Phonological Awareness

Phonemic Awareness: Teaching Young Children to Blend and Segment

The auditory ability to identify how sounds work together to make words is a crucial building block along the pathway to decoding words. That oral ability, or blending as it is officially called, is when the learner pulls together individual sounds to make a word; such as, what is this word /c/ /a/ /t/? (Cat). Segmenting is the polar opposite. It is the ability to take a word apart into individual phonemes, or sounds. Tell me the sounds in cat. (/C/ /a/ /t/).

Perquisites that must be met for optimum blending and segmenting  success are: (1) Working Memory Activities (2) Word Awareness Activities (3) Compound Word Blending, Deletion, and Segmentation (4) Syllable Awareness (5) Onset/Rime Activities (6) Beginning, Ending, and Middle Sound Activities. After all of these areas have been strategically taught, it is time to offer targeted blending and segmenting instruction.


Oral blending is a precursor to decoding or sounding out words. Developing a strong foundation in blending will help students make a faster and smoother transition when reading words. Blending should begin well before the phoneme stage, and all prerequisites listed above must be strategically taught ( ie. (1) Working Memory Activities (2) Word Awareness Activities (3) Compound Word Blending, Deletion, and Segmentation (4) Syllable Awareness (5) Onset/Rime Activities).

After successfully teaching prerequisites, it is time to blend two and three words. For your first phoneme blending experience, put the sounds in the context of a sentence or story. 

  My puppy likes to /b/ /ar/ /k/.

  He likes it when I /p/ /e/ /t/ him.

  He likes to chew on a /b/ /o/ /n/.

  He likes to chase the /c/ /a/ /t/.

Another support for oral blending is to provide visual support using picture clues. Place a set of three-sound picture cards (or objects) in front of your students. Name the three sounds of one of the pictures (objects) and ask the students find the correct picture. Limit the number of pictures for students who struggle with blending. After playing games with pictures or objects, the students are ready to try blending sounds without any clues. 

Here is a great game to play when students who are learning to blend:

Bounce the Blends

Objective:  Demonstrates understanding of spoken words, syllables, and sounds (phonemes).

Materials: Gather a small basketball or playground ball. (You can find themed balls at stores such as Target).

Today we are going to make words by blending sounds together. On your turn, I will bounce three sounds like this (model as you say the sound, bouncing once for each sound) /b/ /a/ /t/.

What is that word? When the child responds bat, throw the ball to him, and then have him toss it back.  Repeat again with a new word continuing as time allows.

*Note. When students conquer the skill of blending use this same game in a reverse manner. Have student draw a picture card and then bounce once for each sound in the word, then say the whole word as they toss the ball to the teacher.

--Each of our Thematic Units contain academic play-based learning games.


Segmentation is the flip side of oral blending. Like blending, segmenting (or breaking words apart) helps develop better readers and writers.

Although blending comes first in the continuum of reading skills, segmenting quickly follows; in the case of syllables the two are often presented simultaneously. Students should begin clapping out syllables at an early stage of literacy development.

After each level of blending is introduced (prerequisites above), segmenting of each should be presented before going on to the next level of blending. An additional step should be added before segmentation with individual phonemes in words, (6) Strategic Work with Beginning/Ending and Then Middle Sounds. 

If students struggle with segmenting, here is a great kinesthetic technique. Ask student to identify the initial consonant. Next ask if they hear any other sounds....the final or the medial sound. Finally, demonstrate a cross-body tap method to underscore the sounds in the word. For the word dog say /d/ and touch or tap your opposite shoulder with your hand. Next say the middle sound and touch the bend of your arm. Finally, say the final sound and tap the opposite hand, then slide your hand down the opposite arm from top to bottom as you say the word normally. Have the students copy you both in the cross body tapping and in saying the sounds.

Phonemic Awareness: Teaching Young Children to Rhyme

According to research by the National Institute for Children's Health and Development, children should enjoy more than 1000 hours of "lap time" before they enter school. That's more than 1000 hours of hearing nursery rhymes, singing songs, playing pat-a-cake and peek-a-boo, hearing tongue twisters and silly stories and sound games. For children who have this opportunity, the skill of rhyming is usually learned unconsciously and effortlessly. However, for those students who enter formal schooling without the skill of rhyming, learning it can be a laborious task! 

Why is rhyming so important? Does it really matter if children know that Jill rhymes with hill? Yes! Rhyming paves the wave to future reading success.

Rhyming impacts many components of the reading continuum. It teaches children about patterns and structures in both spoken and written words. It helps children to read with inflection and animation which leads to increased fluency and comprehension. Rhyming is a crucial skill that will lead to enhanced decoding skills, especially when reading multi-syllabic content words. It helps children be more aware of the commonalities in letter sequences, which will make them better writers and spellers.

Teaching Children To Rhyme

As with any new skill, teaching a student to rhyme takes practice. A typical student will master a new skill after 25 opportunities to practice. But for a child with lack of exposure, speech and/or language difficulties, or for second language learners, the amount of practice required may be as much as 25 x 25! That's a lot of practice, however, it will be worth the effort because learning to rhyme will increase awareness of the phonology and graphology of English, which are imperative to reading, writing, and oral communication.

The first step in teaching a young learner to rhyme is to start with traditional "lap time" activities. "Lap time" activities are known as such because they are the activities that a mother would typically engage in when playing with language as she holds a young child on her lap, i.e. nursery rhymes, finger plays, and songs. It is of upmost importanceto begin with these primary activities with second language learners, because, for them, this will be their primary language experience.

Begin with activities that are easily memorized. Call attention to rhymes using songs, fingerplays, and simple stories. Use full or cross-body actions that will increase brain-power. Don't be afraid to start small, in fact, starting small is a must! The students do not need to learn how to rhyme in one week or even in one semester.

Start with words that rhyme with cat. I love these little rhyming tubs. Children love the little objects and the auditory/visual connection assists young learners. To begin, I simply dump out the -at tub of objects in a pile, pick them up one-by-one, and identify them.  We take the time to discuss each object's label and definition. Don’t take anything for granted. Not all children know what a baseball bat is. Always throughly define the items. 

After all objects are named, I then pick them up again one-by-one saying only their name and ask, “Does anyone see anything these words have in common?” If there is no answer, I again pick up each object and exaggerate each word, opening my mouth wide, holding my chin, and pointing to my mouth (giving the children visual cues for clarity). I again ask the question, and usually a child will quickly mention my mouth. I will then say the word cat and ask students to repeat the word as they place their hands on their cheeks. "All of these objects are rhyming words and so my mouth is the same for each word." At this point I pull out my hand mirrors and ask students to say the name of each object as they watch their mouth. After we have watched our mouth “speak” each rhyming word, I ask the students to say a word that uses complete opposite mouth positioning such as chip. I then have the students hold their cheeks as they say the words in the object pile: cat, rat, bat, sat, mat, followed quickly by chip. “Did you feel your mouth move differently?” Well that word can’t rhyme with cat then, because your mouth must stay the same at the end of each rhyming word. 

I continue this process for the first several sessions with these students, reviewing a learned rhyming family at the end of each lesson, always having students hold their cheeks (or jaw if the words contain jaw-dropping vowels) as we list the rhyming words. I do this review in a my-turn, your-turn fashion. For example, I hold my cheeks and say pig and then point both hands at the students while they say pig. This process continues for weeks with many different examples.

After I have taught the vocabulary that I want rhymed, the mouth positioning, and practiced rhyming families, it is time to slowly ask students to produce and then generate rhyming words using meaningful games and activities. This process to teach rhyme may seem labor intensive. It is! The benefits of that labor are imperative to the child’s future reading success!