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Playing With Sounds: Phonemic Awareness (P.A.)

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Hearing and manipulating sounds is the foundation of reading and writing.

*Poor ability to hear and manipulate sounds is often a root cause of reading struggles.*

Our Playing With Sounds (Phonemic Awareness) Check has examples of each skill to quickly check where your learner might need practice.

The Big Playing With Sounds (P.A.) Practice Packet contains directions with lists of words for each sound manipulation skill needed by end of grade 2.

Hearing and manipulating individual sounds (Phonemic Awareness abbreviated as P.A.) is critical to reading.  These are skills children often begin learning in many ways including nursery rhymes, Dr. Seuss, songs and other ways we play with language.  Playing with words and sounds is the first step in this process.

Before children begin to read they need to be able to hear and distinguish the individual sounds that make up words. At the most basic level, children need to be able to recognize individual letter sounds, take apart (segment) these sounds, and blend them together.  By late second grade students need to be able manipulate sounds (see below for more on sound manipulation).  The following is designed to provide a brief introduction to teaching the most basic skills of blending, segmenting and rhyming.  Click the Big Playing With Sounds P.A. Practice Packet for sound manipulation activities that should be mastered by end of grade 2.

Video on Phonemic Awareness mixed with Phonics from a previous training:

Working on rhyming, blending and segmenting are best done without actual alphabet letters until the learner is confident with the skill.  The use of letters distracts from the actual sounds we are hearing.  (When working on reading and spelling we are also using Phonemic Awareness to help us figure out appropriate letters to use.) 

* Using backslashes means the sound the letter makes, not the name of the letter.  For the sound t makes it will be written /t/. 

Rhyming   fun,  run,  sun,  spun,  begun

  • Introduce: “Do you hear the /at/ at the end of Cat? Mat? Pat? Sat?”
  • Identify whether words rhyme or not: “Are these the same at the end?”
    • Top, Mop. (yes)
    • Dark, Bark. (yes)
    • Sam, Tim.  (no)
  • Match rhyming pictures.
  • Brainstorm words that rhyme with a given word.  How many words can you think of that rhyme with stop?
  • Read Mother Goose, Dr. Seuss, Song lyrics etc., and play with rhymes.
  • Word Families: (after Alphabet sounds have been learned and learner is confident with rhyming)
    • Highlight the ‘at’ in a list of ‘at’ words, and then read list.
    • Cover the beginning of a word with different letters to make new words.  (ship, tip, trip, slip…)
    • Think of as many words that rhyme with ‘an’ (or whatever ending you choose) as possible.
  • Teaching/counting syllables.  Vowel sounds are what make our mouths open and this creates syllables.  Rest two fingers underneath your chin to feel when your chin lowers as you say a word.  In the word “table” your chin goes down twice, one time for each syllable /ta/ /bul/.  Count syllables in any words you think of.


Blending  /f/,  /u/,  /n/  = fun!

  • Blend picture to explain what blending is. Cut out a photo from a magazine and cut it into three pieces.  Start by showing one piece of the picture.  (“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.”)
  • Beginning blending: Say words in parts and have student blend the parts to make a word. Start with two parts:  /sh/,   /e/   then move to words with three and more sounds, going sound by sound.
  • Three sound blending pathway. Right hand starts at left shoulder for first sound, bounces to inside of left elbow for second sound, and then lands on left wrist for third sound. Slide hand down arm second time to blend sounds together.
  • Adding sounds: What would “in” say with /p/ in front of it?


Segmenting   fun  =  /f/,  /u/,  /n/  

  • Counting sounds: “How many sounds in bat?” Student could lay a chip down for each sound or count on fingers.
  • Picture and tokens: Show a picture of a word with two, three or 4 sounds, (for example ship), have child say ship, then put one token down for each sound in the word ship.  /sh/  /ĭ/  /p/ = 3 tokens in a row.
  • Omitting parts of words: Can you say popcorn without the pop?
  • Identifying specific sound in word: What is the first/last/middle sound of can?


Manipulating Sounds Advanced:


Adding Sounds

  • Say “bun.”
    • Now say “bun” and add an /ē/ to the end.  (bunny) 
  • Say “pin.”
    • Now say “pin” and add a /s/ to the beginning.  (spin)


Omitting Sounds

  • Omitting parts of words: Can you say popcorn without the pop?
  • Omitting sounds using chips. Use a chip for each sound in “bat.”  Then pull the first chip away and ask: “Can you say “bat” without the /b/?”  (at)
  • Say “stop”
    • Now say “stop” without the /s/.  (top)


Substituting Sounds

  • Say “ship.”
    • Now say “ship” but instead of /i/ say /o/.  (shop)
  • Say “plate.”
    • Now say “plate” but instead of /p/ say /s/.  (slate)

Click for more in depth information and more Phonological Awareness Example Activities.

Click for a Big Sound Practice Packet for sound manipulation skills needed by end of grade 2.

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

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