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Discover ways to help children develop phonemic awareness

By Gio Panizzon



What’s the difference between hat and cat? Are you thinking that one says “meow”? What about hog and dog? Hmm… Most of us would walk a dog, but not a hog? True, but my answer to both riddles is this: the difference is one phoneme!




What’s a phoneme? It is the smallest unit of sound in our language. So, each of our pairs of words differ by one sound at the start of the word. Seems simple, right? Not really. Our youngest learners must develop the ability to hear the difference in those sounds before they can ever read print. They must develop phonemic awareness. Hearing and playing with language will have critical implications once reading instruction begins. Research shows the importance of the exposure and ability to hear the sounds in language and build phonemic awareness is the best starting point for language acquisition. Furthermore, children who struggled with learning to read words were typically those who had little exposure to phonemic awareness and were slow to acquire it. It seems, then, that this powerful skill has big rewards for our littlest learners.


Getting Started


How can you help children develop phonemic awareness? And, how can you make this fun? We know that when children are engaged in joyful activities their attention is held and the instruction can move their understandings along. Here are some suggestions:


Begin with students’ names. What sounds do you hear in your own name? Whose names start with the same sound? Do any of our names rhyme?


Sort by beginning sounds. Identify buckets or baskets with single letters, such as “b” and “p.” Distribute pictures or real objects (book, pen, pencil, bag) to the students and have them take turns “sorting” into the correct container. As students become more aware of the sounds you can use blends (fl, st) or digraphs (sh, ch) for sorting.


Read aloud to your young learners readers that use great visual representation to allow for sound/symbol association. This is one of the easiest ways to hear the language. Typically, these readers, such as TCM’s Targeted Phonics, use rhyme and rhythm, as well as plenty of repetition that lends itself to “paying attention” to language. Young learners need to be engaged and it is through this process that they will build their phonemic awareness. Targeted Phonics provides a perfect format for comprehending sounds and building fluency.


Find TCM readers and other ways to get children reading and enjoying it at!

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