Phonemic Awareness and how it can help

21 March 2019
Michael Cole

How now Brown Cow?

A pretty simple phrase really. Let's try another

Moses Supposes His Toeses Are Roses

Now, I know that you are not reading this to rhyme all day, so let me get to the point. 

See how these words with different meanings, different spellings, all have similar sounds?

Those sounds are called Phonemes. These phonemes are the individual sounds that make up our words. Some letters have more than one phoneme (e.g., long and short vowel sounds). Some phonemes can be represented by more than one letter (for example, a /k/ sound can be written with the letter C or the letter K, or even CK). Sometimes a single phoneme is written with multiple letters (such as the /sh/ in ship)

Phonemic awareness is a broad skill that includes identifying and manipulating units of oral language – parts such as words, syllables, and onsets and rimes. Children who have phonological awareness are able to identify and make oral rhymes, can clap out the number of syllables in a word, and can recognize words with the same initial sounds like 'money' and 'mother.'

With me so far?

Basically, it is these sounds that make up the English language.

How for the hard part. There are  44 phonemes but only 26 letters in its alphabet.  

That means that many letters of the alphabet will be doing double, and maybe triple duty with different sounds.

While many languages, such as Spanish, German, and Polish, are considered phonetic languages, others, such as Chinese, Japanese, and Swiss German, are not. English falls somewhere in the middle. Sound and symbol relationships and spelling patterns exist in English, but there are also many words that do not sound at all the way they are spelled.

Now, it might be confusing that a spelling website would spend time talking about oral pronunciation or sounds, but children have a tendency to spell it as it sounds. So if they do not understand how "KAT" is spelled "C-A-T."

For a child that just figured out that R-E-D spells red, it will be mind-blowing to know that R-E-A-D can sound the same in one set of circumstances, and totally different in another.

That is why phonemic awareness and phonetic spelling go hand in hand.

Now, I bet you are wondering, what the heck is "phonetic spelling?"

Simply put, phonetic spelling is spelling words the way they sound. While each letter in English is assigned at least one sound, there are lots of letters or letter combinations that are pronounced differently in different words.

For example, the letter 'p' is frequently assigned the /p/ as in the word 'paper,' however, if it's paired with the letter 'h,' as in 'phone,' the 'ph' together make the /f/.

Similarly, the letter 's' usually makes the /s/ as in 'soup,' but when it is paired with the /h/, as in the word 'ship,' it makes a unique sound.

So you can see why phonetic awareness is not only important, it is vital. Students at risk for reading difficulty often have lower levels of phonological awareness and phonemic awareness than do their classmates. 

But used effectively, phonemic awareness can be developed through a number of activities. 

So there is hope.

Below are links to parts of the article you can jump to for a more in-depth and concise look



Image by khamkhor from Pixabay


What it Looks Like

Now the question most likely is, how do I know if my child is struggling.

Odds are that if you are reading this, then you probably do, but let's run through a checklist.

A parent's perspective: What I see at home

Here are some clues for parents that a child may have problems with phonological or phonemic awareness:

  • She has difficulty thinking of rhyming words for a simple word like cat (such as rat or bat).
  • She doesn't show interest in language play, word games, or rhyming

What parents can do to help at home

I am a strong proponent of the idea that learning begins at home. A child that is emersed in a supportive environment outside of the school that encourages learning and self-discovery will prosper

  • Check with your child's teacher or principal to make sure the school's reading program teaches phonological, phonemic awareness, and phonics skills.
  • If your child is past the ages at which phonemic awareness and phonological skills are taught class-wide (usually kindergarten to first or second grade), make sure he or she is receiving one-on-one or small group instruction in these skills.
  • Do activities to help your child build sound skills (make sure they are short and fun; avoid allowing your child to get frustrated):
    • Help your child think of a number of words that start with the /m/ or /ch/ sound, or other beginning sounds.
    • Make up silly sentences with words that begin with the same sound, such as "Nobody was nice to Nancy's neighbor".
    • Play simple rhyming or blending games with your child, such as taking turns coming up with words that rhyme (go – no) or blending simple words (/d/, /o/, /g/ = dog).
  • Read books with rhymes. Teach your child rhymes, short poems, and songs.
  • Practice the alphabet by pointing out letters wherever you see them and by reading alphabet books.
  • Consider using computer software that focuses on developing phonological and phonemic awareness skills. Many of these programs use colorful graphics and animation that keep young children engaged and motivated. SpellQuiz is a great resource since it combines oral dictation and allows the child to convert the oral into the written

A teacher's perspective: What I see in the classroom

Here are some clues for teachers that a student may have problems with phonological or phonemic awareness:

  • She doesn't correctly complete blending activities; for example, put together sounds /k/ /i/ /ck/ to make the word kick.
  • He doesn't correctly complete phoneme substitution activities; for example, change the /m/ in mate to /cr/ in order to make crate.
  • He has a hard time telling how many syllables there are in the word paper.
  • He has difficulty with rhyming, syllabication, or spelling a new word by its sound.

What teachers can do to help at school

Teachers, unfortunately, are not all trained in how to best help students that struggle with phonemes. Some because it is just not their particular content area (after all, if your degree was history, English will not be a strong area. And if you are a teacher that got alternative certification, this may not have been touched upon in your pedagogy classes), or it is just because it might be an area that the teacher is unsure of the best way to approach.

  • Learn all about phonemes (there are more than 40 speech sounds that may not be obvious to fluent readers and speakers).
  • Make sure the school's reading program and other materials include skill-building in phonemes, especially in kindergarten and first grade (these skills do not come naturally, but must be taught).
  • If children are past the age at which phonemic awareness and phonological skill-building are addressed (typically kindergarten through first or second grade), attend to these skills one-on-one or in a small group. Ask your school's reading specialist for help finding a research-based supplemental or intervention program for students in need.
  • Identify the precise phoneme awareness task on which you wish to focus on and select developmentally appropriate activities for engaging children in the task. Activities should be fun and exciting – play with sounds, don't drill them.
  • Make sure your school's reading program and other materials include systematic instruction in phonics.
  • Consider teaching phonological and phonemic skills in small groups since students will likely be at different levels of expertise. Remember that some students may need more reinforcement or instruction if they are past the grades at which phonics is addressed by a reading program (first through third grade).

A kid's perspective: What this feels like to me

Children will usually express their frustration and difficulties in a general way, with statements like "I hate reading!" or "This is stupid!". But if they could, this is how kids might describe how difficulties with phonological or phonemic awareness affect their reading:

  • I don't know any words that rhyme with cat.
  • What do you mean when you say, "What sounds are in the word brush?"
  • I'm not sure how many syllables are in my name.
  • I don't know what sounds are the same in bit and hit.

What kids can do to help themselves

One of the hardest things for a person to do is admit that they are having a problem. However, the student knows better than anyone else what problems they are having. 

The first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one. A student that is not willing to help themselves cannot be helped. 

Though this might not be a problem in a younger student, for the older student that is still having these reading problems or are ESL, these might be things that the student can do to aid their learning.

  • Be willing to play word and sounds games with parents or teachers.
  • Be patient with learning new information related to words and sounds. Giving the ears a workout is difficult!
  • Practice hearing the individual sounds in words. It may help to use a plastic chip as a counter for each sound you hear in a word.
  • Be willing to practice writing. This will give you a chance to match sounds with letters.







Image by himanshu gunarathna from Pixabay


Learning is doing.

The best advice that anyone can give for phonetic spelling, is to just do it.

Coupled with Sight Words, phonetic learning is a sure fire way to give any child a great foundation into spelling and reading.

Research indicates a strong relationship between early phoneme awareness and later reading success, and it links some reading failure to insufficiently developed phoneme awareness skills. Intervention research clearly demonstrates the benefits of explicitly teaching phoneme awareness skills.

Many children at risk for reading failure are in general education classrooms where phoneme awareness training is not part of their reading program. This article presents a set of developmental phoneme awareness training activities that the special educator can integrate collaboratively into existing kindergarten and first-grade reading programs.

Instructional considerations

Before preparing to conduct phoneme awareness activities in a general education setting, the special educator needs to become familiar with the method being used to teach reading and should observe the class in action.

Most of the phoneme awareness activities should not take more than 15 or 20 minutes to complete and should fit the context of the classroom. Although a particular activity can be selected well in advance, the specific words targeted for phoneme awareness should be selected from material used actively in the class, such as a story or picture book that was just read and discussed, the immediate environment, words fitting a thematic unit being taught, or discussions about a field trip.

Phoneme awareness activities work well in classrooms where teachers implement shared reading. Typically, after previewing the text with the class, the teacher reads aloud a large-print text on a chart or in a big book, the teacher and children read the selection together, and then students complete individual activities related to the selection (Holdaway, 1979). Phoneme awareness activities are a natural extension of the shared reading activities.

To be successful, however, the general educator and special educator must plan ahead for sharing time, space, and teaching together in a collaborative effort. The benefits for the children far outweigh any disadvantages for the teachers. The willingness of the special educator to fit the activities to the contexts of the classroom can help diminish any existing reluctance a general education teacher might have toward phoneme awareness training.

Specific guidelines

Teachers need to be aware of the developmental requirements of phoneme awareness activities. For example, when teaching children to partition words into parts, segmenting a compound word into its two parts ("What two words do you hear in cowboy?") precedes segmenting syllables and sounds.

Similarly, identification tasks ("Which one doesn't rhyme — cathatsun?") are generally easier than production tasks ("Tell me the first sound in car"). The difficulty level of most activities can be manipulated by changing the input or response modes. For example, "Find the picture that starts with /r/" will be easier than "What sounds do you hear in robe?" A set of guidelines to keep in mind when planning instructional activities is provided below.

Instructional Guidelines for Planning Phonetic Spelling Exercises 

  1. Identify the precise phoneme awareness task on which you wish to focus on and select developmentally appropriate activities for engaging children in the task. Activities should be fun and exciting — "play" with sounds, don't "drill" them.
  2. Be sure to use phoneme sounds (represented by / /) and not letter names when doing the activities. Likewise, remember that one sound may be represented by two or more letters. There are only three sounds in the word cheese: /ch/-/ee/-/z/. You may want to target specific sounds/words at first and "practice" beforehand until you are comfortable making them.
  3. Continuant sounds (e.g., /m/, /s/, /i/) are easier to manipulate and hear than stop consonants (e.g., /t/, /q/, /p/). When introducing continuants, exaggerate by holding on to them: rrrrrring; for stop consonants, use iteration (rapid repetition): k-k-k-k-katie .
  4. When identifying sounds in different positions, the initial position is easiest, followed by the final position, with the medial position being most difficult (e.g., toppotsetter).
  5. When identifying or combining sound sequences, a CV pattern should be used before a VC pattern, followed by a CVC pattern (e.g., pieeggred).*

*Note: CV = consonant-vowel; VC = vowel-consonant; CVC = consonant-vowel-consonant

Awareness of onset and rhyme

Phonograms are the common elements in word families (e.g., the letter sequence "and" in sandhandband, and land). The initial consonant that changes the meaning of the word is called an onset and the following vowel/consonant combination that remains constant is called a rhyme. Because awareness of syllables, onsets, and rimes develops before awareness of phonemes (Goswami, 1994, p. 36), the first set of suggestions focuses on ways to expose children to wordplay.


A natural and spontaneous way of providing children with exposure to phonemes is to focus on literature that deals playfully with speech sounds through rhymes. Simple rhyme patterns are easily recalled after repeated exposure, and children will get the idea of creating new rhymes.

In There's a Wocket in My Pocket (Seuss, 1974), initial sounds of everyday objects are substituted as a child talks about the strange creatures around the house, such as the "zamp in the lamp." Children can make up their own strange creatures in the classroom such as the "Zuk in my book."

Alliteration is the repetition of an initial consonant sound across several words, such as presented in the alphabet book Faint Frogs Feeling Feverish and Other Terrifically Tantalizing Tongue Twisters (Obligato, 1983).

Assonance, the repetition of vowel sounds within words, is often combined with rhyme, as in "It rains and hails and shakes the sails" from Sheep on a Ship (Shaw, 1989) or in humorous ways such as "The tooter tries to tutor two tooters to toot" in Moses Supposes His Toeses Are Roses (Patz, 1983). Some books include music to go with the rhymes, such as Down by the Bay (Raffi, 1987), in which two children try to outdo one another in making up questions that rhyme, such as "Did you ever see a goose kissing a moose?"

Yopp (1995) presented an annotated bibliography of 44 books for young children that deal playfully with language. She also provided guidelines for using these books in class:

  1. read and reread the stories;
  2. comment on the language use;
  3. encourage predictions of sound, word, and sentence patterns;
  4. comment on or elicit specific aspects of sound patterns (e.g., "What sound do you hear at the beginning of all those words?"); and
  5. be creative in inventing new versions of the language patterns utilized in the stories.

Word families chart

The exposure to rhymes leads naturally to the use of phonograms and the creation of word family charts. Charts can contain words from one story or a brain-stormed list from the children.

A story that leads naturally to a word family chart is Tog the Dog (Hawkins & Hawkins, 1986), which is constructed so that as each page is turned, a different letter lines up with the rhyme "og." For example, when Tog takes a jog, the letter "j" lines up with the "og." The children can dictate to the teacher words to be placed on a word family chart. As they begin to develop letter/sound knowledge, they can copy or write the words themselves.

You can use magnetic letters to "create" words for a word family chart. Provide a rime of plastic letters (e.g., at) and have the children take turns placing different letters in the onset position to create new words (e.g., hatbatsatrat). These charts can be used as reference charts (or the children can make their own word families reference book) for spelling and creative writing activities.

Direct instruction

Children who are struggling with recognizing and creating rhymed words may need more direct intervention. Initial rhyme recognition can be reinforced by direct modeling of instances (nose/rose) and non-instances (bed/car) of rhyming word pairs. The children are then presented other word pairs and asked if the two words sound the same or sound different.

This can be made into a game-like activity by having them respond with a "happy face" card if the words rhyme and a "sad face" card if they don't (or they can use a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" response). It is important for the teacher to ask a child to repeat the rhyming pairs in this and the following activities to reinforce the verbal production of rhymed words.

Pictures provide visual cues for rhyme recognition and can be used during the modeling phase of instruction. The teacher can then present three pictures and ask the child to select and say the two that rhyme. A variation would be to display two nonrhyming pictures and have the child select the one that rhymes with the word being said by the teacher.

Bradley and Bryant (1983) used an activity called "Odd Word Out," which can be done with or without pictures. Four words, three of which rhyme, are presented by the teacher (e.g., weedbeadpillseed). The child determines which word is the odd one that doesn't belong with the others.

The game of concentration or memory is a good practice activity for rhyme recognition. Separate pictures (not printed words) of rhyming word pairs (e.g., cat/bat) are shuffled, and all are placed face down in a grid pattern. The children take turns turning two cards face-up, trying to match a rhyme pair. If a match is made, the child keeps that pair and takes another turn. If not, the cards are turned face down and the next child gets a turn.

A summary of activities to heighten awareness of onset and rhyme is offered in the table below.

Awareness of Onset and Rhyme

Focus Example  


a. Rhyme patterns:

There's a Wocket in My Pocket (Seuss, 1974)

b. Alliteration:

Faint Frogs Feeling Feverish and Other Terrifically Tantalizing Tongue Twisters (Obligato, 1983)

c. Assonance:

Moses Supposes His Toeses Are Roses (Patz, 1983)

Word families chart

a. Phonograms

Create words by adding beginning sounds — /b/ + at = bat

What is another word that sounds like bat?

Use literature — Tog the Dog (Hawkins & Hawkins, 1986

Create individual word family reference books

Direct instruction

a. Rhyming word pairs:

Do these sound the same (nose/rose) or different (bed/car)

b. Odd word out

Which one doesn't belong? (weedbeadpillseed)

c. Rhyming word pair concentration

Name the pictures out loud. Find two that rhyme.

Simple phonemic awareness

Isolated sound recognition

As stated by Lewkowicz (1980), "Children should be familiarized with speech sounds in isolation before they attempt to detect sounds within words" (p. 694). Because children are usually unaware that words are made up of individual speech sounds that can be produced in isolation, it is up to the teacher to provide children with a concept of speech sounds.

This is probably best done by associating phonemes with a creature, an action, or an object that is familiar to the child. For example, the phoneme /s/ can be associated with the hissing sound a snake makes — sssssss. A sound personality can be created by calling /s/ the "Sammy snake" sound. Many sounds have natural associations, such as a crowing rooster for /r/, a buzzing bee for /z/, and the "be quiet" sound for /sh/.

Sound personalities can be introduced naturally and in context by selecting a particular sound to talk about that is stressed in the alphabet or other books that use alliteration. For example, Obligato (1983) presented "smiling snakes sipping strawberry sodas" for the alphabet letter S. It is helpful to create or provide pictures that represent these sound personalities and to post them in the room as each is introduced. A natural connection can sometimes be made between the sound and the letter, such as presenting a picture of "Sammy snake" drawn in the shape of the letter S or "Buzzy bee" flying in a pattern of the letter Z (see Figure 1).

Besides providing a label to facilitate talking about sounds, the pictures provide self-correcting cues for children engaged in initial sound isolation and sound-to-word matching activities.

Word, syllable, and phoneme counting

Because words and syllables are more salient and more directly perceivable than individual phonemes, activities that involve counting the number of words in a sentence or syllables in a word can be used as initial steps leading to isolated phoneme synthesis and segmentation (Lundberg, Frost, & Peterson, 1988).

Word counting can be done for any sentence selected from a reading or writing lesson. The sentence should be read to the children without being visible. The children listen and place a marker from left to right for each word heard. The teacher can confirm the number of words by showing the printed sentence to the children, pointing to each word as it is read, and having the children touch their tokens in one-to-one correspondence. Or the teacher can reinforce the children's "counting" using auditory input only by repeating the sentence and having them touch each token to confirm the number of words heard.

To count syllables in words, activities can be used such as clapping hands, tapping the desk, or marching in place to the syllables in children's names (Ma-ry), items in the immediate environment (win-dow), or words from a favorite story (wi-shywa-shy). Initially, two-syllable words can be targeted, building up to three. Visible, manipulable representation of sounds also helps to clarify and guide counting and segmentation tasks for beginners (Lewkowicz, 1980).

The marker activity used for word counting can be adapted for use in counting syllables by providing each child with two or three horizontally connected boxes drawn on a sheet of paper. The children place a token in each box from left to right as they hear each syllable in a word. These same activities can be used to count sounds in words.

Sound synthesis

Sound synthesis or sound blending is an essential skill related to later reading ability (Lewkowicz, 1980; Lundberg et al., 1988; Wagner, Torgeson, Laughon, Simmons, & Bashotte, 1993) and one of the easiest phoneme awareness tasks for children to perform (Yopp, 1988).

Sound synthesis can be done using the following sequence: blending an initial sound onto the remainder of a word, followed by blending syllables of a word together and then blending isolated phonemes into a word.

The teacher can model blending an initial sound onto a word by using the jingle, "It starts with /l/ and it ends with ight, put it together, and it says light." When they have the idea, the children supply the final word.

An element of excitement can be created by using children's names for this activity and asking each child to recognize and say his or her own name when it is presented — "It starts with /b/ and it ends with etsy, put it together and it says ." Context can be provided by limiting the words to objects that can be seen in the room or to words from a particular story the children just read. As the children become proficient, they can take turns using the jingle to present their own words to be blended by the class.

Guessing games that utilize words broken into syllables or isolated phonemes provide fun sound blending activities.

One involves using a puppet (perhaps representing a character from a current reading lesson) who speaks "funny" by saying words syllable-by-syllable or sound-by-sound for the children to figure out. Initial clues can be provided by displaying three pictures, one of which is the word being said by the puppet. The puppet can confirm or negate a student response by picking up the picture and saying the word being segmented: "/f/-/i/-/sh/ — I said fish!"

Another is the familiar "What's in the bag?" activity. Instead of describing what is in the bag, the teacher says the word syllable-by-syllable or sound-by-sound and the children guess the word. A correct response is confirmed when the teacher brings the object out of the bag.

Yopp (1992) suggested the use of song games and presented an example to the tune of "If You're Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands":

If you think you know this word, shout it out!
If you think you know this word, shout it out!
If you think you know this word,
Then tell me what you've heard,
If you think you know this word, shout it out!

The teacher says a segmented word such as /k/-/a/-/t/, and the children respond by saying the blended word.

Sound-to-word matching

Sound-to-word matching is useful as a beginning step in sound segmentation. Basically, sound-to-word matching requires that the child identify the beginning sound of a word.

Awareness of the initial sound in a word can be done by showing the children a picture (dog) and asking the children to identify the correct word out of three: "Is this a /mmm/-og, a /d/d/d/-og, or a /sss/-og?" A variation is to ask if the word has a particular sound: "Is there a /d/ in dog?" This can then be switched to "Which sound does dog start with — /d/, /sh/, or /l/?" This sequence encourages the children to try out the three onsets with the rhyme to see which one is correct.

It is easiest to use continuants that can be exaggerated and prolonged to heighten the sound input. Iteration should be used with stop consonants to add emphasis.

Yopp (1992) also suggested the use of songs in sound matching activities. One of several examples she presented uses the tune of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm":

What's the sound that starts these words?
Turtletime, and teeth.
(Wait for a response from the children.)
/t/ is the sound that starts these words:
Turtletime, and teeth.
With a /t/, /t/ here, and a /t/, /t/ there,
Here a /t/, there a /t/, everywhere a /t/, /t/.
/t/ is the sound that starts these words:
Turtletime, and teeth! (p. 700)

The children might use favorite stories from their reading lessons to identify different sets of three words that start with the same sound to incorporate into the song. Each repeated verse could then emphasize a different sound. The teacher again is cautioned to use the phoneme sounds, not the letter names for these activities.

Identification of sound positions

Establishing that sounds occur in different positions of words — initial, final, and medial — helps some children with the later task of segmenting whole words into isolated sound components.

One method of representing sound positions is to display a picture of a train composed of an engine, a passenger car, and a caboose. Three connecting boxes can be drawn under each component: one under the engine, connected to one under the passenger car, connected to the one under the caboose (use poster board and laminate). Explain that words have a beginning, middle, and end sounds just like the train has a beginning, a middle, and an end part.

Demonstrate by slowly articulating a CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant word (e.g., /p/-/i/-/g/) and pointing to the box corresponding to the position of each sound in the word. You can then repeat the word and ask the children to identify where they hear the different sounds — "Where do you hear the /g/ in pig?" Slowly articulate other CVC words for them to listen to and have them mark the box under the train that indicates the position of the sound you specify.

Sound segmentation

Segmenting refers to the act of isolating the sounds in a spoken word by separately pronouncing each one in order (Ball & Blachman, 1991; Spector, 1992; Wagner et al., 1993).

Yopp (1988) stated that segmenting the sounds in a word is one of the more difficult simple phonemic tasks for children to perform. Lewkowicz (1980) and Yopp (1992) suggested starting with isolated productions of initial phonemes as a precursor to segmenting entire words. The previous sound-to-word matching and identification of position activities help in early recognition and practice with initial phonemes.


Phonetic spelling looks tricky when you first look at it.

Don't get discouraged!

There is a lot to absorb, and take in, but the end result is well worth it. Your child will have a foundation to build vocabulary on that will open the doors to learning.

Spell like a champ!










Who doesn't like to play games?

All the better when that game encourages learning and mastery of a concept.

A few years back, I was talking to a friend that dealt with computer programming and development.  We were talking about the fact that younger people seem to learn how to use new devices faster than older people.

After all, you would think with more world experience and maturity an older person would grasp concepts faster.

His answer? 


He argued that a younger person grasps how to use newer technologies simply because they are learning it in a fun and entertaining way. Older people are using technology for more employment and required based learning.

In other words, there is no excitement in learning how to master the technology.

The theory can be applied to almost any learning setting.

It is why educational games are so popular. It is why a person can learn the rules to baseball and football, but cringe at learning the motor vehicle rules.

So the best way to learn phonetics and sight words is to play games.

Here is a list of some games that I have found online that will be helpful

1. Scoop & Spell {This Reading Mama} It’s a hands-on word building and spelling activity. I would suggest possibly modifying it to where the student has to give the phonetic spelling or sound of the letter.

2. Sidewalk Chalk Spelling Hop {Relentlessly Fun, Deceptively Educational} Hopscotch, except with letters. All you need is sidewalk chalk and you are off to the races!

3. Stamp Your Words {Lessons Learnt Journal} The most important skill in early reading is the ability to read single words completely, accurately, and fluently. Phonics helps kids read single words out of context by giving them the tools to sound words out, which helps them read and comprehend text. Phonics is not the only skill they need to master in order to read, but it is one of the skills.

This game is easy to learn, but has as many options as there are words.

4. Go on a Word Treasure Hunt {Hands On: As we Grow} a treasure hunt to search for the letters of a few of his current list of sight words. 

5. Make a Spelling Word Search Puzzle {This Reading Mama} Just recently, I made a blank spelling word search puzzles for my son. Why was it blank? Because HE made the puzzles. My favorite thing about these spelling word search puzzles is that he (not I) was doing all the work. And when kids do the work in fun ways, THEY benefit from all the learning.

6. Use a Spelling Dictionary {The Measured Mom} Have you ever thought that the best way to teach a child phonetic spelling and reading is to let them create their own dictionary?

7. Dot Sticker Spelling {School Time Snippets} imagine scrabble, except with colored dots!

8. Post-a-Word {This Reading Mama} I never thought about using post-it notes as a sort of scavenger hunt for words! You could use phonetic spelling words and do the same!

9. Make a Giant Crossword Puzzle {A Mom with a Lesson Plan} I am really starting to see the uses of sidewalk chalk! Make the phonetic spelling as larger as life with this game!

10. Phonics Jumping Game {Learners in Bloom}  Hopscotch with a twist! Jump on the proper phonetic square to sound out the word!

11. Play Word Rocket {Playdough to Plato} count down to success in phonetics and spelling!

12. Spell with Beads {Frugal Fun 4 Boys}  kids just love doing things with their hands. They also like creating things. Why not make beaded words?

13. Spell with LEGO Letters {This Reading Mama} I grew up with tubs of legos. I think most families have a bucket or two around. So why not try this original take on building words, learning sight words, or phonetic spelling ?

14. Spell the Most Words Game {No Time for Flashcards} Have a Connect Four game laying around somewhere? Turn it into a connect phonetic spelling words game!

15. Spinning Straw Spellers {Still Playing School} Its never too early to teach phonetics or motor skills!

16. Build Words with Rocks {Sugar Ants} Kids love rocks. Why not combine phonetic spelling and a rock garden!

17. Glitter Spelling {Here Come the Girls} glitter is here to stay! I stull have glitter on the floor at my parents home from my child hood. So why not find a sparling way to teach phonetic words!

18. Play Word Bump! {This Reading Mama} this is a game that couple math, phonetics, and sight words. may the odds be forever in your favor!

19. Roll a Sight Word {I Can Teach My Child} this one is more geared for sight words, but can be adapted to phonetic spelling. The child rolls a dice and whatever it lands on, they have to spell a word with that many letters. You could do it with phonetic spellings as well!

20. Making Words {Buggy and Buddy} When I was a kid, we would play a game where we would pull a word from teh dictionary and then have so many seconds towrite as many words as we could from the letters of that word.  I could see this one adapted to a phonetic spelling game easily! 

21. Paint your Words {Childhood 101} Paint and words! Why not let your child paint the word /K//A//T/?

22. Oversized Letter Cards for Spelling {This Reading Mama} Go big or go home! What better way to capture the interest of your child than by giving them big words to form big skills?

23. Seek and Find Spelling Game {What Do We Do All Day?} Digging for buried letters is much like digging for buried treasure! 

24. Rainbow Write Your Words {Nurture Store} What better pot of gold at the end of a rainbow than the gift of phonetic mastery?

25. Words 3 Ways {Teach Mama}  Trace. Copy. Recall. It works on learning sight words, it can surely help on phonetic spelling

 26. Use Crayon Resist {This Reading Mama} Crayons, watercolors, and words! What better way to learn!

27. Spell with Pipe Cleaners {Make and Takes} What more fun than making the letters and sounding them out? Making the letters with pipe cleaners, that's what!

28. Spell with Your Fingers {Home School Innovation} Trace out the word, now tell me how it is spelled phonetically.

29. Use Word Sorts {This Reading Mama} One of the biggest problems to going from phonetic spelling to regular spelling is all the silent letters that appear. Well, this game can help with phonetical spelling and the silent problem.

30. Spell with Cereal {A Mom with a Lesson Plan} Does your kid have a favourite cereal? Then why not let the Honey Nut Cheerios be a spelling tool and a snack?

31. Finger Tap Spelling {This Reading Mama} I think that this game is uniquely perfect for phonetical spelling. The child taps the sounds and syllables out, then spells the word.

32. Car Track Delivery Spelling Game {Stay at Home Educator} Boys like cars. And more than cars, they love driving their cars through an imaginary city. Why not let them pick up and deliver the right letters that sound out a word?

33. Make a Chalkboard Refrigerator Game {Enchanted Homeschooling Mom} Put a magnetic chalkboard on the refrigerator and challenge your children to spell the words of everything they use in the kitchen or the house that day

34. Visual Spelling Practice {Home Literacy Blueprint} There are so many children that are visual learners and sometimes trying to sound it out is a struggle. These are simple games for them.

35. Roll & Cover Spelling Words {This Reading Mama} Let the child take control of which words they concentrate on by letting them roll dice and spell words that have that many words. Ad a twist and make them spell it phonetically

36. Make a Spelling Garage {123 Homeschool 4 Me} Hotwheels and words, what could be a better way to learn?

37. Roll and Spell {Well-Nurtured Plants and Pillars} Roll a dice and spell the words

38. Letter Lacing {Mama Miss} Beads and pipe cleaners, words and phonetics...a fun time for all!

39. Roll & Write Words {This Reading Mama}  Roll the dice and spell the word

40. Spelling Hangman {Mom to 2 Posh Lil Divas} 

41. Waffle Words Spelling Game {The Homeschool Post}

42. Use a Board Game {Teach Beside Me}

43. Spell with a Word Family Dictionary {guest post on The Measured Mom}

44. Play a Word Stretching Game {The Pleasantest Thing}

45. DIY Spelling Word Puzzles {This Reading Mama}

45. Allow Invented Spelling {1+1+1=1}

46. Spelling Puzzles {No Time for Flash Cards}

47. Missing Letter Spelling Game {Imagination Soup}

48. Ride to Spell {This Reading Mama}

49. Spelling Battleship {Relentlessly Fun, Deceptively Educational}

50. Clip a Word {Sugar Ants}

51. Bottle Cap Spelling {This Reading Mama}

 With all these games, in no time flat, you will be able to spell like a champ!


Image by Jeniffer, Wai Ting Tan from Pixabay


You are probably wondering what this section is going to be about.

After all, so far we have talked about ways to prepare instruction, kinds of literature to use, even games that can be used to teach phonetics.

We have done everything but actually, show you what phonetics look like.

We have told you HOW to use phonetics without giving you the actual phonetics guide.

Phonetics spelling is simply those little weird symbols and spellings you see in the dictionary right after you see the correct spelling of the word and what the word means.

You know, the letters and symbols very few people ever pay attention to.

I know very few people pay attention to it because if more people did, there would not be so many mispronounced words out there.

Just kidding.

All joking aside, there are two ways that I will approach this. First I will give you a basic breakdown of all the pronunciations of the phonemes in a pretty concise manner that will give you a sort of cheat sheet to help your child get a good head start in the world of spelling and reading.

Then I will give you the chart of all the symbols you will encounter in the dictionary so you can pull words out to use to expand the vocabulary of your child. 

And maybe you as well.


Vowels are letters that are not consonants.

 Vowel sounds (phonemes) are produced when there is no closing of any part of the mouth or throat. Although there are five letters that represent vowels, there are 12 pure vowel sound and a total of 20 vowel sounds when factoring in diphthongs.

One set of vowel sounds are short vowels. Short vowel sounds do not sound like their corresponding letter names, such as the “a” in “cat”.

Another set of vowel sounds are long vowels, which are pronounced the same as their letter name. A vowel pattern that produces a long vowel is the silent “e” at the end of a word. For example, the “a” in “tale” sounds like its letter name because of the silent “e” in the word.

Below are other short and long vowel patterns and examples.

Vowel Patterns Examples

Vowel Pattern Word Examples
Short “a” fan, pan, man, mat, cat, rat
Short “e” pen, ten, when, bet, let, jet
Short “i” bit, pit, fit, fin, win, pin
Short “o” pot, lot, dot, hop, shop, drop
Short “u” fun, run, sun, bun, up, cup
Long “a” fail, rain, pail, tale, whale, male
Long “e” feet, sheep, keep, heat, meat, beat
Long “i” cried, pie, flies, file, mile, pile
Long “o” boat, coat, float, bone, cone, note
Long “u” blue, clue, true, cute, cube, tube


A diphthong, also known as a gliding vowel, is when one phoneme forms by combining two vowels in a single syllable. The sound begins as one vowel sound and moves towards another.

The most common diphthong spelling patterns in the English language are:

Diphthongs Examples

Diphthong Word Examples
“oy”/ “oi” boy, toy, joy, coin, joint, noise
“ow”/ “ou” howl, plow, now, cloud, round, mouse


Digraphs are two letters that form a single phoneme. 

Digraphs can be categorized as consonant digraphs or vowel digraphs. In a consonant digrapha joint set of consonants form one sound, like “sh” in shark. Consonant digraphs can appear at the beginning of a word (initial consonant digraphs) or the end of a word (final consonant digraphs).

vowel digraph is when two vowels generate one sound, such as “ay” in away. Vowel digraphs can appear at the beginning, middle, or end of a word.

The following table features other consonant and vowel digraphs:

Digraphs Examples

Digraph Consonant Digraph or Vowel Digraph Word Examples
“ch” Consonant Digraph chose, chair, ouch, much
“sh” Consonant Digraph shout, she, wash, rash
“th” Consonant Digraph thing, thank, teeth, math
“ay” Vowel Digraph say, stay, play, pay
“ea” Vowel Digraph each, cheat, wheat, neat
“oa” Vowel Digraph oat, float, goat, cloak

Consonant Blends

Consonant blends are a set of two or three consonant letters that when pronounced retain their sound. 

Consonant blends, also known as consonant clusters, can be found at the beginning of a word (initial blends) or the end a word (final blends). An example of an initial consonant blend is “br” in the word “break.”

An example of a final consonant blend is “st” in the word “list.”

Other initial and final consonant blends include:

Consonant Blends Examples

Blend Initial or Final Consonant Blend Word Examples
“bl-” Initial Blend blend, blind, blue
“cl-” Initial Blend climb, cloud, clue
“dr-” Initial Blend drama, drink, drive
“pl-” Initial Blend place, plan, play
“sm-” Initial Blend small, smell, smile
“-ct” Final Blend act, fact, project
“-lp” Final Blend gulp, help, scalp
“-mp” Final Blend camp, jump, stamp
“-nd” Final Blend and, band, land
“-rk” Final Blend bark, dark, park


Syllables are single units of speech and always include a vowel (or vowel-like) sound. 

A syllable that ends in a vowel is an open syllable. In an open syllable, a long vowel sound is produced, like the first syllable in the word “paper” (pa-per). A syllable that ends in a consonant is a closed syllable. Closed syllables contain a short vowel sound, such as the first syllable in the word “idol” (i-dol).

Open and Closed Syllables Examples

Open First Syllable apron (a-pron); bacon (ba-con); pilot (pi-lot); detail (de-tail)
Closed First Syllable seven (sev-en); doctor (doc-tor); locket (lock-et); thunder (thun-der)

Words can be monosyllabic (containing one syllable) or multisyllabic (containing more than one syllable). Disyllabic words are made up of two syllables and trisyllabic words are made up of three syllables. Below are examples of monosyllabic, disyllabic, and trisyllabic words.

Monosyllabic, Disyllabic, and Trisyllabic Examples

Monosyllabic Words cat; sun; act; bus; red; few; moon; week
Disyllabic Words issue (is-sue); party (party); tiger (ti-ger); women (wo-men); police (po-lice)
Trisyllabic Words magical (ma-gi-cal); energy (e-ner-gy); visitor (vi-si-tor); popular (po-pu-lar)

So as you can see, once you break it down, it is relatively simple

Now comes the fun part. the IPA chart.

And what, you ask, is the IPA chart?

That's a great question. First, let's find out what IPA means.

The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is an alphabetic system of phonetic notation based primarily on the Latin alphabet. It was devised by the International Phonetic Association in the late 19th century as a standardized representation of the sounds of spoken language.

The IPA chart is merely the symbols that stand for each sound.

Now, if you were to google IPA Chart, your mind will explode. 


You will see breakdowns of what each squiggly is called, what happens when you put this said squiggly with that said squiggly. What you get with the different tongue positions, whether two sounds can be used together. 

Secrets of the universe, and what happens if you cross the streams. (A little Ghostbusters humour there.)

But, we don't have time to learn that, and we would scar a child for life if we introduced the child to that.

So, we will be concentrating on what the symbols sound like.  You can always go back and torture yourself later.

H (hot) h SH (shut) sh (vet) v
(sit)  s TH (think) th (win) w
(tell) t TH (other) th NG (sing) ng
(man) m  SI (vision) zh  Z (zebra) z
 N (nut) n CH (chat)ch B (but)b
 D (dig) d G (get) g  F (fig)f
 K (king)k  P (pet)p  Y (yes) j
 L (lit)l  R (run)r  J (just) j
baiai bird ir bought or
father ar wee abouou
bat  a bite ai boyoy
wearair boatoa hutu
deereer fooooo pii
foooo computer schwa feeea
hoto purepure  

AS I said, the symbols do not make sense at first glance, but if you go here, you can see how the symbols are formed and how they interact.

However, that is not necessary. With the above symbols, you should be able to navigate the phonetic spelling of almost any commonly (and some not so common) used words in the English language.

Have fun, and remember to Spell like a Champ Today!




Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay


This article is not intended to be all-encompassing, but rather a primer for parents and teachers. These are some recent articles and books to look at for more information.

By: Beverly Vicker, Indiana Resource Center for Autism (2018)

Students with ASD can have strengths or challenges in either word recognition and language comprehension that will impact reading comprehension. It is important to assess, monitor, and track the word recognition or decoding skills and language comprehension skills as you evaluate reading comprehension.

By: Courtney Kelly, Ed.D. (2018)

If you are planning to purchase a literacy program for instruction, get as much information as you can about a program's benefits and effectiveness. This article provides basic comparative information about a range of commercially available literacy programs.

By: Nanci Bell (2017)

Learn some best practices in helping children with language processing issues learn to read in this Q&A with expert Nanci Bell, director of Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes. Find out what works with children who have weaknesses in concept imagery or symbol imagery.

By: Reading Rockets (2012)

Discover simple at-home activities you can use to help your child understand the connection between the letters of the alphabet and the sound associated with each letter.

By: Reading Rockets (2011)
Learn why phonological awareness is critical for reading and spelling, milestones for acquiring phonological skills, effective teaching strategies like rhyming games, how parents can help build skills, and more.
By: What Works Clearinghouse, U.S. Department of Education (2011)

The What Works Clearinghouse reviewed the research on two practices used in center-based settings with 3- to 5-year-old preK children, as well as a number of specific curricula. Positive results are shown for (1) Phonological awareness training and (2) Interactive and dialogic reading.

By: Louisa Moats, Carol Tolman (2009)

Basic listening skills and "word awareness" are critical precursors to phonological awareness. Learn the milestones for acquiring phonological skills.

By: Louisa Moats, Carol Tolman (2009)

Additional and explicit instruction in phonological awareness is a critical component in helping fourth-grade readers who struggle with phonological deficits. The exercises can be used as a warm-up prior to reading, spelling, or vocabulary instruction.

By: Reading Rockets (2009)

Blending (combining sounds) and segmenting (separating sounds) are phonological awareness skills that are necessary for learning to read. Developing your child's phonological awareness is an important part of developing your child as a reader. Learn how working on phonological awareness can be fun and easy below.

By: Bruce Murray (2009)

Phoneme awareness is the ability to identify phonemes, the vocal gestures from which words are constructed when they are found in their natural context as spoken words. Children need phoneme awareness to learn to read because letters represent phonemes in words.

By: Louisa Moats, Carol Tolman (2008)

Phonological awareness is critical for learning to read any alphabetic writing system. And research shows that difficulty with phoneme awareness and other phonological skills is a predictor of poor reading and spelling development.

By: Louisa Moats, Carol Tolman (2008)

Learn the six types of syllables found in English orthography, why it's important to teach syllables and the sequence in which students learn about both spoken and written syllables.

By: Reading Rockets (2008)

Kindergarten is where most children learn to read and write. Though some kids can do this before entering kindergarten, it is not required or expected. Being ready for kindergarten means having well-developed preschool skills, and being academically, socially, and physically ready for the transition. Here are some signs that your child is ready for kindergarten.

By: Reading Rockets (2007)

Nursery rhymes are important for young children because they help develop an ear for our language. Both rhyme and rhythm help kids hear the sounds and syllables in words, which helps kids learn to read! Here are some activities and recommended poetry books to aid your child's developing poetry, rhyming, and rhythm skills.

By: Sally E. Shaywitz (2004)

The earliest clues involve mostly the spoken language. The very first clue to a language (and reading) problem may be delayed language. Once the child begins to speak, look for difficulties with rhyming, phonemic awareness, and the ability to read common one-syllable words.

By: Reading Rockets (2004)
An informal assessment phonological awareness, including what the assessment measures when it should be assessed, examples of questions, and the age or grade at which the assessment should be mastered.
By: Reading Rockets (2004)

An informal assessment of phonemic awareness, including what the assessment measures, when it should be assessed, examples of questions, and the age or grade at which the assessment should be mastered.

By: Marilyn J. Adams, Barbara Foorman, Ingvar Lundberg, Terri Beeler (2004)

Activities that stimulate phonemic awareness in preschool and elementary school children are one sure way to get a child ready for reading! Here are eight of them from expert Marilyn Jager Adams.

By: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (2004)
Hearing the difference between similar sounding words such as grow and glow is easy for most children, but not for all children. Children who unable to hear these differences will be confused when these words appear in context, and their comprehension skills will suffer dramatically.
By: Reading Rockets (2004)
Children must understand how speech sounds work to be ready for instruction in reading and writing. There are many activities that you can do with your students to help them increase their knowledge of speech sounds and their relationship to letters.
By: Between the Lions (2003)

Creating a word family chart with the whole class or a small group builds phonemic awareness, a key to success in reading. Students will see how words look alike at the end if they sound alike at the end — a valuable discovery about our alphabetic writing system. They'll also see that one little chunk (in this case "-an") can unlock lots of words!

By: Judith Fontana (2002)

Moms, dads, or grandparents can play simple word games with kids to increase their ability to recognize and use letters and sounds. Try these games the next time you're on the go.

By: Beth Antunez (2002)

Find out how teachers can play to the strengths and shore up the weaknesses of English Language Learners in each of the Reading First content areas.

By: Sebastian Wren (2002)
Who can understand all the jargon that's being tossed around in education these days? Consider all the similar terms that have to do with the sounds of spoken words — phonics, phonetic spelling, phoneme awareness, phonological awareness, and phonology — all of them share the same "phon" root, so they are easy to confuse, but they are definitely different, and each, in its way, is very important in reading education. 
By: Partnership for Reading (2001)

Phonemic awareness is the ability to identify, hear, and manipulate the individual sounds in spoken words. Manipulating the sounds in words includes blending, stretching, or otherwise changing words.

By: Andrea DeBruin-Parecki, Kathryn Perkinson, Lance Ferderer (2000)

Identifying a reading problem is a challenge without a sense for what typical literacy development looks like. Find out what language accomplishments are typical for most children at the age of three to four.

By: International Dyslexia Association (2000)

Dyslexia is a language-based disability that affects both oral and written language. With help, children with dyslexia can become successful readers. Find out the warning signs for dyslexia that preschool and elementary school children might display.

By: Learning First Alliance (2000)
Early skills in alphabetics serve as strong predictors of reading success, while later deficits in alphabetics are the main source of reading difficulties. This article argues the importance of developing skills in alphabetics, including phonemic awareness, letter knowledge, and concepts of print. 
By: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (2000)

Alphabetics is a term for the letter-sound elements of learning to read, including phonemic awareness and phonics. In this summary, find out what practices for teaching alphabets have been proven effective by research.

By: David J. Chard, Shirley V. Dickson (1999)

Research-based guidelines for teaching phonological awareness and phonemic awareness to all children are described. Additional instructional design guidelines are offered for teaching children with learning disabilities who are experiencing difficulties with early reading.

By: Mary Fitzsimmons (1998)
This article describes two processes that are essential to teaching beginning reading to students with learning disabilities: phonological awareness and word recognition, and provides tips for teaching these processes to students. 
By: Marilyn J. Adams, Barbara Foorman, Ingvar Lundberg, Terri Beeler (1998)

Research shows that the very notion that spoken language is made up of sequences of little sounds does not come naturally or easily to human beings. The small units of speech that correspond to letters of an alphabetic writing system are called phonemes. Thus, the awareness that language is composed of these small sounds is termed phonemic awareness.

By: National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) (1998)

Children go through phases of reading development from preschool through third grade — from an exploration of books to independent reading. In kindergarten, children develop basic concepts of print and begin to engage in an experiment with reading and writing. Find out what parents and teachers can do to support kindergarten literacy skills.

By: National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) (1998)

Children go through phases of reading development from preschool through third grade — from an exploration of books to independent reading. In first grade, children begin to read simple stories and can write about a topic that is meaningful to them. Find out what parents and teachers can do to support first-grade literacy skills.

By: National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) (1998)
Children go through phases of reading development from preschool through third grade — from an exploration of books to independent reading. In preschool, children explore their environment and build the foundations for learning to read and write. Find out what parents and teachers can do to support preschool literacy skills.
By: Ed Kame'enui, Marilyn J. Adams, G. Reid Lyon (1996)

Children from a variety of backgrounds struggle with learning to read. However, as described in this article, research points to one common reason they struggle, and common strategies to help them succeed.

By: Marilyn J. Adams (1990)

Learn about the three powerful predictors of preschoolers' eventual success in learning to read.

By: Edwin S. Ellis

Phonemic awareness training is essential for students who are at risk for reading difficulties. This article describes the components of phonemic awareness and provides activities that special educators can use to provide this training to at-risk students.


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