Phonemic awareness is being able to recognize and manipulate individual phonemes in words. Phonemic awareness is tied closely to reading, so it’s essential for kids to develop phonemic awareness. One way to develop phonemic awareness is to practice the skills of blending, segmenting, and phoneme manipulation. These phonemic awareness activities will get you started.
Phonemic awareness activities — listening for sounds
Start by having kids listen for different sounds—and once they get that, turn it into phonemic awareness games.
Say, “I see the moon.” What is the first sound you hear in the word moon?” (You can do this phonemic awareness activity in the classroom and encourage parents to do it with kids at home or wherever they are.)
Choose words with sounds that can be held, such as the /m/ in moon or the /s/ in sun. Emphasizing the sound by holding it may help younger children or those just starting to build phonemic awareness.
Start with the initial sounds of words, once students show phonemic awareness of initial sounds, you can work on end sounds and then middle sounds. When you first move to end or middle sounds, emphasize the sound you want them to hear, then begin using the sounds normally to see if they can still pick out the sound.
Phonemic awareness activities — blending
Once students can pick out individual sounds, demonstrate blending the sounds together to hear full words. For example, say s-u-n, accentuating every letter. Then blend the sounds together and say sun. Give students a few practice words (m-u-g > mug, s-i-t > sit, etc.). Then use blending in phonemic awareness games.
- I Spy. Choose an item in the classroom (it should be a CVC or other simple word), such as map. Then say: “I spy with my little eye a m-a-p.” Students need to blend the sounds together to tell you what it is.
- Sound Instructions. As in I Spy, you will segment out different sounds that students need to blend together. In this case, the sounds will be part of your instructions. For example, “come and s-i-t on the m-a-t” or “T-i-m, can you get me a p-e-n.”
- Simon Says. Simon Says is another game that adapts well as a phonemic awareness game. Use the usual rules, but as with Sound Instructions, give some of the words in sounds. For example, “Simon says t-a-p your l-e-g.” or “R-u-n in place.”
Phonemic awareness activities — segmenting
In the phonemic awareness activities on blending above, the teacher demonstrates segmenting. Students need to be able to segment sounds too. These phonemic awareness activities focus on getting students more practice with segmenting.
- I Spy. If you used I Spy as a blending phonemic awareness activity, students are familiar with the game. This time, they get to spy and segment the sounds. To make it easy on them, consider filling the room with some items that have easy to segment words.
- Mystery Bag. Fill a bag with objects that your students are familiar with. Here’s the catch—the objects should have 3 phonemes (sounds) and mostly be CVC words (cup, dog, bag, hat, duck, sock … you’ll notice that while a few of the words are CVCC, they have three phonemes). Have a child pick something from the bag without showing the other students. That child should separate the sounds. For example, if they pick the cup, they would say /c/ /u/ /p/. The other students blend the sounds together to identify the object.
- Count the Sounds. This is a great activity for students at all levels. Adapt it simply by the words you use. Pick a word, such as cat. Have students say the sounds they hear in the word cat and count them. Students can use their fingers to keep track of how many sounds they counted or mark them down on paper if they need to. Students should say 3 sounds – /c/ /a/ /t/. The same works for words such as bubbles. In this case, students should hear 5 sounds that break down like this b-u-bb-le-s. You may need to remind students they are counting sounds, not letters. If students are working with written words, they can underline the letters that represent each sound.
Phonemic awareness activities — phoneme manipulation
In addition to segmenting and blending sounds, students need to be able to add or take away sounds in words. Try these activities for practice:
- Sound Subtraction. Demonstrate how to take away a sound from a word. For example, say mug without the m — ug or spark without the s — park. Then have students try. When they are adept at subtracting sounds from the beginning of words, try subtracting other sounds, for example, say sleep without the l — seep.
- Sound Substitution. This is a great follow up to sound subtraction. Give students a word and ask them to change it to another word—pat to mat or spent to spend, for example. They can show their work on small white boards. Before students write the word, ask which sound they are changing (first, second, third …). Have students underline the sound being changed.
- Sound Substitution Ladders. Once students learn to change one sound at a time you can make sound substitution ladders to change one word to a very different word. For example, you could change the word tram to slip in 5 steps, changing one sound at a time (tram to cram to clam to clap to clip to slip). You can give students other beginning and ending words or ask them to see how long of a chain they can make
More phonemic awareness activities
Looking for more activities to practice phonemic awareness? Phonics Bingo is a great way for students to practice blending, segmenting, and manipulation.
Get your free sample Phonics Bingo games here:
And for 16 Different Phonics Bingo games divided by phoneme or word pattern with words of varying difficulties, get the Phonics Bingo Set. These games adapt beautifully for small group work, spelling test alternatives, fun Friday activity, phonics center independent work.
Keeping it fun keeps kids engaged and helps them master these essential skills!