What is Phonological Awareness?
Phonological awareness refers to a set of skills that children typically develop in the preschool years as pre-reading skills. These include skills where the child begins to understand how words are made up of individual sounds and those sounds can be manipulated and changed to create different words. During this phase, children become aware of the phonology of our language, meaning how different letters and sounds create the words that we speak, read, and write.
Phonological Awareness skills include rhyming, alliteration, segmenting words into smaller units, combining separate sounds into words, and understanding that words are made up of sounds that can be represented by written letters. We will go into each of these in more detail shortly.
Why are Phonological Awareness Skills Important?
Several of these skills have been closely linked to success in learning to read and spell. Children who require speech therapy are at a higher risk for reading problems later on so developing strong phonological awareness skills in children with speech delays can be extremely helpful in learning to read. Even children without speech delays benefit from strong phonological awareness skills before formal instruction on reading.
Phonological awareness skills can also be helpful for older children who have difficulty sounding out words to read or spell them.
When Should we Begin Working on Phonological Awareness Skills?
Phonological awareness skills begin to develop in the preschool years. This means, you can start working on these skills around age 3 years. These continue to develop up through formal reading instruction, about age 6-7 years. However, older children can benefit from these skills as well, especially if they are struggling with reading or spelling.
What Order Should we Work on Phonological Awareness Skills?
We have research that shows us the typical order that children learn these phonological awareness skills. It makes sense, therefore, to teach them in this order to children who are not developing them on their own or who need a little assistance. Here is the recommended order according to information found in the Rhea Paul Language Disorders book (see references at the end):
- Rhyming (What rhymes with cat? Do cow and how rhyme?)
- Ability to segment words into syllables (How many syllables in umbrella? Um…bre…lla)
- Syllable Blending (I’m going to say some syllables, you put them together and tell me what word they make: um…bre…lla
- Ability to identify words with the same beginning sound (Do cat and cow start with the same sound? What else starts with the same sound as book?)
- Ability to identify words with the same final sound (Do book and take end with the same sound? What else ends with the same sound as boat?)
- Ability to segment words into individual sounds: consonant-vowel (CV), vowel-consonant (VC), and consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) (How many sounds are in cup? c…u..p. 3! What sounds are in off? O…ff)
- Ability to segment words into individual sounds: CCVC, CVCC, CCVCC (What sounds do you hear in plate? .l…a…te)
- Sound Blending: (I’m going to say some sounds, you put them together and tell me what word they make: “d…o…g.” Dog!)
- Ability to manipulate sounds in words (what word do you have if you take the “p” off of “pan”?)
- Letter-sound correspondences: (What sound does the letter “b” make? What letter makes the “buh” sound?)
How Do We Work on Phonological Awareness Skills?
Phonological awareness skills are great for families, teachers, and therapists to work on because you really don’t need any materials to do them. You can practice while waiting in line at the grocery store, while walking down the hall to speech therapy, or while sitting in the closet during the fire drill. Here are some tips on teaching each skill:
- Read rhyming books with the child. Point out the words that rhyme.
- When you hear two words that rhyme, point them out to the child by using this script (fill in whatever words you’re using): “pot, cot. Hey those rhyme! They both end with “ot”. Listen, pot, cot.”
- Help the child come up with lists of words that rhyme, such as hat, cat, sat, mat. See how many words you can find that rhyme with each one.
- Ask the child if two words rhyme. Say “Do these words rhyme? Dog, cat”. If the child isn’t able to tell, explain it using the script above or by saying “No, those words don’t rhyme. Dog ends in “og” and cat ends in “at”. Dog, Cat. They don’t rhyme.”
- Ask the child to come up with a word that rhymes with a word that you say.
Segment Words into Syllables:
- Have the child practice clapping out syllables with you as you segment a word. Say “We’re going to segment the word “umbrella”. Let’s find out how many syllables are in that word. Um…bre…lla. (clap once for each syllable). I heard 3 syllables. Clap with me: “um…bre…lla”.
- Practice doing other actions besides clapping while segmenting words. You can stomp, jump, etc.
- Segment/clap out a word for the child and then have him repeat it back to you.
- Have the child practice clapping/segmenting words by himself.
- Have the child count the number of syllables after clapping it out.
- Tell the child, I’m going to say some syllables, I want you to put them back together and tell me what word they make. Then, say the syllables of a word with pauses in between, like “um….bre…lla”.
- Start with 2-syllable words and work your way up to longer words.
- If the child is having trouble, try combining two or more syllables together, like “um…brella” or “umbre….lla”. Then, work toward separating them back out.
Alliteration (Same Beginning Sounds):
- Point out to the child what sound words start with. You can say “Hey, ball starts with the “buh” sound. Listen, buh..buh..ball.” Use words that are meaningful to the child like her name or favorite toys.
- Help the child come up with a list of words that all start with the same sound: “ball, boy, bat”, etc.
- Ask the child to come up with a word that starts the same way as another word: “what’s a word that starts with the same sound as ball?”
- Ask the child to tell you what sound a word starts with.
Identifying Final Sounds:
- Point out to the child what sound words end with. You can say “Hey, bat ends with the “t” sound. Listen, baT.” Use words that are meaningful to the child like her name or favorite toys.
- Help the child come up with a list of words that all end with the same sound: “bat, cot, boat”, etc.
- Ask the child to come up with a word that ends the same way as another word: “what’s a word that ends with the same sound as cat?”
- Ask the child to tell you what sound a word ends with.
- Demonstrate segmenting a word out into its individual sounds. For example, for “cat” you would say “c..a…t”. Think about sounds and not spelling. For example, for change, you would say “ch…a…n…..ge” not “c..h…a..n…g…e”. You can clap out each sound if that helped the child before. Have the child listen to this and then do it along with you.
- Start with short words first. Start with consonant-vowel (CV) words like “to” and “go” or try vowel-consonant (VC) words like “up” and “eat”. Once the child can do that, move on to CVC words like “cup” or “cat”. Next would be CCVC words like “trip”, CVCC words like “best”, and CCVCC words like “traps”.
- Segment out a word for the child and then have him repeat it back.
- Have the child segment out a word for you. If he has trouble, try having him do the first or the last sound and then help him with the rest.
- Start with short words like you did with segmenting. Separate the sounds out and say each sound of the word separately with a pause in between. Remember to say the sounds you hear, not the letters that spell it. Sometimes two letters make up a single sound in English. Examples: c…a…t, .oa….t, u…p, s…m…e…ll
- If the child is having trouble with words that are longer than two sounds, try combining two of the sounds for a while. For example, you could do “c…at” or “ca….t”. Then, work your way back to separating out all sounds.
Manipulating Sounds in Words:
- Ask the child to tell you what would happen if you took a letter off of a word. For example, say what would be left if we took the “p” off of “pot”?
- Ask the child to tell you what would happen if you switched one letter out for another one. (What would happen if we changed the “p” in “pot” to a “t”?)
- Practice some pig-latin. Take the beginning consonant(s) from a word and put it on the end of the word followed by the “ay” sound. For example, cat would be “at-cay” and smelly would be “elly-smay”.
Letter Sound Correspondences:
- Talk about what sounds are made by which letters. (The letter b makes the “buh” sound)
- Point out letters and print in books in the child’s environment. Say what those letters are called and tell the child what sounds they make.
- Ask the child to tell you what sound a certain letter makes (What sound does the letter “b” make?)
- Ask the child to tell you what letter makes a certain sound (What letter makes the “buh” sound?)
Free Printable Worksheets:
I have created 10 worksheets that will show you exactly how to work on each of these skills with specific examples to try with your child. To download the worksheets, click the button below: