Phonemic Awareness: What is it? Why do my kids need to know it? How do I Teach it?

Phonemic awareness, it’s kind of a buzz word right now. In fact, there is a lot of new research pertaining directly to the importance of phonemic awareness. 


In fact, just recently I was learning again, that the research continues to come out supporting the need for phonemic awareness in our kids. 


What is phonemic awareness and how to teach it?


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What is Phonemic Awareness?


Phonemic awareness is a person’s ability to hear, manipulate, and identify sounds of the language. 


It is the ability to hear rhyming words. For example hush, mush, rush, and brush. 


Phonemic awareness is also having the ability to isolate sounds like beginning, middle, and end. This means that educators are looking to see if children can identify when told a word the child can segment the different sounds heard within the word. 

For example, can a child identify that “dog” has 3 distinct sounds to make up the word /d/ o /g/. To segment the sounds in ship, they would say /sh/ /i/ /p/. 


Phonemic awareness is also the ability to identify the syllables within the words. For example, “cat” has 1 syllable, “maybe” has 2, and “octopus” has 3 syllables. 

Why is phonemic awareness important? 


Phonemic awareness is the first step in becoming a reader and speller. 


A young child reading with a caregiver


When children are able to isolate different sounds within spoken words. Then later they can attach those sounds to symbols (letters). This is the beginning of learning to read and spell words. 


We already discussed that children should be able to identify rhyming words to have strong phonemic awareness. This is because many of the words in the English language follow patterns and rules. 


Phonemic Awareness is so important that by the end of kindergarten your child will be expected to recognize and produce rhyming words. They will be able to identify how many syllables are in spoken words and change the sound in a 3-letter word to make a new word.


Here Are Some Examples of These Standards …


  • Car, far, and star are rhyming words. Phonemic awareness is the ability of the child to identify that these words sound similar at the end of the word. 
  • Syllables are broken up by how many vowels sound the words are broken up to create a word, such as Lucas, Lu/Cas, 2 syllables.
  • The last standard given is taking the word “bat” and changing it by changing 1 sound. You might say to your child “What if we change the word bat by replacing the /b/ sound with a /c/ sound. What is the new word?” Phonemic Awareness is your child’s ability to come up with the word “cat”.


How do I Teach Phonemic Awareness?


Teacher and Child reading together


I was in a reading training last fall and the instructor said “you’ll know it’s a phonemic awareness exercise if you can do it in the dark”. This is because phonemic awareness is only about hearing the sounds. 


When you put letters with the sounds it becomes phonics. But phonics is a different discussion for a different day! 


With that idea in mind let’s look at some examples to practice phonemic awareness with children. 


What sound starts the word ____? 


This is a “game” I play with my 3-year-old. It’s easy because we can do it anywhere including on walks, in the car, or at home. It sounds like this, “Oh look, there is a dog! What sound do you hear at the beginning of the word dog?”


I’m hoping he’ll say the sound for the letter d “/d/”. Then as you work more with letters and sounds you’ll work up to identifying that “dog” starts with the letter d.


Depending on the age of the child you could ask them to identify the sound at the end of the word. They can also practice the middle of the word. 


Rhyming Word Activities


There are so many ways to incorporate rhyming into your child’s day! I’ll give you a few examples of how I do it daily with my 1 and 3-year-old. 


Tell them words that rhyme with a given word. My 1-year-old loves these sensory flashcards. When I tell him the word “car” and show him the card. I’ll then say “Car sounds like far, they are rhyming words.”


Then I’ll say “car, far hear how they sound the same?” This is simple but effective for young children to get their brains listening to words. Then when I see a car on our walk I make a point again to say “look car! Car sounds like far and tar!” They are rhyming words. When your child gets into school their teacher is going to use the vocabulary “rhyming words”. It doesn’t hurt them to hear it early. 


Check Out my Ideas on How to Teach Your Child with Any Book They Pick


Nursery Rhymes


Read nursery rhymes to your kids. Start this at a young age. Your child may or may not pick up on the rhymes and rhythm throughout the story. The hope is that eventually, they will begin to hear that the words throughout the stories sound similar.


What’s That Sound?


Have your child sit or lay really still. Then have them try and determine different sounds they hear in the house. Maybe it’s a door closing, a light switch, or someone talking on the phone. Your child’s ability to hear different sounds will help guide them later as they learn about sounds in spoken language.


Old McDonald …


You know the song “Old McDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O and on that farm, he had a _____! E-I-E-I-O” When you get the animal’s name you could give the children the animal’s name in syllables. It might sound like this …


Old McDonald had a farm E-I-E-I-O, and on that farm, he had a chick/en E-I-E-I-O. With a cluck-cluck here and a cluck-cluck there, here a cluck there a cluck everywhere a cluck-cluck. Old McDonald had a farm E-I-E-I-O.


Then it is the child’s job to figure out that you were talking about a chicken when you said the word in syllables. You could also say kit/ten or pup/py.


Remember phonemic awareness is being able to hear the sounds letters make when they stand alone or are blended with another letter. This ability will help your child better understand different words as they grow. If you are concerned about your child’s ability to do this always talk with their teacher or pediatrician.


Phonemic Awareness Kindergarten Worksheets


Phonemic Awareness for Kindergarten Worksheets with 2 pictures of the worksheets offered including a rhyming cut and paste page and a syllable count
Children can practice rhyming using cut and paste pages and syllable count with pictures!


Check out these great sets of kindergarten worksheets for phonemic awareness if you need more support on teaching phonemic awareness. With these worksheets your students will have what they need to practice identifying rhyming words, counting syllables, and identifying beginning and ending sounds in words.

What is Phonemic Awareness and How to Teach it?

I hope this gives you a better understanding of what Phonemic Awareness is and why it is important.


If you learned something or try something today please let me know in the comments!


Remember to share this with someone you think might help better understand Phonemic Awareness.


Love, Ashley E


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Hi, I'm Ashley E!

I teach moms and teachers how to inspire a love of reading in the early years. I live in Ohio with my husband & two boys. Our favorite places to be are at the beach & Disney World. But most of the time you’ll find me at school teaching, working out in our basement, or blogging at home. So grab your favorite cup of coffee, tea, or (if you’re at all like me) water & let’s go through this thing called life together.