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6 Phonemic Awareness Activities To Help Your Child Learn To Read

Voyager Sopris Learning
The Reading, Writing, and Math Intervention Specialist
Updated on June 21, 2022
  • Phonemic Awareness

You've probably been reading to your child since they were an infant. But now that it's time for them to start reading on their own, how can you help them practice so they become a confident reader? Turns out, a fun game or two can help your little one grasp some essential skills for reading! One important building block to reading proficiency is developing phonemic awareness skills—and with a few sound games and everyday objects, you can practice them at home!

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


What Is Phonemic Awareness?

Phonemic awareness builds foundational literacy skills by teaching children that words are made up of individual sounds. Each sound is called a "phoneme," and individual phonemes blend together to build words.

Phonemes are different from letters. While there are 26 letters in the English language, each with an individual letter sound, there are 44 different phonemes, or combinations of letters that make up unique sounds. Twenty-five phonemes have a consonant sound, and 19 have a vowel sound. Phonemes are denoted by / marks around letters to show that they represent sound patterns instead of letters. For example, consider each different letter and sound in the word "bear." There are 4 letters—B, E, A, and R—but there are only 2 phonemes—/b/ and /air/.

An awareness of phonemes helps children who are learning to read because it teaches them about segmenting sounds in unfamiliar words. Because almost every word is made up of an initial sound and ending sound (more complex words have various middle sounds, too), phonemic segmentation activities that break up words can help make them more manageable for new learners.

There are a few key skills to master phonemic awareness:

  • Recognizing the first sound in a word (ex: words starting with /c/ like cat, cart, cough)
  • Isolating the first or last sounds in words (this skill helps develop the concept of rhyme)
  • Combining sounds to make words (this is often called "blending")
  • Breaking up words into separate sounds (this is often called "segmenting")
  • Removing a target sound and swapping it out with other sounds to make new words, like removing the /b/ phoneme from "bat" and adding the /r/ phoneme to change it to "rat"
  • Gaining an awareness of syllables (this skill helps with segmenting)

Phonemic awareness tasks involve listening skills, an awareness with letter knowledge, and a concept of speech sounds. Each phonemic awareness activity may take plenty of practice, but earlier segmentation practice can help transform average readers into confident learners.

Photo by Ryan Fields on Unsplash


Phonics, Phonemes, and Phonological Awareness: What Does It All Mean?

We've established that phoneme awareness activities improve reading ability by pairing phoneme sounds with written words. But there are two other similar and common terms tossed around when discussing childhood reading development: phonics and phonological awareness. What do these terms mean, and how are they related to phonemic awareness? 

  • When kids learn about phonics, they're learning the relationship between letters to one another. Phonics might teach children that the letters "sh" or "ing" often go together. Phonics is a phonological skill that helps students understand how letters interact.
  • Technically, phonemic awareness is another phonological awareness skill. Phonemic awareness skills build on phonics knowledge by underscoring the sounds that letter pairs make, like understanding that the letters "sh," "ss," or "ch" can make the phoneme /sh/ in words like "mission," "chef," or "ship."
  • Phonics and phonemic awareness are both key skills that support phonological awareness. Phonological awareness is the ability to recognize similarities between words, like words that rhyme or those that start with the same sound, which is called alliteration. Phonemic awareness is the capstone of phonological awareness and the skill set with the highest difficulty level—meaning it requires plenty of practice at home and in a classroom setting!

If this all sounds quite complicated, don't panic! As you read this article, you're putting into practice phonics knowledge, phonemic awareness skills, and phonological awareness without realizing it. These skills are the foundations of literacy, and many children come to understand them through everyday classroom lessons. You don't need to understand the nuances of each concept perfectly to plan a fun activity or two to help your child learn them. Just focus on developing skills at an appropriate grade level for your child (more on that below), and the average reader will come to enjoy the challenge of trying out new words and sounds.

Photo by Lavi Perchik on Unsplash


When Should My Child Start Learning About Phonemes?

Teachers generally start teaching phonemic awareness to preschool children. However, for children with language deficits or those at risk of reading failure, like students with a family history of dyslexia or those learning English as a second language, earlier segmentation practice can be beneficial to help make reading easier once it's taught in the classroom setting. As a parent, you can embrace the challenge and support your child by practicing phoneme awareness activities at home.

6 Easy Phonemic Awareness Activities You Can Do From Home

You don't need a ton of time or specific equipment to teach your child phonemic awareness from home. Grab a few familiar objects, a favorite book, and some plastic letters (if you have them), and you're well on your way to making phoneme awareness tasks fun! Try each phonemic awareness activity for 5–10 minutes to start; you can always build up to more time in the future once your child starts to understand the concepts involved.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


Rhyme Time

Each activity for rhyme recognition helps your child to learn how to isolate the ending sounds in words. Rhyming awareness in preschool children helps them to sound out unfamiliar words when they come across them at home or during everyday classroom lessons. There are a few easy activities for rhyme recognition you can try:

  • If your child has a favorite book that rhymes, like a Dr. Seuss book, pull it off the shelf and read it together. As you read each line, encourage your child to try and guess the rhyming end of the sentence. 
  • Think of a short, simple word, like "cat," and encourage your child to come up with as many rhymes to the word as they can. To add a visual component to help with letter association, you can say and spell the word using magnetic letters or colored blocks with printed letters on them. As your child makes each new rhyme, swap out the magnetic letter or block to show them what the new word looks like.
Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

  • Pairing imagery with listening activities, like the activity above, can help your child to learn more quickly and easily (when some people say they are a visual learner, this is what they mean!). Another way to pair listening for rhymes with visualizing them is to print off pictures of everyday objects that rhyme. Think up several simple rhyming pairs, like "bat" and "rat" or "book" and "cook." Challenge your child to match each picture card with their rhyming counterpart.
  • Want an activity that requires no equipment and zero preparation? You got it! Practice phonemic awareness in just a few minutes by slowly saying aloud a list of rhyming words. Somewhere in the list, add in a word that doesn't rhyme. For example, you might say the words "bear," "chair," "desk," "hair," "air." Have your child try to identify which word doesn't rhyme with the others.


I Spy

You've probably heard of "I Spy" as a road-trip game, but it's easy to modify at home to help your child develop their concept of speech sounds. To try this phoneme awareness game, sit with your child in a familiar room, like their bedroom or the kitchen. Look around the room and pick out an object, like "crib," "book," "stove," etc. Once you've selected the first object and spoken its name aloud, challenge your child to identify other items they can see that start with the same sound. For example, "crib" and "cookie," "book" and "baby clothes," or "stove" and "sink."

This is another great activity to help add a visual component to phoneme awareness activities.!

Mystery Bag

This next activity takes a little more planning up front; but if you keep it simple, it can be an easy activity for you and a very fun visualization practice for your child.

To start, gather together a few everyday objects that start with the same phoneme. You might collect a "book," a "block," and a "ball," if you're adding in objects that start with the /b/ phoneme. Put all the objects into a bag or box, so your child can't see what they are. Now comes the fun part! Give clues to help your child guess one of the items in the box. Once they've correctly identified one object, pull it out and explain that all the items in the box start with same sound. Now let the guessing begin! Feel free to keep giving hints if needed, but give your child as much time and as many guesses as they need to identify the other items in the box.

Musical Syllables

For some syllable practice, try this simple activity. Give your child a small instrument, like a drum or maraca. Explain that they need to shake, tap, or clap for each syllable you read. Pick a few words with varying numbers of syllables (try to choose words ranging from one to four or five syllables) and slowly say them aloud while your child taps along!

Super Silly Sentences

Remember tongue twisters? Besides being super fun for young children, they're a great way to practice identifying words that start with the same sound! Challenge your child to see how many super silly sentences (i.e., tongue twisters) they can come up with and try and say them together. For example, "David doesn't dare dust doorbells!"

Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes

To do this fun activity, start by putting together a list of words with one to four different phonemes. Explain to your child that as you read each word, they'll touch their head for the first phoneme, their shoulders for the second, their knees for the third, and their toes for the fourth. For example, as you say "quick" they'll touch their head /k/, shoulders /w/, knees /i/, and toes /k/. This can be a difficult challenge, so be patient as your child tries to sound out each word.

Literacy Is Possible for Every Child

Learning to read is difficult for many children. But you don't have to teach your child to read alone! Voyager Sopris has resources to support the development of every child, such as our literacy programs for elementary schoolsand in math intervention programs. Check out our online reading programs for literacy support in children as young as kindergarten.