By Carolyn Banuelos
Phonemic Awareness: the ability to manipulate sounds (phonemes) within words
Phonemic Awareness Activities: Two- to three-minute oral games that require students to isolate and manipulate sounds within words
Two- to three-minutes—how much could such a short activity really impact student learning? Phonemic Awareness activities are so easy to skip. Don’t do it! Phonemic awareness is an essential foundational skill for reading and writing. And activities that develop phonemic awareness can be quick and highly effective. Let’s take a look at why and how to make phonemic awareness activities a regular part of your foundational skills daily instruction.
Why teach phonemic awareness in the first place? Because it is essential. Phonemic awareness and alphabet recognition are the two best predictors of early reading success (Adams, 1990; Beck & Juel, 1995; Chall, 1996). Students must know that words are made up of sounds in order to read and write. Phonemic awareness activities teach this essential understanding. They also teach children how words work and give them practice manipulating sounds within words. In other words, phonemic awareness activities lay the foundation for decoding (breaking words into sounds and blending the sounds together) and encoding (breaking words into sounds and recording the individual sounds). Without a strong foundation of phonemic awareness, students might completely miss the point of phonics instruction!
Fortunately, phonemic awareness activities are simple to plan and implement if you know the skills your students need and which activities target those skills. Students begin first by working with whole words and progress to working with individual sounds (phonemes) within words. Check out this chart, which follows the Fountas and Pinnell progression of learning for phonological awareness skills (2017) and has our suggestions for simple, effective games to play with your students.
|Skill||Sample Activity Directions
Give the following directions to your students to teach them to play each word game.
|Hear rhyming words||Some words sound the same at the end. They rhyme. I’m going to say two words. Your job is to tell me if they rhyme. If they rhyme, give me a thumbs-up and say the words. If they do not rhyme, give me a thumbs-down. For example, if I say, “hiss, miss,” you would give me a thumbs-up and say the words “hiss, miss.”||K, 1|
|Listen for words within a sentence||Sentences are made up of words. I’m going to say a sentence. Your job is to repeat the sentence back to me and pause after each word. For example, if I say, “The cat is big and yellow.” You would say, “The…cat…is…big…and…yellow.”||K|
|Identify and Manipulate Syllables|
|Segment words into syllables||Words are made up of parts. These parts are called syllables. I’m going to say a word. Your job is to clap and count the number of syllables in the word. For example, if I say, “blanket,” you would say, “blan-ket” and hold up two fingers.”||K, 1, 2|
|Delete syllables from a word||Words are made up of parts. These parts are called syllables. We can delete a syllable from a word to make a new word. I’m going to say a word. Your job is to delete the first syllable from the word. For example, if I say, “between” you would say, “tween.”||K, 1, 2|
|Isolate and Manipulate Onset and Rime|
|Divide onset and rime||I’m going to say a word. Your job is to tell break the word into its first sound and the rest of the word. For example, if I say, “time,” you would say, “t-ime.”||K, 1|
|Isolate and Manipulate Phonemes|
|Isolate and say the beginning phoneme in a word||I’m going to say three words. They all have the same beginning sound. Your job is to tell me the beginning sound of all three words. For example, if I say “bat, ball, bike” you would say, “/b/.”||K, 1|
|Segment a word into phonemes||Words are made up of sounds. I’m going to say a word. Your job is to tell me each of the sounds in the word. For example, if I say, “hat,” you would say, “/h/ /a/ /t/.”||K, 1, 2|
|Blend phonemes within a word||Words are made up of sounds. I’m going to say some sounds. Your job is to blend the sounds together to make a word. For example, if I say, “/m/ /a/ /p/,” you would say, “map.”||K, 1, 2|
*These are suggestions, however, begin at whichever skill your students have yet to master. Skills in the chart progress in complexity from top to bottom.
There are so many benefits of phonemic awareness activities and ways to mix it up and engage with your students. The chart above is not comprehensive. There are many fun word games to pull from depending on the skill your class is targeting. For more ideas on Phonemic Awareness activities and Foundational Skills check out Puzzle Piece Phonics: Word Study for the Balanced Literacy Classroom. Puzzle Piece Phonics provides professional development as well as instruction to implement phonics and foundational skills in your classroom in a sustainable and engaging way.
Carolyn Banuelos is a facilitator and presenter for Catawba Press. She is a former primary grade teacher and literacy coach who is passionate about implementing Balanced Literacy into classrooms around the country. Carolyn is the co-author of Puzzle Piece Phonics: Word Study for the Balanced Literacy Classroom, published by Corwin Literacy. Carolyn resides in Salt Lake City, Utah with her growing family and enjoys cooking, hiking, and a good book.
Adams, M. J. (1990). Beginning to read: Thinking about learning about print. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Beck, I., & Juel, C. (1995, Summer). The role of decoding in learning to read. American Education, 19(2).
Chall, J. S. (1996). Stages of reading development (2nd ed.). Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt.
Fountas, I., & Pinnell, G. (2017) Comprehensive Phonics, Spelling, and Word Study Guide. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.