5 Tips for Teaching Phonemic Awareness

June 9, 2022

In today’s post, we are talking all about phonemic awareness. We know that phonemic awareness is an essential component of teaching students how to read. There are tons of different phonemic awareness activities you can do with your students, but in today’s post, I want to share 5 things you should keep in mind when doing ANY phonemic awareness activity.

Before I dive in, I want you to know that you can watch all this same information over on YouTube:

If you want to read the information instead, just keep scrolling!


Tip 1: Your Primary Focus is to Teach Students Specific Phonemes and How they Feel in the Mouth

This is the tip that is often overlooked in many K-2 classrooms. For each new phonics pattern and sound, we are teaching our students what it sounds like, but we also need to teach students exactly where the sound is made in the student’s mouth. Many of the sounds in the English language sound similar and are made in similar positions in the mouth. Think of /p/ and /b/ for example.  Both sounds are made at the front of the mouth with our lips together, but the /b/ is voiced and the /p/ is not. Students often get these sounds mixed up and it’s easy to see why. We want to be sure we explicitly teach students where the sounds are made in the mouth and what they feel like when we make them.

A simple mirror can help with this! As you model making these sounds, give students the opportunity to make the sounds themselves and watch how their mouth moves in the mirror. This approach will help students differentiate between the different sounds they hear and make during their phonemic awareness routines.



Tip 2: Keep it Quick!

Most of your students will benefit from 5-10 minutes of phonemic awareness activities each day. While we want it to be quick, it also needs to be consistent. You don’t want to consolidate and do 30 minutes twice a week. Some of your students will need more time and they will be able to practice their phonemic awareness skills in small groups with a focused skill, but everyone should practice 5-10 minutes per day!



Tip 3: Make it Multisensory

Now each phonemic awareness activity is slightly different, but we can add in multisensory activities to help students make connections between the sounds. One simple way to make your phonemic awareness activities multisensory is to add hand movements. When segmenting sounds, students can tap their fingers for each sound they hear. When blending onset and rime, students can use each hand to say the onset and rime and push their hands together to say the word (ta – ble, table). When counting syllables, students can clap them out.

Since you will be doing phonemic awareness activities for 5-10 minutes per day, a few times a week it is nice to use some more concrete tools to help make it multisensory. For example, you can use simple tools like cubes, colored construction paper, or playdough to help students segment sounds. If using cubes, students will simply have a few cubes and they will repeat the word you say aloud (example: bat). They will first count the sounds they hear while tapping their fingers (3 sounds). Then, they will move up a cube for each sound they hear (3 cubes: /b/ /a/ /t/). Construction paper squares would work in the same way! With playdough, students can have little balls they smush down for each sound they hear in a word.

As a little tip, I like to have students use a different color cube for each sound they hear. When moving into phoneme manipulation, they can begin to notice when the same sound is being used. For an example of what I mean, just watch below:



Tip 4: Use the Gradual Release Model

This model is better known as I do, We do, You do. With any new phonemic awareness activity OR any new skill you are focusing on, you want to be sure to model how to do this correctly before having students practice it. We do this to make sure our students are practicing something over and over incorrectly. Here is an example of what that might sound like with phoneme manipulation.

“I am going to say the word cap. Cap. I am going to change that sound /k/ in cap to /t/. Instead of /k/ -ap, now I have /t/ -ap, tap.”

“Now we have the word tap. Can you say tap? Tap. Let’s change the /t/ sound to /m/. /m/ – ap. What new word does this make?”

The first sentences above are the “I do” section where I am modeling and showing students exactly how this is done. In the second portion, I still provide them scaffolds (I provide them the onset and rime), but they need to tell me the new word. Listening to my students here will let me know if I need to continue to model this type of activity or if most of them already get it! Then, they can move on to practicing independently with a simple prompt like, “Say the word map. Change the /m/ sound to /s/. What new word do you have?”



Tip 5: Start with the Sounds, then add in Letters!

We know that phonemic awareness begins with the sounds and don’t forget tip number one… sounds and where they are made in the mouth should be the main focus! That being said, we don’t want to discount graphemes completely. When students are comfortable with phonemic awareness activities with just sounds, we want to add in the graphemes that represent the sounds. We want to introduce the graphemes so students make connections to the phonemes they represent. In fact, it strengthens their phonemic awareness and their letter-sound connections. We just want to make sure students are solid with the sounds before we dive into the letters.

Now this will look largely the same as your other phonemic awareness activities, but you will add in the use of some letter tiles or letter magnets. When blending sounds, students will now blend the sounds and the letters together to make a word. If segmenting sounds, students may begin segmenting orally, then determine the graphemes that represent each sound. When doing phoneme manipulation, a word letter with tiles will help them see not only which phoneme is changing, but also the graphemes that change along with the sounds! You can see this with a simple word ladder below:


So there are 5 of my top tips for teaching phonemic awareness! I hope these ideas give you some things to think about as you prepare for a new year!

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