Phonemic Awareness: Major Reading Skills No One Talks About

What is phonemic awareness? We have all heard of phonics when it comes to how to teach reading; remember Hooked on Phonics? But why have we never heard of phonemic awareness?


Well, it's the missing piece. If your child knows all their letters and sounds, but they cannot read, it is because they need to build their phonemic awareness. The best part is that it's not difficult to do, and I want to share how with you!


Phonemic awareness is the understanding that all words are made up of sounds, and those sounds can be manipulated to change words. It's an umbrella of auditory skills, so kids can actually practice these reading skills without even knowing any letters. These skills will be outlined in this post but include rhyming, blending, segmenting, sound isolation and others.


*As an Amazon affiliate, I may get a small commission for purchases made through links in this post.


Phonemic Awareness vs. Phonics:

Phonemic awareness is based on AUDITORY skills that manipulate phonemes (sounds) in words, while phonics' definition is based in VISUAL skills. Phonics is the teaching of reading through the understanding that letters or groups of letters make certain sounds.


An example:

Phonemic awareness: The word dog is made up of three sounds: /d/ /o/ and /g/.


Phonics: The word "dog" is made up of 3 letters: D, O, and G.


Phonics is all about LETTERS (that you see) and phonemic awareness is all about SOUNDS (that you hear).


5 Skills for Phonemic Awareness Mastery:

Here are the major phonemic awareness skills to know.


Rhyming- Phonemic awareness skill #1

I can assure you that you've already been teaching your little one to rhyme without being that aware of it. Each little rhyming song, and every rhyming book is building your little one's knowledge of phonemic awareness.


Rhyming words have the same ENDING SOUND.


Incorporate rhyming exercises next time to you sing a rhyming song. Stop before the rhyming word and take notice of it together:

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, how I wonder what you ___?

What word is missing? Are. Star and Are rhyme!

They have the same ending sound.


You can also do this as you read aloud to your child using a favorite book that is written in rhyme. My favorite series is the Llama Llama Red Pajama Books.


Another strategy is by using a "nonexample." This way kids pick out the word that doesn't rhyme: rat, bat, dog, cat. A hilarious book I always recommend for rhyming that teaches through nonexamples is called Rhyming Dust Bunnies.

*I'm a part of the Amazon Affiliates program which means I may get a small commission if you purchase through my link.


Sound Isolation: Beginning, Middle, and Ending Sounds-Phonemic awareness skill #2

I could probably write 3 blog posts about this phonemic awareness skill, but I'll give you the briefest version.


Beginning Sounds:

Sound isolation is something you're sure to be familiar with too, especially using the beginning sound.


What sound does rabbit start with? If you said R, you're wrong! The letter R is not a sound, it's a letter.


If you said /r/ (the sound that R makes), you would be spot on!


Sound isolation is the ability to isolate a sound in a spoken word. There is no need to put pencils onto paper when practicing this reading skill, in fact, my favorite way to teach sound isolation is to go on a scavenger hunt.


Go searching your home for 5 things that start with the sound /b/. Kids can engage in this without even knowing the letter B makes the /b/ sound.


Beginning sounds are the easiest to isolate because from an early age, kids are taught to associate regular life objects with a certain sound or letter. Once you throw in the letter it become phonics. "The word ball starts with /b/ /b/ /b/ /ball/." Speaking about the sounds in the word help your child discern those sounds on their own.


For a game that combines beginning sound phonemic awareness and phonics you've got to try Beginning Sound Stomp!

Ending sounds:

After beginning sounds, I recommend isolating the ending sound of a word with your child. It takes some time, but practice stretching out a word by saying it as long as you can, and then emphasize the last sound: DOOOOOOOOG! (with a hard G).


In my classroom we often did this as a whole body exercise. Standing up we would choose the word, then we would stretch the word by elongating it all the while moving our hands from our heads down to our toes. The final sound that came at the toes was the ending sound.


If your child knows their letters, they can strengthen their phonemic awareness of ending sounds by playing toy rescue. In this game I taped small toys to the door with painters tape.


My kids had to rescue the items and place them on the correct ending sound. Because we are working on ending sounds the toys are not sorted by their final letter. Horse is sorted to "s" because that is the final SOUND in the word.


Ending Sounds Toy Rescue- Phonemic Awareness

Middle sounds:

Oh the middle sounds are one of the hardest phonemic awareness skills to teach. My theory is that they are usually vowel sounds, and often vowels sound similar or have multiple sounds.


When I talk about middle sounds, I mean the middle sounds of CVC words. These are the first words kids learn to read phonetically and they stand for consonant vowel consonant. If you want to know all about CVC words, check out this blog post that explains all about how to teach them.


Missing Middles is a game that fuses phonics and middle sound isolation. Check it out!

To teach the middle sound kids will need to stretch out the word and hear what's in the middle, but often they'll learn middle sounds through our next major phonemic awareness skill.



Segmentation- Phonemic awareness skill #3

It sounds like what it is: segmentation is the ability to segment words into parts or individual sounds.

Karate Chop Words: Phonemic Awareness - Segmenting

This could be breaking down a word into syllables or into individual sounds, and it is most

often used as kids begin to sound out words as they write them.


Active learners love using "karate chop segmenting" to make this difficult auditory skill into a physical one. For beginners, start by segmenting words into syllables to get the hang of "chopping" the word. I have even used a long Play-doh worm as the chopping block. Kids practice segmenting the word by chopping the worm with their hand.


Rabbit becomes /ra/ and /bit/. Alligator becomes /a/ /li/ /ga/ /tor/.


Once kids understand they can move on to segmenting words into sounds, and often CVC words are the best way to do this. Dog becomes /d/ /o/ /g/.


This is an advanced phonemic awareness skill that takes time and patience. Other ways to make segmenting fun is to clap the word or break the word using a robot voice.


Blending- Phonemic awareness skill #4

Blending is a complementary to segmenting and is a bit easier to do. Given the segmented sounds, blending is the ability to put them together and hear the word they make.


Readers need blending skills to successfully decode words. As a child reads, they say the individual sounds that they see on the paper: /c/ /a/ /t/. This is called "sounding out."


Blending is the ability to take the sounds and combine them to make the word. In my years of teaching 100's of children, a majority of them would sound out the letters of the word but get stuck blending the sounds together, holding them back from reading.


I created an engaging, silly game called Guess the Animal that you can practice anywhere, anytime to help make blending second nature to these kids (and my own). We play it all the time!


Me: Guess the animal - /go/ /rilla/

Kids: Gorilla

Me: Guess the animal - /d/ /o/ /g/

Kids: Dog

Me: Guess the animal- /p/ /i/ /g/

Kids: pig


If you're just starting out with blending, I would start with the longer animal names before CVC animals because those are easier to pick out by hearing: turkey, alligator, gorilla, etc. You don't need to segment every single letter, you can even say "Guess my animal /a/ /ligator/" This gives kids practice blending the beginning sound onto the word.


As they get better, they can move onto the CVC words. Some animal CVC words are: pig, dog, cat, rat, bat, ram, fox, hen.


Phoneme Replacement- Phonemic awareness skill #5

Remember those classic Raffi songs Apples and Bananas or Willoughby Wallaby Woo? If you don't remember those, you'll for sure, have heard The Name Game (Shirley Ellis).


Those songs take a word in the song and replace the sound with another one. Nothing is written down, it's all spoken, making it a phonemic awareness skill.


Singing songs like these with your kids will help strengthen their ability to manipulate words which in turn assists them to become strong readers and writers.


Building Phonemic Awareness in Your Home

If you nurture your child's mind practicing these 5 phonemic awareness skills, they're sure to have success when it comes to reading. If you're still unsure how to incorporate these skills in a progressive format that will entertain your child and build a love of reading, I can help.


In The Fun Club I bring these skills (and many others) to your home through learning games and activities in an order and pace that makes learning to read easy and fun.


With 5 weekly activities and games that are simple to do and highly engaging, The Fun Club has transformed learning into a bonding, play-time between parent and child. I've had so many happy emails sharing that Fun Club kids are beginning to read, one of childhood's greatest milestones!


"These are perfectly thought out activities that get us up, moving and enthusiastic about learning. Now I have a 4 year old applying what she's learned from these activities on her own and beginning to read! I'm blown away." -Gladys, a Fun club parent.


Check out The Fun Club to learn more or try a week for free right here.








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Hi, I'm Ashley!

I'm a teacher Mama on a quest to make learning fun and simple. I want to empower BUSY parents, like you, to teach and connect with their children through play based learning and hands-on activities. 

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