Phonological awareness is the ability to hear, recognize, and play with the sounds in spoken language. By second grade, most children have mastered the more basic skills, including rhyming, syllables, alliteration, and beaking a sentence into words.
The most sophisticated phonological awareness skill (and the last to develop) is called phonemic awareness — the ability to hear, recognize, and play with the individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. When playing with the sounds in word, children learn to:
- Blend individual sounds to make a word
- Stretch out a word into its individual sounds
- Swap in a different sound to the beginning, middle, or end of a word to make a new word
Strong phonemic awareness is one of the strongest predictors of later reading success. Children who struggle with reading, including kids with dyslexia, often have trouble with phonemic awareness, but with the right kind of instruction they can be successful. Learn some of the warning signs for dyslexia in this article, Clues to Dyslexia from Second Grade On.
Some second graders need extra help to master phonemic awareness skills. If you are concerned, check with your child’s teacher or the reading specialist at school.
Parents can make a difference by helping their children practice the more advanced word sound skills at home. Try some of the simple word sound games described here.
Why phonemic awareness is the key to learning how to read
This video is from Home Reading Helper, a resource for parents to elevate children’s reading at home provided by Read Charlotte . Find more video, parent activities, printables, and other resources at Home Reading Helper .
Try these speech sound activities at home
While at the grocery store, have your child tell you the syllables in different food names. Have them hold up a finger for each word part. For your second grader, look for three- and four-syllable words, such as pineapple = pine-ap-ple, three syllables, or watermelon =wa-ter-mel-on, four syllables.
Word families are sets of words that rhyme. Start to build your family by giving your child the first word, for example, king. Then ask your child to name all the “kids” in the king family, such as: ring, sing, ding, wing. Challenge your child to also name words with blends at the beginning, such as hing, bring, sting, string. This will help your child hear patterns in words.
Jump, skip, hop!
Create simple picture cards that you draw or cut out of magazines. Have your child, identify what’s in the picture, and then break that word into its individual sounds. For example ship sh-i-p, three sounds (phonemes). Three sounds? You and your child do three jumping jacks, skips, or hops (followed by a high-five). You can also do this game outdoors without the cards, just call out simple words for your child.
My sound is missing!
Take some words and ask your child what happens when some of the sounds go missing. For example, what happens to boat when I take away the /b/ sound (oat)? What happens to sweep when I take away the /s/ sound (weep)? What happens to teach when I take away the /ch/ sound (tea)? What happens to laughing when I take away the /ing/ sound (laugh)? Start with easy ones and see how challenging you can make them.
Try this fast-paced game at night. Grab a flashlight and with the lights out shine it on an object in the room. Ask your child to tell you how may syllables in that word has and to find a rhyming word (it can be a nonsense word!). With some words, you can extend the game and try sound swaps. Ask your child to tell you the new word if you change a sound from the beginning, middle, or end of the word. For example, what happens to chair if you change /ch/ to /b/ (bear).
Tell your child you’re going to play “sound swap” with the word swap and create new words by changing out the beginning, middle, and ending sounds in words. Ask your child what happens if you change the last sound from /p/ to /n/ — what’s the new word (swan)? What if you swap the /w/ sound to /t/ or /h/ — what’s the new word (stop, shop)? And what if you change the /a/ sound to /ee/ — what’s the new word (sweet)? You can do play sound swap with lots of other words, for example: sheep > sweep, sweep > sweet, sheep > shop.
Medial phoneme dominoes
Try this activity from the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR). The FCRR “At Home” series was developed especially for families! Watch the video and then download the activity: Medial Phoneme Dominoes . See all FCRR phonemic awareness activities here .
Phoneme counting sort
Try this activity from the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR). The FCRR “At Home” series was developed especially for families! Watch the video and then download the activity: Phoneme Counting Sort . See all FCRR phonemic awareness activities here .
Try this activity from the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR). The FCRR “At Home” series was developed especially for families! Watch the video and then download the activity: Phoneme Challenge . See all FCRR phonemic awareness activities here .
More phonological and phonemic awareness resources
- Sounds and Symbols (VIDEO: PBS Launching Young Readers series)
- Clues to Dyslexia from Second Grade On
- Playing with Word Sounds: Stretch and Shorten (In English and Spanish)
- Nursery Rhymes: Not Just for Babies! (In English and Spanish)
- 11 Children’s Books Featuring Fun with Rhyming and Word Sounds
- 8 Children’s Books Featuring Rhyme and Alliteration (Understood)