

 

 

 

ACTIVITIES TO BUILD SYLLABICATION SKILLS

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

The examples and activities I present are geared for children in pre-K to first grade.  While these activities can be used with beginning readers, they are really designed for pre-emergent and emergent readers who are not reading at all or reading only a few words.

Key piece of information: When letters are placed within the symbol /   /, it indicates the spoken form of the word.  Since the goal is to build phonological awareness, we are only working with the spoken word.

Examples of Syllabication Skills

1.  What is the first syllable in the word baseball?  base

What is the second syllable in the word baseball?  ball

What is the first syllable in the word opposite? /op/

What is the second syllable in the word opposite? /po/

What is the third syllable in the word opposite? /zit/

2.  How many syllables does the word rich have? 1

How many syllables does the word ocean have? 2

How many syllables does the word mistaken have? 3

3.  The starting word is cupcake.  If I take away the syllable /cup/, what syllable am I left with? /cake/

The starting word is cupcake.  If I take away the syllable /cake/, what syllable am I left with? /cup/

Activities to Build Syllabication Skills

1.  There are 2 ways to teach your child to understand, see and feel a syllable.  Practice saying individual words in front of the mirror.  Speak slowly and exaggerate the syllables.  Each time your mouth opens, it is syllable.  The second way is to touch the underside of your chin.  Each time your chin drops down, it is a syllable.

2.  Play what I call the “Syllabication Name Game.”  Place 5 or more photos of family members or friends on the table.  The number of syllables in the people’s names should be varied.  Ask you child to tell you all of the people’s names (simply to make sure he knows them readily).  There are many variations of this game:

a)  Clap out, jump out or drum out (whatever kinesthetic activity engages your child) the syllables of each person’s name.

b)  Have a handful of “markers” on hand.  These could be coins, cheerios, stickers, anything to count with.  On a piece of paper or a white board, make four horizontally-connected boxes.  One by one, go through the people’s names and place a marker in each box from left to right as you hear each syllable in the name.  For example: Debbie, 2 syllables and therefore 2 markers; Mark, 1 syllable and 1 marker; Violet, 3 syllables and 3 markers; Penelope, 4 syllables and 4 markers.

c)  Sort people’s names according to how many syllables are in their names.  Have a pile of 1 syllable names, 2 syllable names, and so forth.

d)  Provide only the first syllable of people’s names and have your child guess the full name.  You could also provide only the last syllable and have your child guess the full name, which would be more difficult.

** You can do this game with words, other than names.  If your child is really interested in baseball, the words could be pitcher, baseball, strike, catch and overhand.

** All variations of this game are meant to be done with the spoken word.  There is no need for print.  However, if your child finds the game too easy and is a beginning reader, you may use the written words.

3.  Label post-it notes with the numbers 1, 2 or 3.  The 1, 2 or 3 stand for the number of syllables within a word.  Have your child stick the correctly numbered post-it note on objects within your home.  For example, bed, chair and book would get 1s, printer, bathtub and flashlight would get 2s, computer, bicycle and camera would get 3s.

4.  Try clapping or stomping or jumping or banging out every syllable in common songs, such as Mary Had a Little Lamb or Twinkle, Twinkle.  Both of these songs have a balanced mixture of syllables.

 

ACTIVITIES TO BUILD RHYMING SKILLS

Below I suggest some activities to build rhyming skills at home.  Rhyming skills are a component of phonological awareness.

Examples of Rhyming Skills

  1. Do the following pairs of words rhyme?  ratmat (yes), jumpybumpy (yes), lovelion (no)
  2. Give me a word that rhymes with car? vetbake?  Nonsense words as answers are acceptable.

The second example of rhyming is harder than the first because the child has to come up with the rhyming word.

Activities to Build Rhyming Skills

  1. Use Rhyming Picture cards.  Start with only eight cards (four matching pairs) showing.  First, have the child name all the pictures.  If he does not know a name, provide it.  Next, pick up a card and have the child name it, stick.  If he does not know which picture card rhyme with it, test out a few pairs for him.  Say, “stickfrog, stickchick, stickskunk.  Which pair rhymes?”  You can extend the activity by asking/telling the onset (the rhyming part): -ick.  You can also ask for additional rhyming words, such as lick, Rick, and quick.  As your child becomes more proficient, you can increase the number of rhyming picture cards.  It is your job as the parent to figure out your child’s current skill level and build from there using scaffolding techniques.
  2. Read books that feature rhyming extensively.  Read them over and over and over.  Eventually, your child will start supplying the missing rhyming words.  Some of my favorites are Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney (and the entire Llama Llama series), Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr. (and the related Bill Martin Jr. books), My Truck is Stuck! by Kevin Lewis and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr.  Ask your local librarian for more ideas.
  3. Look at objects around you (in your home, at the park, passing by in the car) and start the game, “I see a book.  Do you see a _______?”  (Supply a rhyming word.  It does not need to be a real word.)  Your child and you can take turns making the “I see a ______.  Do you see a _______?” statement.  Other examples: I see fish. Do you see a dish/pish?  I see a tree.  Do you see a key/fee?  I see a sign.  Do you line/jine?  My examples are meant to illustrate acceptable rhymes that are real words and ones that are nonsense.  You can control this activity in the beginning by making sure objects that are single syllable and have common rhymes are present.  Such objects would include a dog, fish, can, boy, book, pot, cat, doll, mug and chair.

It is your job as the parent to figure out your child’s current skill level and build from there using scaffolding techniques.

The website, PhonologicalAwareness.org has an extensive list of quality activities.