Phonemic Awareness and Reading Readiness

I am looking for some help.  Recently I attended an Open House at my daughter’s school.  The kindergarten teacher mentioned the skills that children would be working on during the year.  She didn’t get into specifics in each area.  One thing that she mentioned was, “phonemic awareness.”  I am not sure what that is or how I can help my daughter.  If you have any suggestions, I would appreciate the help.

To put it simply, phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate sounds (or phonemes) in spoken language as they relate to written language.  It is not to be confused with phonics which is a code to sound out written words.  I like to describe phonemic awareness in young children as their ability to hear, use, and understand the rhyme and rhythm in our speech.

Phonemic awareness improves children’s ability to read, spell and comprehend what is read.  I’ve noticed a decline in the phonemic awareness of many children entering school over the past few years.  One reason may be that many parents have gotten away from reading nursery rhymes to their children.  As a result, children often come to school not knowing any rhymes at all.  Repetitive poems and simple rhymes  such as those found in Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes are helpful in teaching phonemic awareness.

Parents should start teaching phonemic awareness when their child is a toddler so that they will have the pre-reading skills they need when they begin school.  Practicing phonemic awareness should be a fun and easy activity.  Here are a few simple games that parents can play with their child whenever they might have a few free minutes.  As most activities do not require a paper and pencil, you can practice (play) them anywhere, even in the car.

PHONEMIC AWARENESS activities include:


Recognizing rhymes in books and poems – Read a rhyming book or poem and have the child pick out the rhyming words at the end of each line.

Saying rhymes – Example: “Which two words rhyme: The silly fox sat on the box?”

Recognizing rhymes – Example: “Do these words rhyme: down/dip; down/clown?”

Generating rhymes – Example: “Can you think of a word that rhymes with frog?”

As many other games in this piece, the above are great car games that the whole family can join in on.


Say aloud and clap the syllables in words – Example: “How many syllables are in the words: cat; cupcake; elephant; television; etc.?


Change the first sound of the word to make a new word – Examples:

Ask:  “What would I do to change the word cat to mat?”

“What would I do to change the word cook to shook [harder]?”

“Can you think of a word that rhymes with sock, but starts with an /l/?”


Identify individual sounds in words – Examples:

“What sound do you hear at the beginning of the word hen?”

“What sound do you hear in the middle if the word pig?”

“What  is the ending sound of lion?”

“What sound do all of these words begin with: duck; dog; damp?”

“What do these words end with: sock; quack; kick?”

Identify words from individual sounds – Examples:

Slowly stretch out the sounds in the word: c / a / t.  Then ask, “What word am I saying?”

Slowly stretch out the sounds in the word: j / u / m / p.  Then ask, “What word am I saying?”

When your daughter has mastered easier concepts, make your games a little harder, move onto higher level skills.  Examples: “Can you say cat without the /C/ ?’  “Can you say brook without the /Br/ ?

By practicing these simple activities with your daughter, you will be helping her master phonemic awareness, an important skill in learning to read!

Related Posts:

1 Comment + Add Comment

  • Very nice and important post Maggie. Those who struggle the most with reading usually have a very difficult time with phonemic awareness. I also strongly urge parents to read nursery rhymes and play with sounds with their children. The more children are bathed in language, the better prepared they will be. Not only for succes in reading, but in all academic areas.

    When working with students who have a lot of difficulty distinguishing rhyming words, I think it’s helpful to also repeat the rhyming words and restate the rhyming part. For example,

    Teacher/Parent: “Dog, log? Do they rhyme?”
    Student: “Yes!”
    Teacher/Parent: “How do you know?”
    Student: “They both have /og/ (the sound, not the letters) at the end.”

    I will say while reading, however, I like to incorporate phonics with phonemic awareness by drawing attention to the ending letters of the rhymes while keeping a finger pointed to each rhyming word. For example, I would point to “dog” & “log” and then say,

    Teacher/Parent: “Dog, log? Do they rhyme?”
    Student: “Yes.”
    Teacher/Parent: “How do you know?
    Student: “They rhyme because they sound the same at the end.”
    Teacher/Parent: “So, dog & log rhyme. Do they look the same at the end too?”
    Student: “Yes, they both have “o” “g” (the letters, not the sound) at the end.”
    Teacher/Parent: “Right! Rhyming words USUALLY look the same, but not always!”

    One of my favorite activites is “Sound of the Day” (Yopp 1992). I always used it when taking lunch counts with students. I would pick a letter sound and change student names and lunch choices. For example, if I chose /s/ for my sound and asked Linda whether she wanted pizza or a hot dog, I would say, “Sinda, would you like sizza or a sot sog for lunch?” The students loved it. This can easily be done at home, too. I used 2 & 3 letter blends (ex. /bl/ & /str/) once single letter manipulation were easy for them.

    I also love the book “The Hungry Thing” books by Jan Slepian. Great fun!

    Thanks again for posting about such an important topic.

Leave a comment

Reddit button Delicious button Digg button Stumbleupon button