What is Phonological Awareness?

Phonological awareness refers to the awareness or knowledge of the sound structures in language. It focuses on the ability to hear, recognize, identify, distinguish, and manipulate individual phonemes, or sounds, in words. It also includes the understanding of the number of words in a sentence, the number of syllables in a word, and rhyme pairs. Children should be able to recognize words within a sentence and sounds within a word. This oral practice of literacy instruction is evident through the use of movement or response including clapping, stomping, tapping, singing, or reciting nursery rhymes.

The full understanding of the spoken word is a critical part of a primary classroom’s learning process. Some children pick it up instantly while others require more repetitive practice. Phonological awareness is considered the foundation to learn to read, as it is the basis of the alphabetic principal. Phonological awareness provides children with the skills they need to understand phonics, which are letter-sound relationships through print.

Why is Phonological Awareness Important?

Phonological awareness is a strong indicator of a child’s reading ability that will be later developed in elementary school. In fact, students that struggle with phonological awareness in kindergarten are often considered struggling readers in third grade. While phonological awareness is usually considered an early literacy skill, the elements of phonological awareness are used throughout a person’s entire reading journey. Blending, segmenting, and manipulating sounds will help students quickly decode, which means reading the words on a page, and encode, which refers to the spelling of words.

Syllabication is also an effective strategy to help students with decoding and encoding. Onset and rime help students understand the similarities and differences of word families, which are also essential when learning to read and spell. The study of word families in phonics is easier for students to grasp when they have a strong sense of phonological awareness. Alliteration, another important component of phonological awareness, is also an element of figurative language. Students learn this language skill in the upper elementary school level. Reading is a developmental process, and phonological awareness is the first part of the literacy learning experience.

Phonological Awareness Activities

A variety of phonological awareness activities can be implemented into daily literacy instruction to increase reading and writing success for all students. One phonological awareness activity that can be used to address several key skills is the use of sorting pictures. The visual images or picture cards can be sorted by initial sound, final sound, syllables, or rhyme. Students can complete these activities independently, in small groups, or in an oral whole-group lesson led by the teacher. Poetry, nursery rhymes, and traditional songs are a fun way to begin each morning to increase phonological awareness and engagement. After the recitation or singing takes place, teachers can ask students to clap out the number of words in a sentence or the number of syllables (or beats) in a word. Children can also put their thumbs up when hear a rhyme pair.

Activities that encourage children to segment and blend one-syllable words are another way to teach phonological awareness. Patting out beginning, middle, and ending sounds on the arm is beneficial activity for this purpose. A teacher should say a CVC (consonant, vowel, consonant) word like mat. The student should respond by making each individual sound of each of the three letters. Say the first sound while patting the shoulder, the middle sound while patting the elbow, and the third sound while patting the wrist.

Sound boxes are an extension of how to practice blending or segmenting words. Students can use pennies, coins, or beans as a manipulative to represent each sound. Playing a game like “I’m thinking of” is an oral clue game for children to guess a word from the clues provided. An example of this would be the following: This word begins with the m sound and ends with the p sound. Any guesses? The middle sound makes the same sound as the first sound of the word octopus. Any new guesses? Yes, the word is mop.

Teachers can also incorporate movement by having students toss beanbags to blend or segment words or jump rope the words. Phonological awareness activities are appropriate for young children, older students, students with special needs, or students that are considered English language learners. When students are provided many opportunities to learn, practice, and implement phonological awareness skills, they are receiving the best knowledge and support to increase their reading and writing skills as they grow as readers.