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Phonological and phonemic awareness
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Phonological and phonemic awareness: Help a struggling reader with sounds

When you listen to speakers of a foreign language that you do not understand, you hear a sequence of sounds that you perceive as gibberish. This is because you lack phonological and phonemic awareness of that language.

A struggling reader of the English language faces a similar situation. While the child speaks and understands the spoken language, there are issues with reading and writing it because he or she does not have the phonological and phonemic awareness skills required for doing so.

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What is phonological and phonemic awareness?

Phonological awareness is the umbrella over the many sounds made in speech. These sounds are sentences that are segmented into words, syllables, onset-rime and phoneme.

Phonemic awareness is a subset of phonological awareness. It is being aware of each sound made in a single word. There are 8 skills needed to be a proficient reader which we look at in more detail later on.

Phonics and the importance of phonological and phonemic awareness

Phonics is the representation of sounds with writing. A reader with phonological and phonemic awareness problems would have more issues with making sense of the written word.

We know the sound of long vowel ‘a’ and the short sound ‘ah’, but when it comes to writing these sounds we have:

a-e   ape

ai      bait

ay     day

ei      weigh

ey     obey

a       apple

If a student cannot tell the difference between the long ‘a’ sound in ‘weigh’ and short ‘e’ sound in ‘their’, then learning that the digraph ‘ei’ represents both sounds when reading and writing is going to be difficult.

Sharpen phonological and phonemic awareness skills

The sentence below contains all the items you need to help sharpen your student’s phonological and phonemic awareness skills. This will give you a start in your reading intervention programme.


Word awareness

Ask your student to separate the string of sounds in the sentence above into words. You must hear:

Stan is the policeman by the red van who is writing a ticket for the man with the big head who said he just got paid and came to Port-of-Spain for breakfast.

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Blending words

Pull out the compound words in the sentence and discuss. Ask what words are blended together and why are they blended?

policeman – police and man mean a man is a police officer

breakfast – break and fast mean breaking the fasting period between night and morning

Port-of-Spain – Port, of, and Spain mean a port for ships to dock in a Spanish colony

Word segmentation

Count the words that make up the compound word. Clap and count aloud when saying:

police, man – 2 words

break, fast – 2 words

Port, of, Spain – 3 words

Deletion of words

Remove words in the compound word:

Say policeman without the word police – ‘man’

Say breakfast without the word fast – ‘break’

Say Port-of-Spain without Port and of – ‘Spain’

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Syllable awareness

Look at parts of a word.

Blending syllables

Make a word by blending parts of a word:

ticket – tick, et

Syllable segmentation

Let your student clap and count the word parts:

ticket – tic, ket

Deletion of syllables

Say ticket without the et:


Onset-Rime awareness

The initial sound in a word is the onset and the sounds that follow is the rime. When the rime is the same as those in other words, they rhyme.

Stan, man, van

However, not all words that rhyme have rime. This means after the initial sound you hear the same sound but the letters that represent it are different.

red, head, said

Also, some words have same rime but do not rhyme. This means the letters after the initial one looks the same as another word but do not sound the same.

said, paid

Rhyme recognition

Ask your student to spot words that rhyme despite spelling:

Stan, man, van

red, head, said

Rhyme generation

What rhymes with man? – Stan, van

What rhymes with red? – said, head

Categorisation of rhymes

Group some words and ask which one should not be in the category.

Stan, van, red, man – red

Blending of onset rimes

Blend the words with onset rime:

St-an, v-an, m-an

Segmentation of words that rhyme

Clap and count the parts of the word:

St-an – 2 parts

v-an – 2 parts

m-an – 2 parts

Deletion of initial sound from rime

Ask your student to say:

Stan without ‘St’ – an

van without the ‘v’ – an

man without the ‘m’ – an

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Phoneme awareness

Isolation of phonemes

Isolate the first, middle, and last sound in words:

van – v-a-n

red – r-e-d

head – h-ea-d

said – s-ai-d

paid – p-ai-d

Identification of same sounds

Identifying same sounds in words shows awareness of alliteration and assonance.

Alliteration: What word has the same initial consonant sound as paid?

big, policeman, breakfast (policeman)

Assonance: What word has the same vowel sound as said?

paid, man, red, came (red)

Categorisation of same sounds

Ask your student to point out the word that is different in the group:

policeman, paid, big, Port-of-Spain (big)

Blending of sounds

Blend individual sounds in a word:

van – v-a-n

man – m-a-n

red – r-e-d

Segmentation of sounds

Clap and count the sounds in a word:

big – b-i-g has 3 sounds

Spain – s-p-ai-n has 4 sounds

Deletion of sounds

Say Spain without the ‘S’


Addition of sounds

Add ‘S’ to pain


Substitution of sounds

Substitute the ‘v’ in van with ‘m’.



This guide will definitely have your student working on improving his or her phonological and phonemic awareness skills. Use flashcards, worksheets and games to display as many words as possible to practise phonological and phonemic awareness. Your student would soon be decoding words proficiently and improving reading skills in no time.

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See also:

2 Letter words: Why readers struggle with them

5 Reading assessment topics to give proper diagnosis

Sentence: 5 tips to writing perfect word order

Decoding: Focus on 6 steps when sounding out words

Consonants – digraphs, trigraphs, hard, soft, blends, silent sounds

Vowels – syllables, digraphs, trigraphs, long, short and silent

Spelling rules for ch, tch, ck, k, oi, oy, ou, ow, ie, ei

Affixes – rules for adding prefixes and suffixes

Homophones – words that have same sound

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