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Suffolk Center for Speech


The Role of Phonemic Awareness in Early Reading Development

What is Phonemic Awareness?

Phonemic Awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds in spoken words, and the understanding that spoken words and syllables are made up of sequences of speech sounds. Primarily, phonemic awareness involves understanding language at the phonemic level. A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound in a language that holds meaning. Phonemic awareness skills include blending, segmenting, deleting, and manipulating phonemes. Phonemic awareness is encompassed in a broader, umbrella term otherwise known as phonological awareness.

What is Phonological Awareness?

Phonological awareness is the explicit understanding of a word’s sound structure (Gillon, G., 2002). As a child develops phonological awareness, the child will not only come to understand that words are made up of phonemes, but also she/he will learn that phonemes can be “put together” to form syllables. Additionally, the child will begin to learn that words have an “onset” (sounds before the vowel in a word) and “rime” (the vowel-consonant combination of a word). Phonological awareness skills include the following: rhyming, alliteration, sentence segmentation, syllables, and onset-rimes.

Phonological Awareness Skills and How to Promote Them With Your Child:

  1. Rhyming:
    1. Discrimination: recognizing when two words rhyme (“Do bat and hat rhyme?” or “Do man and foot rhyme?”)
    2. Production: ability produce a rhyming word (“What word rhymes with log?”)
    3. How to promote this skill with your child: reading rhyming stories (i.e. Dr Seuss books, “Brown Bear”, “Frog on a Log”, “Moose on the Loose”) and sing nursery rhymes (i.e. “Hickory Dickory Dock”, “Its Raining, Its Pouring”, “Jack and Jill”)


  1. Alliteration:
    1. Discrimination: recognizing when two words begin with the same sound (“Do pop and pat start with the same sound?”)
    2. Production: ability to produce a word that starts with the same initial sound as a given word.
    3. How to promote this skill with your child: reading children’s books with alliteration (“Silly Sally” or “Pigs in Pajamas”) and tongue twisters (“Sally sells seashells by the seashore”)


  1. Segmentation of Words in Sentences:
    1. Identifying the words in a sentence
    2. How to promote this skill with your child: The parent can model clapping/tapping each word out as saying a sentence/song aloud. Next, the parent and the child can clap/tap out each word together for a new sentence/song. Lastly, have the child attempt it alone. Blocks can be used as well (i.e. each word represents a block and the child can build a “word tower”) or tokens.

segmenting sentences

  1. Syllables:
    1. Blending Syllables: “I am going to say parts of a word. Tell me what the word is: bas-ket-ball”).
    2. Segmenting Syllables: Counting the number of syllables in a word (i.e. “clap for each syllable you hear in the word basketball“)
    3. Deletion of Syllables: “Say basketball. Now say it without ball”
    4. How to promote this skill with your child: clapping out the syllables in bisyllabic/multisyllabic words, sliding beads on a string for each syllable, or using blocks (each representing a syllable) to build a “word” tower.


  1. Onset-Rime:
    1. The onset is the initial sound of a word and the rime is the vowel+ending of word.
    2. Examples: S-un, S-unshine, p-ig, b-ear
    3. How to promote this skill with your child: use visuals! Fold an image in half, and write the onset on the left side and the rime on the other. Tap the left side while saying the onset, and tap the right side while saying the rime.


Phonemic Awareness Skills and How to Promote Them With Your Child

  1. Blending Sounds: “What word is made up of the sounds b-a-t?”
  2. Segmenting Sounds: “What sounds make up the word bat?”
  3. Deleting Sounds: “What is bat without the /b/ sound?” or “What is bat without the /t/ sound?”
  4. Adding Sounds: “What word do you have if you add a /b/ to the word at?”
  5. Manipulation of Sounds: “What word would you have if you changed the /b/ in bat to a /s/?”
  • How to promote these skills with your child: Games, toys, crafts and songs!

make learning fun with this playdough phonemic awareness kids activityphonemicshark phoneme.jpg

The Importance of Phonemic/Phonological Awareness for Early Reading Development


  • Phonemic Awareness prepares children to learn the alphabetic principle.
  • Fundamental to mapping speech to print
  • Helps children read (decode) new/unfamiliar words
  • Promotes spelling skills


If your child struggles with reading fluency and comprehension, he/she may not have a solid basic understanding of phonemic/phonological awareness, and may need the assistance of a speech-language pathologist to address these deficits.


– Amanda Hammer MA CF-SLP TSSLD


  • Gillon, G. (2002). Phonological Awareness Intervention for Children: From the Research Laboratory to the Clinic. The ASHA Leader, 7(22), 4-17. doi: 10.1044/leader.FTR2.07222002.4.
  • “Bringing Letter Sounds to Life: Merging Phonemic Awareness and Phonics” by Marianne Nice (M.S. CCC-SLP) and Amy Leone (M.S.T. CCC-SLP)
  • Adams, M. J., Foorman, B. R., Lundberg, I., & Beeler, T. (1998). The elusive phoneme: Why phonemic awareness is so important and how to help children develop it. American Educator, 22(1-2), 18-29.
  • Smith S. B., Simmons, D. C., & Kame’enui, E. J. (1998). Phonological awareness: Instructional and curricular basics and implications. In D. C. Simmons & E. J. Kame’enui (eds.), What reading research tells us about children with diverse learning needs: Bases and basics. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.


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