How do I Improve Phonological Awareness?

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Phonological awareness is a key foundation of building early reading skills.

It's an umbrella term that essentially refers to the ability to break words into individual sounds, blend sounds to create words (sounding it out), and the ability to manipulate sounds in our language through tasks like rhyming, changing the ending sounds of words or the order of words (like in Pig Latin).

Being able to manipulate the sounds in words is a necessary prerequisite to being able to "sound it out".

Many schools and teachers are doing a great job incorporating this instruction into the classroom. However, it can be difficult to know if the students are really getting it and if they are making progress - or if they are just "going with the flow".

Students at risk for dyslexia or other reading disabilities are often slower to pick up these skills than their peers and so it's really important to be able to monitor each individual student's progress in each of the core domains of phonological awareness.

The key Phonological Awareness skills include:

Sentence Segmenting 

The ability to break sentences into their individual words (e.g., How many words do you hear in the sentence "the cat is black").

Auditory Discrimination/Word Recognition 

Telling the difference between similar sounding words (e.g., "pig - big" are these words the same or different?).

Rhyme Recognition

Knowing when two words rhyme (e.g., "Do car and star rhyme? Do truck and trip rhyme?").

Rhyme Production

Being able to produce a rhyming word when given a target word (e.g., "Tell me a word that rhymes with fan.").

Onset-Rime Blending

Being able to blend word parts together to create a real word (e.g., "Tell me what word these sounds make /sn/ /ag/.").

Initial Sound Recognition

Being able to determine the first sound in a word (e.g., "What's the first sound in bat?" Answer - /b/).

Final Sound Recognition

Being able to determine the last sound in a word (e.g., "What's the last sound in top?" Answer - /p/).

Medial Sound Recognition 

Being able to determine a middle sound in a word (e.g., "What's the second sound in and?" Anwer - /n/).

Syllable Blending

Blending syllables together to create a word (e.g., "What word do these sounds make: win - dow?" Answer - window).

Syllable Segmenting 

Determining how many syllables are in a word (e.g., "How many syllables do you hear in the word Sunday?" Answer - 2).

Phoneme Blending

Blending sounds together to create a word (e.g., "What word do these sounds make: /k/ /a/ /t/?" Answer - cat).

Phoneme Segmenting

Isolating the sounds within a word (e.g., "How many sounds do you hear in which?" Answer - 3).

Initial Phoneme Deletion

Being able to take the first sound out of a word (e.g., "Say slip without the /s/ sound." Answer - lip).

Final Phoneme Deletion

Being able to take the last sound out of a word (e.g., "Say meant without the /t/ sound." Answer - men).

Phoneme Manipulation

Being able to rearrange the sounds within a word (e.g., "Say the sounds in make backward." Answer - came).

Phonological Awareness Skills Impact Older Readers Too…

This skill set is often taught in the primary grades but often gets left out of curricula designed for our older students because we often assume our older students have already solidified these skills but this may or may not be the case! You can read more about that here: A Lack of Phonemic Awareness Skills Can Drastically Impact Older Readers

How Do I Improve My Students’ Phonological Awareness Ability?

So, given that we know it's such a foundational building block for reading - how do we improve our students ability in phonological awareness?


Your intervention or instructional time is going to go a heck of a lot further if the activities you choose are targeted. You do NOT want to be spending tons of time on activities that your students already have solidified. Best case scenario is that you determine which areas your students are struggling in order to know which of the above mentioned skills your students need the most work on.

We do this by giving assessments like this one: Phonological Awareness Progress Monitoring

So now that we know where are students are performing we can ask the question…

How Do I Make Phonological Awareness Fun?

As we have discussed before, the best way to weave in practice is through engaging games and activities that target the specific skills we are looking at. There are tons of skills that comprise the umbrella term "phonological awareness".

Rhyming Activities

We know that many of our struggling readers often struggle with rhyming. This is a skill that needs to be monitored and sometimes explicitly taught. When students struggle with rhyming it indicates that they don’t fully understand how words can be manipulated, that words are made up of sounds and they are not solid bricks. For more on how to teach rhyming to your students that struggle with it, check out our blog: What to do When Your Student Can't Hear the Rhyme. 

You can grab our Rhyme Activities by >>>clicking here<<<

Segmenting & Isolating Activities

We also LOVE playing games with our students or having our students play games with one another as often as possible. The Sound and Syllable Segmenting game is one of our absolute favorites!

Our syllable and segmenting game is a great activity to help practice phonological awareness skills with students.

Typically we break this up and start by only introducing Syllable Segmenting and then once the student has mastered that skill we move onto focusing on Sound Segmenting. We often use this game to practice sound isolation as well, this one can be a crowd-pleaser and can hit many phonological awareness activities at once! Once the student is very comfortable with the skill we may layer in both skills simultaneously to gauge the student's mental flexibility between the two similar but different tasks.

>>>Click here to grab our sound and syllable segmenting game<<<

Blending Activities

The great thing about blending activities is that these activities do NOT have to be hard. You can simply provide sounds of words to students and ask them to guess which word you were trying to say. For example you could provide the sounds /s/ /t/ /o/ /p/ and see if they can guess the word stop. You can mix this with real and nonsense words. For students who are struggling start with two sounds and build up slowly to three sounds, then four sounds, and beyond. You don’t always need TONS of materials to create effective instruction for ALL READERS. How amazing is that?!?

We have tons of other Phonological Awareness Activities that we ABSOLUTELY love but these are a few of our favorites. If you’re interested in learning more about Phonological Awareness and grabbing all of our favorite activities, we’d love to have you in our 5 Core Components of Literacy Membership Program!

Click here to learn more!