Every time you chant along to a favorite children's rhyme or read aloud from a book like One Fish, Two Fish,
Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss, you are helping children develop phonemic awareness. Notice the rhyme in this excerpt:
Hop! Hop! Hop!
I am a Yop.
All I like to do is hop
from finger top
to finger top.
I hop from left to right
I hop right back again.
What it means
When children identify that the words hop,
Yop, and top rhyme, they are developing phonemic
awareness. Phonemic awareness is the ability to understand and hear
that a word is made up of a series of discrete sounds or phonemes.
For example, the word did
is made up of three phonemes (/d/ /i/ /d/). This skill allows children to take words apart, put them together, and alter them. Research indicates that phonemic awareness is a strong predictor of early success in reading (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998).
Marilyn Jager Adams outlines five basic types of phonemic awareness tasks tutors can perform with children (Adams, 1990).
1. Rhyme and Alliteration
- Listen for the two words that rhyme in a
string of words like cat, boy, bat.
- Recognize examples of alliteration, such as
Sally sells seashells by the seashore.
2. Oddity Tasks
- Listen for the word that does not rhyme in a
string of words like sat, sit, mat.
- Listen for the word that begins with a
different sound in a string of words like boy, bit,
3. Blending Words and Splitting Syllables
- Listen to the word parts, /m/ … an, and blend
the parts together to make the word man.
4. Orally Segmenting Words
- Listen to the whole word, dig, and then say the word parts, /d/ … ig.
5. Phonemic Manipulation Tasks
- Replace one sound with another. For example,
replace the first sound in cat with /m/ to make
mat, or replace the last sound in bin with /t/
to make bit.
What to look for
As you talk with, read to, and play word games with children, notice behaviors that indicate development of phonemic awareness. Children show progress with this skill when they can:
- Recognize that words have different numbers of syllables. Example: Child can tap out syllables in familiar words.
- Understand rhyming and rhyme words correctly.
Example: Presented with word groupings (e.g., bed/head,
tent/rent, tent/tub), child can pick out rhyming pairs.
- Blend words that have been divided into
syllables. Example: The tutor says wa / ter and the child says
- Rhyme word families. Example: cat, rat,
fat, sat, hat.
For a complete overview of children's development in this and other skill areas discussed in this
article, refer to the LEARNS Literacy Assessment Profile (LLAP).
How to support learning
Practicing phonemic awareness can be fun and
inventive and helps improve reading ability for young children at
risk for reading difficulties (Brady, Fowler, Stone, & Winbury,
1994). Children enjoy language and word games. As you work with
children, let them make up nonsense or silly words; while the word
gog may not be a real word, it does rhyme with
Here are a few activities to get you started:
1. Rhyme Time
- Read a favorite poem or rhyme aloud, pointing to the words as you read. Ask children to recite it with you. Once they are familiar with the poem, ask them to tell you which words rhyme. Children will enjoy stomping their feet when they hear a rhyme and substituting new words for the rhyming words.
2. Round Robin Rhymes
- Invite a small group of children to sit in a
circle and make up a story that rhymes. Provide children with the
beginning of each sentence and have them finish it with rhyming
words. For example, Once upon a time a dog went to the park
with a (hog, log, frog, clog). The dog saw a cat with a (bat, hat,
3. Silly Riddles
- Give children a word and a letter, and ask
them to think of another word that rhymes and begins with the new
letter. For example, What word rhymes with dig and begins with
For more information, see the LEARNS website for this article and bibliographical references at www.nwrel.org/learns/feature/index.html.