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 “What is Phonological Awareness?”

Phonological awareness in a child means that they can recognize the sounds, rhythm, and rhyme involving spoken words. You hear it and you speak it. There is no print involved in phonological awareness. Phonological awareness happens way before children are introduced to letters of the alphabet.

Phonological awareness is highly related to later success in reading and spelling.  


Rhyming is the first step in teaching phonological awareness. Why is this so important? It is important because rhyming draws attention to the different sounds in our language and that words actually come apart.  

For example, if your child knows that jig and pig rhyme, they are focused on the ending ig.  

In many Orton-Gillingham or Structured Literacy reading programs, students are asked to identify and practice rhyming by manipulating, adding, deleting or substituting sounds in words. Some examples of doing this are:

“Tell me all the words you know that rhyme with the word “hat.”

“Close your eyes. I am going to say 2 words. If they rhyme, raise your hand. If they don’t shake your head.”

“Say the word hat. Good. Say the word hat again, but change the /h/ to /b/(bat)  

“Listen to these 3 words – mop, plop, flop, tag.  Which of these does not rhyme?”

“Can you finish my sentence for me. The cat sat on the _______.”  


You can begin introducing rhymes by reading rhyming stories with your child. Draw attention to the sounds of the rhyme by saying, “I hear rhyming words, dog and bog rhyme!As you read these rhyming books aloud, you will want to really exaggerate the sound of the rhyming words.  

You can also ask your child to predict the next word in the rhyming story, “One berry, two berry, pick me a ______ (child shouts out…blueberry)!   

You can find rhyming books at your public library. A few of my favorites are:

Moose on the Loose by C.P. Ochs

I Swapped My Dog by Harriet Zeifert

Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney

Mrs. McNosh Hangs Up Her Wash by Sarah Weeks

A Frog in the Bog by Karma Wilson

Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas

The Flea’s Sneeze by Karla Firehammer

Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear? By Nancy White Carlstrom


Syllable Division

Breaking up words into syllables or chunks is the second step of teaching phonological awareness. Syllabication helps children learn to read and spell difficult words. When a child is stuck on a difficult word, they can use syllabication rules to figure it out.

One activity that helps a child pull apart the syllables in a word is to count them. This can be done by clapping each syllable. You can start by counting (actually clapping) the number of syllables in your child’s own name.  Ja-son (clap, clap).  Jon-a-than. (clap, clap, clap). You can also clap out the days of the week Tues-day, the months of the year, Sep-tem-ber and fun words like cu-cum-ber or Cin-der-el-la.  

If your child is having trouble understanding syllables, try using “chin dropping.” This technique will help your child really “feel” the syllables. Place your hand under your chin. Now, say a multisyllabic word aloud. Every time your chin drops, that is one syllable! 

In many Orton-Gillingham or Structured Literacy reading programs, there are 6 different syllable types that the students learn. These are:

1. Closed Syllables

These syllables end in a consonant. The vowel has a short vowel sound, like in the word fan. Some examples of closed first syllables are: ad-mit, un-fit, thun-der, cab-in, hab-it, lap-top.  

2. Open Syllables

These syllables end in a vowel. The vowel has a long sound, like in the word so. Some examples of open first syllables are: a-pron, ra-dar, ba-con, u-nit, tu-lip, pi-lot, lo-cate.  

3. Vowel-Consonant-e Syllable

These syllables are found at the end of a word. The final e is silent and makes the vowel in that syllable long, like in the word shake. Some examples of vowel-consonant-e syllables are: con-fuse, camp-fire, cup-cake, es-cape, ex-plode, flag-pole, cos-tume.

4. Vowel Team Syllable

These syllables have two vowels next to each other that make one sound together like in the word boot. Some examples of vowel team syllables are: eight-y, dis-count, teach-ing, tug-boat, dug-out, dis-count.

5. Consonant plus -le Syllable

These syllables end in -le, like in the word puddle. Some examples of consonant plus -le syllables are: cud-dle, pur-ple, crac-kle, frec-kle, snif-fle.  

6. R-Controlled Syllable

These syllables contain a vowel followed by an r. The r will change the way the vowel is pronounced, like in the word car. Some example of r-controlled syllables are: hor-net, bom-bard, far-mer, tar-nish, mor-sel, bor-der.


Phonemic Awareness

The last step to teaching phonological awareness is phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness means that your child is able to focus on and manipulate the individual sounds in spoken words.  

These individual sounds are called phonemes. The word bat has three sounds – /b/, /a/, /t/. The word ship also has three sounds – /sh/, /i/, /p/. The awareness of the separate sounds in a word is what we refer to as phonemic awareness.  

You can ask your child to manipulate the sounds in words:

“Say hop. How many sounds do you hear in the word hop?”

“What is the first sound you hear in hop?”

“What is the second sound that you hear in hop?”

“What is the last sound you hear in the word hop?”

You can ask your child to clap for the number of sounds he or she hears in a word. For example, “Say the word pat. Clap for each sound you hear in the word pat.” Your child can also tap on the desk for each sound or stomp their fists. 

You can also use sound tokens. The child listens to a word and then moves the sound token into a box for each sound in the word.  

In Summary

  • Phonological awareness includes rhyming, breaking up words into syllables, and sound segmentation
  • Children with dyslexia, language processing disorders, speech delays and auditory processing need explicit instruction in phonological awareness
  • Phonological awareness is a skill all children must learn before they can learn to read.

Here are some videos so that you can watch it in action…

Sound Deletion and Substitution 

The student is asked to repeat words and give the first, middle and last sounds of the word. She is also asked to repeat the word and change a sound in the word. By manipulating and playing with these sounds in words, the student begins to understand the concepts of our language and build a strong reading foundation.

Here is a sample lesson:

“Say rat. Say rat again but this time, instead of /t/, say /g/.” (rag)

“Say cab. Say cab again but this time, instead of /c/, say /l/.” (lab)

“Say jam. Say jam again but this time, instead of /j/, say /y/.” (yam)

Sound Providing and Rhyming

The student is asked to repeat words and find words that rhyme. Rhyming draws attention to the different sounds in our language and that words actually come apart.  

Here is a sample lesson:

Write the word pat on the whiteboard. “What is this word?”

“What letter says /p/?”

“What letter says /ă/?”

“What letter says /t/?”

“What two letters say /ăt/?”

“What does the letter p say?”

‘What does the letter a say”?”

‘What does the letter t say’?”

“What do the letters at say?”

“Say pat. Say pat again, but change the /p/ to /c/.” (cat)