Phonemic Awareness Activities
Build Solid Readers
If you work with preschool, kindergarten, or non-readers, you need ideas for phonemic awareness activities. Children who are lower skilled readers often lack phonemic awareness. It’s your job to match these activities to your students’ readiness.
First, there is a difference between Phonological Awareness and Phonemic Awareness. Think of phonological awareness as the broad term for identifying and manipulating the large parts of spoken language. This includes hearing rhymes and manipulating sounds in words, syllables, and onsets and rimes. Phonemic awareness is a sub category of phonological awareness. It is the ability to identify and manipulate phonemes, or the smallest individual sounds in words that change the meaning of the word. Phonemic awareness has a narrower focus than phonological awareness.
For example, the broader phonological awareness would ask, “Do cat and can rhyme? How about cat and fat?”
Phonemic awareness would ask,” What is the first sound in cat?” “What sound is the same in cat, can, and cup?”
Since phonemic awareness can be taught and learned, you can use a multitude of phonemic awareness activities with your students. It’s all about playing with words and sounds!
Just to make things simpler, the activities on this page will be called phonemic awareness activities, even though rhyming, counting words, and counting syllables are really phonological awareness.
Rhyming- Phonemic Awareness Activities
Everyday, expose the children to rhyming with rhymes, songs,poems, and rhyming read- alouds. Discuss the rhyming words and have the children practice rhyming. Have them guess the missing rhymes. I like to use nursery rhymes in my phonemic awareness activities. Many children already know these. And for those who don’t, they should! I can use pointers and pictures. I post the rhyme on the wall and send it home for practice. I love phonological and phonemic awareness activities that can be followed up at home. Children can practice pointing to words as they say the rhyme. They can examine the letters in rhyming words as they read these familiar poems at home.
It’s easier for children to hear what doesn’t rhyme in a group of words (e.g. hat, fat, sun) than to make up words that rhyme. Use phonemic awareness activities from easy to more difficult.
Play rhyming bingo with picture cards.
Read a rhyme and fill in the missing word.
Example: There once was a mouse
Who needed a new (house)
There’s something sitting on that log.
I hear croaking. It must be a (frog).
Sing a name game song like “Willoughby Wallaby”. You can find this song on
Use every child’s name in the song.
Example: Willoughby wallaby wee, an elephant sat on me. Willoughby wallaby woo, an elephant sat on you.
Willoughby wallaby wustin, an elephant sat on Justin. Willoughby wallaby
Washley, an elephant sat on Ashley.
Some phonological and phonemic awareness activities use real objects.
Example: Put 10 objects in a grocery bag. (e.g. pen, can, cup, shoe, book, straw, block, stick, fork, ball) Use objects with one syllable names.
Take turns reaching into the bag and guessing the object. After the
the child guesses correctly, pull out the object and try to think of a word that rhymes with it. Nonsense words are fine.
Alliteration and Beginning/Ending Sounds - Phonemic Awareness Activities
Books using alliteration and tongue twisters are easy phonemic awareness activities
to hear those repeated beginning sounds.
By Pamela Duncan Edwards:
Four Famished Foxes and Fosdyke
Some Smug Slug
Chicken Little by Steven Kellogg
The Rose in My Garden by Arnold Lobel
Dr. Seuss’s ABC
Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henckes
Watch William Walk by Ann Jonas
Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henckes
A Cat Called Kite by Mem Fox
Silly Sally by Audrey Wood
Tongue Twister Books:
Buzz Blows Bubbles and Other Tongue Twisters by Alan Batson
Giggle Fit: Zany Tongue Twisters by Joseph Rosenberg and Mike Artell
Little Giant Book of Tongue Twisters by Joseph Rosenberg and Mike Artell
Rhyming Riddles and Tons of Tongue Twisters for Miles of Smiles by Edith Namm
Ridiculous Tongue Twisters by Chris Tait
Super School Side Splitters: A Tongue-Twister Tale by Quinlan B. Lee
Teasing Tongue Twisters by John Foster
Tongue Twisters to Teach Phonemic Awareness and Phonics: Beginning Consonants and Vowels by Joyce Kohfeldt
Create class books using alliteration. It’s fun to use children’s names to create silly sentences using the same beginning sounds.
Have every child change his or her name to begin with the same sound. For example, if the sound is /s/, Tyler becomes Syler and Emily becomes Semily.
Sing the song “Apples and Bananas”. Instead of using vowels to change the words, have children suggest any sounds. Then sing the song with those sounds. For example, a child says , “I like to peat!” Then sing, “I like to peat. I like to peat. I like to peat, peat, papples and pananas.”
Play riddle games like I Spy. “ I spy something that begins with /rrrrrrrrrr/. It is an animal. It hops and has long ears.” Exaggerate the beginning sound.
Use beginning or ending sounds picture sorts. Start easy by using 2 contrasting sounds. Add more sounds but no more than 4. You can use either a picture or a letter as the heading of the groups. Make sure the pictures are easy to identify. Let them have a ? category, too.
Create a memory/concentration game using beginning or ending sounds.
Create cut-apart picture sheets. Children cut the pictures and glue them on another paper by beginning sounds.
Say 3 words, like horse, cow, hen. Which one doesn’t belong? Do the same with ending sounds.
Tell the children a beginning or ending sound to listen for, such as /f/. Read a list of words. Children clap each time they hear a word with the /f/ sound.
For homework, give a bag to each child. Children must find small items around the house with the /r/ sound at the beginning or the end (whichever you are working on). Bring the bags to school. Take each item out of the bag and say its name. If the item doesn’t end with the /r/ sound (or begin), then say the name again and exaggerate the sound. List the items on paper or on the board.
Counting Words - Phonemic Awareness Activities
As you read words in a big book or class nursery rhyme, point to each word. Tell children that these are called words. Count the words in sentences. Use manipulatives like crackers or raisins to record how many words they hear in a sentence.
Clap words in a nursery rhyme phrase.
Write a sentence from the class story. Cut up the sentence into words. Count the words. Put them together into the sentence. Give each child a cut-up sentence to put together. You may have to provide a model at first. Repeat the exercise and remove the model.
Identifying Syllables - Phonemic Awareness Activities
Clap syllables, or “beats” in everyone’s names.
Use picture cards and clap the syllables. As children learn how to count the syllables, sort the pictures into groups of the same number of syllables
Besides clapping, children can tap on desks or march in place to syllables.
Hearing and Substituting Sounds Phonemic Awareness Activities
Say, “You can change the first sound of a word to make a new word.” Use familiar picture cards and demonstrate this skill with several examples. You can also use common, 1 syllable words. For example, “Let’s listen to the first sound in go. What’s the first sound? Now say the first sound by itself. I’m going to change the first sound to /n/. Go, no. What did I change?
Here are some word pairs you can use for rhyming and changing the initial sound.
Cat-hat king-wing pack-sack pay-say came-game saw-paw
Can-man late-gate jump-bump sale-tale rain-pain to-do
Cap-tap might-right bank-sank mice-rice day-way sat-mat
Best-nest sock-rock bake-make bit-fit ball-fall hip-lip
My-by bed-red sell-well
As children progress with beginning and ending sound phonemic awareness activities, go to middle or medial sounds. For example, help children change sock to sick. Exaggerate the /i/ sound as you say siiiick. “Can you hear the middle sound? Let’s change that sound to /ah/. Sooooock. We changed siiiick to sooooock.” Continue with more pairs of words.
Phoneme Segmenting and Blending Phonemic Awareness Activities
I love using puppets with phonemic awareness activities. Find a puppet with a mouth. (You know, the kind that your hand fits into the mouth so it moves.) Make sure you name your puppet.
Use familiar words from your rhymes or books. Or you could pull objects out of a bag and use those words. Say a 1 syllable word. Have your puppet segment the word into sounds. Start simple with a 2 phoneme word, like go. The puppet repeats by saying g-o, go. Then, pass around the puppet. The children must make the puppet segment the word into sounds. Allow help for children who are unable to segment the words. You might want to start with onset and rime. This means segmenting into beginning sound and then the rest of the word. For example, f-ox, fox.
Use your puppet in the same way for blending. Say the sounds in a word. Then have the puppet say the word. Pass the puppet and practice blending. This phonemic awareness activity is a bit easier than segmenting.
Play with words. Say, “I’m going to say the sounds in the word hat - /h/ /a/ /t/. What is the word?” (hat) “You say the sounds in the word hat. (/h /a/ /t/). Now let’s write the sounds in hat. /h/. Write h. /a/. Write a. /t/. Write t. Now let’s read the word hat.
Have you heard of
? These are boxes that you can draw to represent sounds in words. You can draw 2 boxes and use these with 2 phoneme words. Place a counter or chip under each box. As you segment the sounds in a word, slide a chip up into the box. For example, the word back has 3 sounds, so use 3 boxes with 3 chips. Say /b/ /a/ /ck/, sliding a chip into each box as you segment or stretch the words. Then blend the word by sliding your finger under the boxes from left to right. As children begin using letters in class, substitute magnetic letters in place of the chips.
You can use phonemic awareness activities in your everyday routines. When the children line or group up or when you take attendance, have the class clap syllables in names. Make up rhymes for children’s names. Change everyone’s names to start with the same sound, etc.
Use rubber bands or slinkies as you stretch words into sounds and blend the sounds back together. Children love using these.
Again, play with children’s names. Say, “This name starts with /d/ and ends with /avid/. Put it together and what name is it?”
Phoneme Deletion, Addition, and Substitution Phonemic Awareness Activities
These phonemic awareness activities help children identify words when a phoneme is removed or added to a word. They are more difficult than the other phonemic awareness skills. In fact, researchers have found that this is a skill that often can’t be performed until around age 7. Only use beginning or ending sounds for this, too.
Play with words by asking children what a word is without the beginning sound. For example, “What’s small without the /s/? Mall. This can be a difficult task for lower skill first graders, too. It needs practice.
Now add a sound. For example, “What word do you have if you add /p/ to the beginning of in? Yes, pin.
Here’s an example of phoneme substitution. This is a more difficult task. “The word is can. Change /n/ to /t/. What’s the new word? Yes, can.
Play “What’s Missing?” Say 2 words that are similar, like mile and smile. Ask what’s missing in mile that you hear in smile.
There really are a lot of phonemic awareness activities that you can do with your children. Although phonemic awareness activities deal with sound manipulation, I hope that you integrate letters and the sounds into your program. This is called the alphabetic principle or phonics. We usually teach phonemic awareness activities and phonics activities together.
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