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Step 1: Phonological Awareness

The highest level of phonological awareness is Phonemic Awareness.  Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, separate, put together, take away, add and re-arrange individual sounds (phonemes) in words. This begins before learning which letters (written symbols) represent these sounds.  This is what rhyming books, nursery rhymes, Dr. Seuss books and many other pre-school books are teaching.  They are teaching children to hear the different sounds in words and play with them.

Once a student begins to hear sounds in words, he or she can learn the visual representation for those sounds, beginning with the most common and consistent letters and letter groups. The processes of learning to hear and differentiate sounds and learning the written representations for these sounds seem to help each other along.  “The acquisition of letters draws attention to speech sounds, the analysis of speech sounds refines the understanding of letters (Dehaene, Reading in the Brain, 2009).

To test your child’s ability to hear sounds, here are some questions you can ask:

  1. What is the first sound your mouth says when you say ‘table’? (/t/)
  2. Can you think of words that start with the sound /m/?  How about the sound /s/?
  3. How many sounds do you hear in the word ‘bus?’  (3),  ‘Fish?’ (3),  ‘black?’ (4).
  4. What sounds do you hear in the word ‘cat?’  (/k/, /a/, /t/).  ‘ship’ (/sh/, /i/, /p/).
  5. What word am I saying?  /h/…/a/…/t/  (hat).  /s/…/w/…/i/…/sh/  (swish).
  6. How many words can you think of that rhyme with ‘rat?’  How about ‘fog?’

Click here for more in depth information and Phonological Awareness Activities

Click here for a big practice packet for sound manipulation skills needed by end of grade 2

Click here for Phonological Awareness (Playing With Sounds) Benchmarks for Kindergarten, First and Second grades.

Here is a word list to help with blending and segmenting

Teaching pre-reading skills

Before children begin to read they need to be able to hear and distinguish the different sounds that make up words. Children then need to be able to segment (take apart) these sounds, and blend them together. Children need to identify the letters of the alphabet and connect each letter to a sound. The following is designed to provide a brief introduction to teaching these skills.

  • Bingo and dice games can be used to practice any skill. Take turns. Use your turn to model correct responses, or get some wrong and see if the child catches you and explains why you were wrong.
  • Anytime you add movement, feeling, story, and visuals as ways to teach, student retention is better.
  • Retention is best if the student can teach the skill him/herself.


  • When using written letters to blend, they should be letters the child is confident with.
  • After a word is successfully blended, use or define the word. Always emphasize that words have meaning.
  • Blend a picture to explain what blending is. (“Now we see part of the cat, but not the whole cat – just like the c tells us part of the word, but not the whole word.”)
  • Sound boxes and tokens. Ask Karin for a handout about this if you are interested.
  • Blending Pathway. Right hand starts at left shoulder for first sound, bounces to inside of elbow for second sound, then lands on wrist for third sound.
  • Say words in segments and have student blend the sounds to make a word.


  • What is the first/last sound of “can”?
  • Bullseye is a game where the student has three choices for what the middle vowel sound in a word is. The card has a picture and three finger-sized holes with a vowel above each hole.  If the child sticks her or his finger in the hole below the correct vowel and looks at the back of the card, his or her finger will be in the middle of the bullseye.  At first you may want to just give two choices then broaden the choices.  Bullseye can be used for many skills, including beginning and ending sounds.
  • Student holds letters s/he is confident with and chooses the letter that the word you say begins/ends with.
  • Student holds the vowel cards and picks the vowel for each word teacher says.
  • “How many sounds in bat?”  Student could lay a chip down for each sound or count on fingers.
  • “Can you say bat without the /b/?”
  • Making words by writing or using pre-made letters.


  • “Do you hear the /at/ at the end of cat? Mat? Sis? Sat?”
  • “Are these the same at the end?” Top, Mop. Dark, Bark. Sam, Tim.
  • Word Families:
    • Flip cards (Word ending stays the same and various beginning blends are flipped or placed in front of the ending.)
    • Plastic word parts to put together and try to make real words
    • Paper and two colors of pens, one color for common ending and a second color for various beginnings to make many words
    • List words with the same ending and highlight the rhyming part
  • Match rhyming pictures.


  • Teach a few dissimilar letters at a time.
  • Use clay, Wikki Stix, and tracing.
  • Pop Up. Student jumps up with letter and says sound or letter name when student hears the sound.
  • Run around and label objects with the letter.
  • Play I Spy. “I spy something on the table that begins with /t/.
  • “What words begin with the ____ sound?”
  • Review known letter sounds every day.

Feel how you physically say letter and teach student. Also notice by feeling your throat if it is a voiced or breath letter.