Skills for Early Reading: Phonological Awareness (2023)

Reading is the act of processing text in order to derive meaning. To learn to read, children must develop both fluent word reading and language comprehension (Gough & Tunmer,1986). Fluent word reading stems from underlying skills: phonological awareness, phonics and decoding, and automatic word recognition.

What is Phonological Awareness?

Phonological awareness is "the recognition that words have constituent sounds. Constituents of a word (e.g., book) may be distinguished in three ways: by syllables (/book/), by onsets and rimes (/b/ and /ook/), or by phonemes (/b/ and /oo/ and /k/)" (Massachusetts 2017 English Language Arts and Literacy Framework ).

Phonological awareness, or the awareness of and ability to work with sounds in spoken language, sets the stage for decoding, blending, and, ultimately, word reading. Phonological awareness begins developing before the beginning of formal schooling and continues through third grade and beyond.

How Phonological Awareness Contributes to Reading Development

Phonological awareness is essential for reading because written words correspond to spoken words. Readers must have awareness of the speech sounds that letters and letter combinations represent in order to move from a printed word to a spoken word (reading), or a spoken word to a written word (spelling) (Moats, 2010). Awareness of the sounds in spoken language is required to learn letter-sound correspondences; to blend sounds together to decode a word; and to "map" words into long-term sight vocabulary (Kilpatrick, 2015).

Problems with phonological awareness have been identified as a major cause of reading difficulties (Share, 2011). Dyslexia is thought to stem from phonological difficulties that lead to severe problems decoding words (Vellutino et al., 2004).

(Video) The Ultimate Guide to Phonological Awareness and Pre-Reading Skills

"Students with good phonological awareness are in a great position to become good readers, while students with poor phonological awareness almost always struggle in reading" (Kilpatrick, 2016).

Skills for Early Reading: Phonological Awareness (1)

"What usually happens is that children have to fail to learn to read over a significant period of time before someone pays attention and says, 'this child seems to have a reading difficulty.'… This 'wait to fail' approach really is detrimental to the child's academic outcome, but also for the child's mental health."

Nadine Gaab
Associate Professor of Education
Harvard Graduate School of Education

(Video) How to Teach Phonological Awareness - Part 1

How Phonological Awareness Develops

Early phonological skills include awareness of syllables and onset-rime segments. Later, children develop the ability to blend and segment individual phonemes. Advanced phonemic awareness includes the ability to manipulate phonemes by substituting, reversing, and deleting phonemes and continues to develop into third grade and beyond.

  • Appendix B: Levels of Phonological Awareness , from the Massachusetts Dyslexia Guidelines (resource)

Promoting Phonological Awareness in the Classroom

The National Reading Panel (2000) found that phonological awareness can be developed through practice activities as part of core instruction. Phonological and phonemic awareness practice activities can be brief, engaging, and woven into whole-group and small-group instruction based upon students' needs.

Learn More About Phonological Awareness

Considerations for Students Learning English

English learners should have equal opportunity to meaningfully participate in all foundational skills instruction. These recommendations and resources will further support English learners to develop phonological awareness. Also, please refer to WIDA Can Dos and WIDA Instructional Supports.

(Video) Science of Reading: Phonological Awareness & Phonics

Taking Bilingualism into Account

  • "Young English learners can acquire age appropriate phonemic awareness skills even when their English proficiency is not fully developed and teachers need to provide students opportunities to develop these skills as early as possible" (Linan-Thompson & Vaughn, 2007).
  • It can be a challenge for English learners to hear and produce a sound in a new language. Students who cannot hear and work with the phonemes of spoken words will have a difficult time learning how to relate these phonemes to letters when they see them in written words. ELs cannot develop phonological awareness in English until they are familiar with the sounds of English (Bear et al., 2003; Helman, 2004).
  • Phonological skills are more closely related to word reading ability than is language-minority status (Lesaux et al., 2008).
  • Phonological awareness developed in one language has been shown in studies to translate into English, enabling children who have developed awareness in their home language to utilize those skills in English as well (International Literacy Association , 2020).
  • Beginning phonemic awareness practice with the sounds and patterns that the two languages share is supportive. Instruction can then progress to sounds and patterns that exist in English but not the student's home language (Helman, 2004).
  • Since it takes multiple years for students to become proficient acquiring a second language, English learners are often still developing their understanding of phoneme relationships. To become fluent readers, however, ELs must master advanced phonemic awareness skills. ELs without advanced phonemic awareness will place higher demands on their working memory to decode. Doing so limits access to working memory for comprehension (Bear et al., 2003; Helman, 2004).

Supports for English Learners:

  • Create extensive experiences with fun and appealing songs, poems, chants, and read-alouds that will allow students to hear and reproduce the sound patterns of English.
  • "Songs and poems, with their rhythm and repetition, are easily memorized and can be used to teach phonemic awareness and print concepts to English learners. In addition to increased retention due to repetition, rhymes allow English learners to safely play with language. Rhymes exist in every language and teachers can ask students or their parents to share culturally relevant and teachable rhymes with the class and can build phonemic awareness activities around them" (Colorín Colorado **).
  • Be familiar with the sounds that might be difficult for students of particular language backgrounds to hear or pronounce, and provide extra practice (Helman, 2004).
  • Practice phonemic awareness in small groups of 4–6 students when possible (Linan-Thompson & Vaughn, 2007).
  • Phonemic Awareness and English Language Learners, ** from Colorín Colorado
  • Reading 101 for English Language Learners, ** from Colorín Colorado
  • Phonemic Inventories and Cultural and Linguistic Information Across Languages, from American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
  • 5 Classroom Elements that Provide Opportunity for Dual Language Learners
  • 5 Practical Strategies for Supporting Dual Language Learners' Language and Literacy Skills


Bear, D. R., Templeton, S., Helman, L. A., & Baren, T. (2003). Orthographic development and learning to read in two different languages. In G. G. García (Ed.), English learners: Reaching the highest level of English literacy (pp. 71–95). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Gough, P. B., & Tunmer, W. E. (1986). Decoding, Reading, and Reading Disability. Remedial and Special Education, 7, 6–10.

Helman, L. A. (2004). Building on the sound system of Spanish: Insights from the alphabetic spellings of English-language learners. The Reading Teacher, 57 (5), 452–460

(Video) Early Literacy: Phonological Awareness

Kilpatrick, D. (2015). Essentials of assessing, preventing, and overcoming reading difficulties (Essentials of psychological assessment). Boston: John Wiley and Sons.

Kilpatrick, D. (2016). Equipped for reading success: A comprehensive, step by step program for developing phonemic awareness and fluent word recognition. Casey & Kirsch Publishers.

Lesaux, N., Geva, E., Koda, K., Siegel, L.S., & Shanahan, T. (2008). Development of literacy in second language learners. In August, D. and Shanahan, T., Eds. Developing Reading and Writing in Second-Language Learners: Lessons from the Report of the National Literacy Panel on Language-Minority Children and Youth. New York: Routledge.

Linan-Thompson, S. and Vaughn, S. (2007) Research-based Methods of Reading Instruction for English Learners, Grades K–4. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.Moats, L. C. (2010). Speech to print: Language essentials for teachers. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Pub.

Share, D. L. (2011). On the role of phonology in reading acquisition: The self-teaching hypothesis. In S. A. Brady, D. Braze, & C. A. Fowler (Eds.), New directions in communication disorders research. Explaining individual differences in reading: Theory and evidence (p. 45–68). Psychology Press.

(Video) Parent Workshop on Early Reading Skills: Phonological Awareness

Vellutino, F., Fletcher, J., Snowling, M., & Scanlon, D. (2004). Specific reading disability (dyslexia): What have we learned in the past four decades? Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, and allied disciplines. 45. 2–40. 10.1046/j.0021-9630.2003.00305.x.

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Last Updated: December 14, 2021


What phonological awareness skills are better to teach early? ›

Sound blending is an important skill for early readers. They need to put sound units — phonemes — together to be able to read a word smoothly. You can help your child start working on this by putting together sounds of different words. Ask your child to connect the beginning sound with the rest of a word.

What are the 4 phonological awareness skills? ›

There are four main levels of phonological awareness. The first level is the word level. Children start to hear individual words within a sentence.
Syllable Level
  • Blending — Blend syllables into whole words. ...
  • Segmenting — Breaking words into syllables. ...
  • Deletion — Delete a syllable from a word.

What are the phonological awareness skills? ›

Phonological awareness is the ability to recognize and manipulate the spoken parts of sentences and words. Examples include being able to identify words that rhyme, recognizing alliteration, segmenting a sentence into words, identifying the syllables in a word, and blending and segmenting onset-rimes.

What are the 9 phonological awareness skills? ›

Phonological awareness can be taught at each level (i.e., word, syllable, onset and rime, and phoneme) and includes skills such as counting, categorizing, rhyming, blending, segmenting, and manipulating (adding, deleting, and substituting).

Which is an example of early phonological awareness? ›

Examples include being able to identify words that rhyme, counting the number of syllables in a name, recognizing alliteration, segmenting a sentence into words, and identifying the syllables in a word.

What are the 5 basic reading skills? ›

The National Reading Panel identified five key concepts at the core of every effective reading instruction program: Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension.

What is the most simple skill in phonological awareness? ›

The most important phonological awareness skills for children to learn at these grade levels are phoneme blending and phoneme segmentation, although for some children, instruction may need to start at more rudimentary levels of phonological awareness such as alliteration or rhyming.

What are the 3 skills that fall under the umbrella of phonological processing? ›

The broad category of phonological processing includes phonological awareness, phonological working memory, and phonological retrieval. All three components of phonological processing are important for speech production as well as the development of spoken and written language skills.

Is phonological awareness a reading skill? ›

Phonological awareness is essential for reading because written words correspond to spoken words. Readers must have awareness of the speech sounds that letters and letter combinations represent in order to move from a printed word to a spoken word (reading), or a spoken word to a written word (spelling) (Moats, 2010).

Which phonological awareness skill will students will most likely learn first? ›

Phonological awareness in preschool children starts with listening. In order for children to build up to the more complex tasks of segmenting and blending, they must first be able to identify rhymes, syllables, and alliteration that they hear. Start with simple exercises that encourage students to listen and respond.

What are preschool phonological awareness skills? ›

In pre-k, phonological awareness focuses on rhyming words (words that sound the same at the end), alliteration (repeated beginning sounds), segmenting sentences (telling how many words in a sentence), and syllables (chunking parts of words). All these skills are practiced orally, without any written letters.

What are the 6 essential components for reading fluency? ›

Research has shown that there are six key components that contribute to successful beginning reading. Because of the importance of these components, they have become known as the 'Big Six': oral language, phonological awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.

What are phonological skills in 2 year olds? ›

From around two to three years we focus on phonological awareness and this comes before teaching the child letters or reading. Phonological awareness includes identifying and manipulating units of oral language such as words, syllables, speech sounds (phonemes), onset and rime.

What are the 8 phonemic awareness skills in Heggerty? ›

The Heggerty Curriculum includes explicit instruction in the following phonological and phonemic awareness skills:
  • Rhyming.
  • Onset Fluency.
  • Blending.
  • Isolating final and medial phonemes (sounds)
  • Segmenting.
  • Adding Phonemes.
  • Deleting Phonemes.
  • Substituting Phonemes.

How do students develop the early phonological awareness? ›

As students learn to read and spell, they fine-tune their knowledge of the relationships between phonemes and graphemes in written language. As reading and spelling skills develop, focussing on phonemic awareness improves phonics knowledge, and focussing on phonics also improve phonemic awareness.

What are kindergarten phonological awareness skills? ›

In kindergarten, phonological awareness focuses on rhyming words (words that sound the same at the end), alliteration (repeated beginning sounds), segmenting sentences (telling how many words in a sentence), syllables (chunking parts of words), and manipulating phonemes (adding, deleting, or substituting sounds in ...

What activities would you use with children to develop their phonological awareness? ›

Try these speech sound activities at home
  • Rhyme time. “I am thinking of an animal that rhymes with big. ...
  • Body part rhymes. Point to a part of your body and ask your child to think of a rhyming word. ...
  • Read books that play with sounds. ...
  • Clap it out. ...
  • Tongue ticklers. ...
  • "I Spy" first sounds. ...
  • Sound scavenger hunt.

What are the 4 foundational reading skills? ›

Most educators consider foundational skills to include print concepts, phonological awareness, phonics, and fluency. These skills often appear in state standards.

What are the 4 main reading skills? ›

The ultimate goal in reading is comprehension, but being able to comprehend a text accurately requires strength in each of four skill areas: alphabetics, vocabulary, fluency, AND comprehension.

What are the 3 R's of reading? ›

The educationalist Louis P. Bénézet preferred "to read", "to reason", "to recite", adding, "by reciting I did not mean giving back, verbatim, the words of the teacher or of the textbook.

What are the 5 stages of phonological development? ›

What are the stages of phonological development? The key stages of phonological development are word awareness, onset and rime, syllable awareness, rhyme and alliteration, and phonemic awareness.

What is the first step in phonological awareness? ›

First start with word play, then syllable practice, then breaking apart syllables (onset-rime), then break apart the sounds (phonemes) in a syllable. Remember, phonemic awareness doesn't just include blending and segmenting sounds. It also includes phoneme manipulation, deletion, and substitution!

Which phonological awareness skill will students most likely learn first? ›

Rhyme awareness is one of the first aspects of phoneme awareness that young children develop.

What is the most advanced skill of phonological awareness? ›

The most important phonological awareness skills for children to learn at these grade levels are phoneme blending and phoneme segmentation, although for some children, instruction may need to start at more rudimentary levels of phonological awareness such as alliteration or rhyming.

Which way to teach phonological awareness skills has the most support? ›

One of the best ways to help support these students is to help them see and feel how words break down since many of them can't process the sounds easily. You can do this by pulling in visuals, having students practice placing their hand under their chin to feel the drop in the vowel sound, and/or by using motor cues.

What age is appropriate for phonological awareness? ›

When Should we Begin Working on Phonological Awareness Skills? Phonological awareness skills begin to develop in the preschool years. This means, you can start working on these skills around age 3 years. These continue to develop up through formal reading instruction, about age 6-7 years.

What are the five phonemic awareness strategies? ›

Phonological Awareness Activities & Strategies
  • Activity 1: Games to Play While Lined Up.
  • Activity 2: Discriminate rhymes.
  • Activity 3: Discriminate between environmental sounds and speech sounds.
  • Activity 4: Identify Sounds and their sources.
  • Activity 5: Develop early language, literacy, motor, and social skills.
Apr 28, 2020

What techniques can teachers use to teach phonological awareness? ›

Examples to promote phonological awareness
  • Highlighting phonological awareness concepts in songs, rhymes, poems, stories, and written texts.
  • Finding patterns of rhyme, initial/final sound, onset/rime, consonants and vowels, by:
  • Matching pictures to other pictures.
  • Matching pictures to sound-letter patterns (graphemes)

How do you ensure children build strong phonological skills? ›

Games and activities can be useful for supporting phonemic awareness. For these activities, start off with blending the phonemes to say the word. As the child's skills for this improve, they can have a go at segmenting the words for others to blend and to carry out the instruction.

What is the easiest phonological awareness task? ›

The easiest level of phonological awareness is word play, or the syllable level. Remember, is the first time that students will focus on the sounds in a word versus the word meaning.

What is the most difficult skill in phonological awareness? ›

The most challenging phonological awareness skills are at the bottom: deleting, adding, and substituting phonemes. Blending phonemes into words and segmenting words into phonemes contribute directly to learning to read and spell well.


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