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Phonological Awareness Tasks

What Is Phonological Awareness?

Phonological awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate the individual sounds that make up words in spoken language. This includes recognizing words that rhyme, deciding whether words begin or end with the same sounds, understanding that sounds can be manipulated to create new words, and separating words into their individual sounds. These are all auditory (listening) skills.

Phonics deals with the relationship between sounds and the written letters that represent those sounds. Keep working on phonological awareness as you introduce the written letters.

Phonological Awareness Tasks


One of the easiest phonological awareness tasks is working with rhyming words. There are three stages of difficulty in working with rhyme: identifying words that rhyme; discriminating rhyme (picking out words that rhyme from a list of words); and producing rhyme (naming words that rhyme with a given word).

  1. Hearing Rhyme
    T: Listen to this sentence: Jack and Jill went up the hill. Say it with me.
    T and C: Jack and Jill went up the hill.
    T: Listen to these words: Jill, hill. These words rhyme because they have the same sound at the end: ill. Say the words with me.
    T and C: Jill, hill.
    T: Great! Now I’m going to say another sentence. I will have you repeat the sentence and then tell me which two words in the sentence rhyme. Are you ready? OK, listen carefully:
    We have fun in the sun. Now you say the sentence and tell me the rhyming words.
    C: We have fun in the sun: fun, sun.
    T: Good listening!
  2. Differentiating Rhyme
    T: Listen carefully to these three words: boy, toy, car. One word doesn’t have the same ending sound. Boy and toy end the same way: oy. But car doesn’t end the same, so it doesn’t belong with boy and toy. Now I’m going to say three more words and I want you to tell me which word doesn’t belong: man, hat, fan.
    C: Fan?
    T: No, let’s listen again: man, hat, fan. Which one doesn’t belong?
    C: Hat!
    T: You’re right! Good job.
  3. Producing Rhyme
    T: Tell me a word that rhymes with sit.
    C: Fit.
    T: Yes, very good. Now tell me a word that rhymes with play.
    C: Day.
    T: I’m going to say a sentence and I want you to tell me the missing word. I’m looking for a rhyming word. Ready? I have a cat who’s very _____. Tell me the missing word.
    C: Fat.
    T: Good!

Isolating and Categorizing Sounds

Be careful not to distort these stop sounds by adding a vowel sound, for example, do not say /puh/ or fuh/ when making the sound of the letter p or f. When working with sounds, always say the sound of the letter, not its name, for example, say /mmm/ and not /em/.

As children become more familiar with sounds, they can begin to identify individual sounds in words. The first step is to be able to recognize initial (first) sounds, then final (last) sounds, and then medial (middle) sounds. After they learn to isolate sounds, they can move on to generating words that begin or end with a specified sound.

Practice should first focus on continuous consonant sounds or sounds that can be extended, for example, /nnnn/ or /mmmm/. Vowel sounds, whether long or short, can be extended as you say the sounds in a word: /mmmm/ /aaaa / /nnnn/. Continuous sounds are: /f/, /l/, /m/, /n/, /r/, /s/, /z/, /sh/.

Stop sounds are more difficult because these sounds cannot be extended. Stop sounds are: /b/, /k/, /d/, /g/, /h/, /p/, /t/, /v/, /w/.

The following examples use initial sounds. When the learner can do this, move on to final sounds and, eventually, middle sounds.

  1. Recognizing Sounds
    T: I want you to listen as I say some words. I want you to tell me what sound the words start with. Ready? Here we go: mmman, mmmouse, mmmoon.
    C: /m/
    T: Yes, that’s right.
  2. Differentiating Sounds
    T: I want you to listen as I say three words. One word starts with a different sound than the other two words. O.K., listen carefully: rrrat, rrrain, mmman. Did you hear that rrrat and rrrain start the same, and mmman starts with a different sound? O.K. Now I’m going to say three more words and I want you to tell me which word starts with a different sound. Here we go:  sssit, mmmat, sssun.
    C: Mat.
    T: That’s right!
  3. Generating Sounds
    T: Listen while I say this word: find. I can think of another word that starts with the same sound: fan. Both find and fan start with /f/. Now you tell me a word that starts with /f/.
    C: Funny.
    T: Great! Can you tell me a word that starts with /m/? 

Blending and Segmenting Syllables and Sounds

* Pause about one second between saying onset and rime or between phonemes when segmenting, and when presenting segmented sounds for blending.

Segmenting involves breaking sentences into words, words into syllables and, and finally words into their individual sounds. For example, the word cat has three sounds /k/, /a/, /t/, said has three sounds /s/, /e/, /d/, and go has two sounds /g/, /o/, etc. Segmenting also involves separating a sentence into its individual words.

Begin with segmenting sentences into individual words and words into their syllables, which are easier for children to segment. Then move to segmenting one syllable words into their onsets (letters, if any, before the vowel) and rimes (word chunk from the vowel to the end of the word). This means separating the word into two parts—its initial part (onset) and its final part (rime). In the word pan.

For example, in the word pan, the /p/ is the onset and /an/ is the rime. Finally, have the child segment individual phonemes (sounds) in a word, for example, /p/ /a/ /n/. When segmenting sounds, pause one second between each sound. To highlight the sounds as you segment them, extend all the sounds except stop sounds, for example, /p/ /aaa/ /nnn/.

Blending is the opposite of segmenting. Rather than separating a word into its individual syllables or sounds, it involves combining the individual syllables or sounds to say a whole word. For example, /mmm/ /aaa/ /p/ is blended to make map.

Sample Blending and Segmenting

  1. Blending Syllables
    T: I’m going to say three parts of a word. I want you to say the whole word. Are you ready?
    Listen: /oc/, /to/ /pus/. What’s the word? (Pause one second between each syllable.)
    C: Octopus.
  2. Blending Onset and Rime
    T: Listen to these two parts of a word: /p/ /ig/. I can blend the parts together to say the whole word: pig. Now I want you to listen to some word parts and tell me the word: /d/ /uck/.
    C: ummm
    T: Can you tell me the two parts I said? /d/ /uck/
    C: /d/ /uck/
    T: Yes. You remembered both parts. Say them a few more times, maybe without a space between to listen for a word.
    C: /d/ /uck/. /d/ /uck/. Duck.
    T: Yes. You remembered both parts and put the sounds together to make duck!
  3. Blending Phonemes
    T: I am going to say a word but I am going to separate the word into its sounds. I want you to see if you can figure out what the word is. Are you ready? Listen to these sounds: /b/ /ee/.
    What’s the word?
    C: (silence)
    T: Can you remember any of the sounds I said? /b/ /ee/
    C: /b/
    T: Yes – you remembered the first sound! Can you remember the last sound? /b/ /ee/
    C: /ee/
    T: Yes – you remembered the last sound! Can you tell me both sounds? /b/ /ee/
    C: /b/ /ee/
    T: Yes – you remembered both sounds! Can you say them again and see if you can hear a word?
    C: /b/ /ee/ Bee
    T: Yes. You are building pathways in your brain for remembering sounds and puting the sounds together! Lets exercise them some more to grow them stronger! (When 2 sound words become easy do three sound words and keep building.)
  4. Segmenting Words in a Sentence
    T: I am going to say a sentence, and then say it again and clap for each word. “I see you.” “I (clap) see (clap) you (clap).” Can you say the sentence?
    C: “I see you.”
    T: Can you say the sentence again and clap for the words in the sentence: “I see you.”
    C: “I (clap) see (clap) you (clap).”
    T: You heard and clapped for every word in the sentence! Try this one: “I see a big tree.”
    C: “I see a big tree.” “I (clap) see (clap) a (clap) big (clap) tree (clap).”
    T: Yes. You heard all 5 words in that sentence! (Repeat the sentence, and clap with the child if necessary.)
  5. Segmenting Syllables
    T: Longer words are made of parts called syllables. One way to find the syllables is to feel for your chin moving down. Put your fingers under your chin and say “table.” Did you feel your chin go down 2 times? Table has 2 syllables /ta¯/ and /bul/! Now put your fingers under your chin and say “summer.”
    S: “Summer”
    T: Can you hear the syllables? How many syllables do you hear?
    S: 2
    T: Can you tell me what the 2 syllables are?
    S: /sum/ /mer/
    T: You found both syllables in summer! What word do you want to do next?
  6. Segmenting Onset and Rime
    T: Listen to me break the word “hand” into two parts, the first sound and the rest of the word. Listen: “hand: /h/ /and/.” Now you try it. Hand.
    C: /h/….(child falters)
    T: (after waiting three seconds) Yes. You found the first sound in hand. /h/. What is the rest of the word sound like? Hand.
    C: /and/ (If child falters again, model by segmenting the word yourself again and have student repeat.)
    T: Yes. Can you say the first sound and then the rest of the word hand?
    C: /h/ /and/
    T: Yes. You remembered the sounds of both parts of hand!
    T: Now let’s try separating some other words into their two sounds.
  7. Segmenting Individual Sounds (Phonemes)
    T: Listen to this word: “fish.” I hear three sounds in fish: /f/ /i/ /sh/. Now listen to this word and tell me how many sounds you hear: cake.
    C: Two sounds. /k/ /a¯k/
    T: You found the first sound /k/. Can you find 2 sounds in /a¯k/?
    C: /a¯/ /k/
    T: Yes. Can you find all three sounds in cake?
    C: /k/ /a¯/ /k/
    T: Yes. You are growing some new pathways in your brain! Let’s do some more to grow them stronger!

Manipulating Phonemes (Sounds)

Manipulating sounds is a more difficult task and can be difficult even for some children in second grade. Usually these types of tasks begin in mid-grade one. Manipulating sounds requires the child to replace sounds in words with other sounds to create new words. Begin with manipulating initial (first) sounds, then final (last) sounds, and finally, medial (middle) sounds.

  1. Manipulating Initial Sounds
    T: Say “pan”
    S: “pan”
    T: Yes. Now I am going to take the /p/ away from the beginning of /pan/. (pause) /an/. /pan/ take away the /p/ is /an/. Now you try – say pan, then say it without the /p/.
    S: “pan” “an”
    (Just stay here and take away or add a sound to make a new word until the learner is comfortable with it. Then move on to substituting.)

    T: Yes. Now, I can make a new word from the word from pan if I take away the /p/ and add the sound /m/ to the beginning.  Pan change /p/ to /m/ is “man”. Now you try. Say “pan,” then change the /p/ to a /m/.
    S: “pan” “man”
    T: Yes. What word can you make if you take away the /m/ at the beginning of “man” and add a /t/ at the beginning?
    C: Tan.
    T: Yes!
  2. Manipulating Final Sounds
    T: Listen to this word: cat. I can make a new word by changing the ending sound. If I change the /t/ at the end of cat to /p/, I can make the word cap. Now I want you to make a new word.
    Change the /p/ at the end of cap to /n/.
    C: Can.
    T: Yes!
  3. Manipulating Medial Sounds
    T: Listen to this word: set. What sound do you hear in the middle of set?
    C: /e/
    T: Right. Now let’s change the /e/ sound to /a/. What is the word now?
    C: Sat.
    T: Yes. Now change the /a/ in sat to /i/. What is the word now?
    C: Sit.
    T: Yes!
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