Activities for Phonemic Awareness

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Before we dive into the activities for phonemic awareness, let's first recap the difference between Phonics and Phonemic Awareness.

Phonemic Awareness is about understanding that each phoneme makes a sound. Phonics focuses on the relationship between sounds and letters, and your child then applies this knowledge when decoding words that they have not read before.

Just because your child knows all their letters and sounds, it does not mean that they have phonemic awareness. To develop phonemic awareness, your little one must be able to not only know their letters and corresponding sound but must also be able to blend the sounds to read the words. The same holds for spelling but in reverse.

Boy and Girl Phonemic Activity

Why is Phonemic Awareness Important?

Before children can read or spell, they must hear the sounds of the letters in words. When sounding out a word, they need to blend the sounds to make the word. 

For example your child may know that ‘mat’ consists of the sounds /m/ /a/ /t/, but to be able to read they have to know that when the sounds /m/ /a/ /t/ are blended together the word reads as mat. 

Your child must have both the letter-sound relationship and the phonemic awareness required to blend the sounds to read the word.

When spelling, your child needs to be able to break apart or segment the sounds of the word to spell the word. 

Phonemic awareness is a key indicator of reading success and needs to be developed before learning to read. 

Skills Necessary to Achieve Phonemic Awareness

There are 4 skills necessary to achieve Phonemic Awareness:

  1. Segmenting
  2. Blending
  3. Isolation, and
  4. Manipulation and Substitution.

Segmenting

This is the ability to separate words into phonemes. For example:

‘nap’ has three phonemes: /n/ /a/ /p/

‘boat’’ has three phonemes: /b/ /ō/ /t/

‘dough’ has only two phonemes: /d/ /ō/

Blending

This is the ability to put sounds together to make a word. For example: Knowing that the sounds in the word ‘frog' are /f/ /r/ /o/ /g/ and that these sounds when put together make the word ‘frog’. 

Isolation

This is the ability to recognise individual sounds in words. For example: /n/ is the beginning sound of ‘nap’ and /p/ is the end sound of ‘nap’.

Manipulation and Substitution

This is the ability to manipulate a word by changing one sound. For example: Changing the /m/ in ‘ram’ to /t/ to make a different word being ‘rat’. Or removing sounds to make other words, for example, removing the sound /c/ from ‘cat' to make ‘at'.

Beginner Phonemic Awareness Activities

As phonemic awareness is a vital skill for teaching children to read, you want to ensure that your child has fun whilst doing so. The activities below will help to teach your little one the essential phonemic awareness skills while having some fun at the same time.

Segmenting and Blending Activities

Below are a couple of activities that you can use for teaching your little one segmenting. For segmenting, you want your child to have the ability to separate words into phonemes. For example you want them to know that the word ‘nap’ has three phonemes: /n/ /a/ /p/.

Activity 1 – Counters

These are great for helping children segment and blend words.  

Give your child three counters and then say a word with three sounds. Then tell them to slide a counter up as they say each sound within the word.

For example ‘mat’ they should say /m/ /a/ /t/ and slide up one counter for each sound. Then ask your child to run their fingers along the counters as they blend the sounds to say the word. 

As your child gains confidence, you can make it more challenging by giving them five counters and then say a word with between 2 – 5 sounds. Let them listen to the word and then decide how many sounds they can hear in the word. They can then use the correct number of counters to segment and then blend the word.

Phonemic Activity Counters

Activity 2 – Math Link Cubes

These maths cubes are not only great for maths; they can also be used to segment and blend words.

As with the counters above. Give your child a certain number of cubes and then say a word with that number of sounds. For example, give your child three cubes and then say a word with three sounds: ‘ cap’. As your child says each sound /c/ /a/ /p/, they can break up the maths cubes and then put the cubes back together as they blend the sounds back together to make the word.

Activity 3 – Play Dough

Your child will love this activity. Make three little balls of playdough. Read out a word with three sounds, for example, ‘dog’, and as your child says each of the sounds /d/ /o/ /g/, let them squash the playdough balls. As they then say the sounds to blend the word back together, they can mush the little balls back into one big ball. 

Phonemic Activity Play Dough

We have provided a few examples – be creative and mix it up so that your little one does not get bored with the activity. For instance, you could use resources you have at home like buttons, toy cars, beads threaded onto pipe cleaners, paint daubers onto paper etc. Make it fun, and your little one will be happy to repeat the activity. 

Additional Blending Activity

Activity 4 – Guess the Word

Guess the Word is an excellent activity for teaching blending. 

Print off the picture cards here. 

To complete this activity:

  • Place the picture cards in front of your child. You could also get items from around the house such as a car, doll, plane etc. and place them in front of your child.
  • Tell your child that you are going to talk like a snail, in a slow voice. 
  • Your child is to guess the word by listening to what you are saying and looking at the pictures.
  • For example, you would say ‘ddddoooog’ for ‘dog’.
Guess the Word Blending Game
Guess The Word Blending Game Cards

Additional Segmenting Activity

Activity 5 – Cheer for Segmenting

Cheer for Segmenting is a fun and simple activity to do for segmenting a word.

Teach your child the following cheer.

Listen to my cheer.

Then say the sounds you hear.

Cat! Cat! Cat

Give me the beginning sound (Your child says /c/)

Give me the middle sound (Your child says /a/)

Give me the end sound (Your child says /t/)

That’s right

/c/ /a/ /t/ – Cat! Cat! Cat!

Each time change the word that you are segmenting.

Isolation Activities

With isolation activities, you want your child to be able to recognise where the individual sounds are in the word; for example, in ‘mat', you want them to recognise that /m/ is the beginning of the word, /a/ in the middle of the word and /t/ is the end of the word.

The beginning sounds will be the easiest for your child to identify. You can download our free First Letter Matching printable here. This is a great activity to start with.

The next easiest sound that your child will be able to hear is the end sound. Finally, the middle sounds are the most difficult. These sounds typically take the longest for your child to learn. You may find that even once your child can read, they still miss the middle sounds as they spell the words. 

Activity 6 – Dot the Sound

A great activity to do with your child is dot the sound. You can download our FREE Dot the Sound activity pages here. This activity is aimed at helping your child to identify the beginning, end and middle sounds. 

With this activity:

  • You say the sound demarcated by the / / lines before and after the letter. 
  • You then read the word itself. 
  • Ask your child to listen to the sound and the word.
  • Get your child to say the word slowly themselves.
  • Ask your child to identify if the sound is at the beginning (B), middle (M) or end (E) of the word. 
  • Then get your child to colour the Beginning (B), Middle (M) or End (E) circle with a paint dauber or marker.

 You can also check out our other free printables, which are great for teaching isolation.

Letter Sound Scavenger Hunt

Find the missing letter

Manipulation and Substitution Activities

With manipulation and substitution activities, you want your child to learn how by removing, adding or substituting a sound, words can be changed. 

Manipulation

For example, by adding the sound /l/ to the word ‘cap’, the word becomes ‘clap’.

Or removing the sound /c/ from ‘cat’, the word becomes ‘at’.

Substitution

For example changing the /t/ in ‘cat’ to a /p/ to make ‘cap’. 

Or changing the /sh/ sound in ‘shape’ to a /t/ to make ‘tape’.

Manipulation Activity

Activity 7 – Take and Add

  • Use the counters, maths cubes or any of the other items from the blending and segmenting activities.
  • Place say four different coloured counters in front of your child. 
  • Then say a word, for example, ‘sand.'
  • Get your child to say each sound /s/ /a/ /n/ /d/ and as they say the sound, push up the counter.
  • Then ask which colour makes /s/ and get them to point to the correct colour.
  • Then say, ‘I am going to take away the /s/ sound’ and remove the corresponding counter.
  • Then ask them to blend the remaining 3 counters /a/ /n/ /d/ to make ‘and’.
  • You can then start with ‘sand’ again, but this time, instead of taking away a counter, you add a counter for the sound /t/
  • Now you have ‘stand’.
  • Ask your child to say out each sound and blend them back together.

Substitution Activity

Activity 8 – Swap it Out

  • Use the counters, maths cubes or any of the other items from the blending and segmenting activities.
  • Place three different coloured counters in front of your child. 
  • Then say a word, for example, ‘hop.'
  • Get your child to say each sound /h/ /o/ /p/, and as they say, each sound they push up the counter.
  • Then ask which colour makes /h/ and get them to point to the correct colour.
  • Then say, ‘I am going to take away the /h/ sound’ and remove the corresponding token.
  • Say, ‘I am going to replace it with the /ch/ sound’ – place a new token in front of them. 
  • Ask them to now say the sounds /ch/ /o/ /p/ 
  • Ask them to blend the word back together to make ‘chop’.

If you want to teach your child to read, I recommend using The Children Learning Reading Program. It is a simple and effective method based on Phonics and Phonemic Awareness.

You can read my review of the Children Learning Reading program here.

I can’t imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once.

C.S. Lewis

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