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Phonics and Phonemic Awareness

There are five main elements to include in literacy lessons, two of which are phonics and phonemic awareness. These two are incredibly important in the development of early literacy skills. They work hand-in-hand and need to be focused on at the same time. In this blog post, I discussed all five main elements of early literacy lessons. Read on to find out how you can incorporate phonics and phonemic awareness as part of your small group routines. 

literacy activities to use with non-readers

Phonemic Awareness For Early Readers

Phonemic awareness is crucial for early readers’ literacy skills development. You can focus on it all day long: in small groups, during whole group, or even during transitions. During these simple, quick activities, students are focusing on the oral and auditory features of letters. 


What is Phonemic awareness?

  • understanding that letters make sounds, which are heard in spoken words
  • understanding and being able to manipulate those letter sounds, in spoken words
  • recognizing that spoken words are comprised of individual sounds, which are referred to as phonemes
  • the oral and auditory process linked to learning how to read
  • Remember: NO print or letter names are involved 

What to focus on with phonemic awareness activities:

  •  the understanding that each word is made up of a series of sounds, which can be done with:
    • Isolating- identifying an individual sound (What is the first sound in bat?)
    • Segmenting- breaking a word down to individual sounds (encoding) (Tell me all the sounds in bat.)
    • Blending- put the sounds together to say the word (decoding) (Say the sounds and blend them together to read the word: b-a-t.)

Simple Phonemic Awareness Activities

  • 1. Quick verbal activities for phoneme manipulation:
    • adding (take the word -at, add b to the beginning, what’s the new word?)
    • deleting (take the word mat, remove the m- sound, what word is left?)
    • substituting sounds in words (say the word mat, replace the m- with s-, what’s the new word?)
  •  2. Use phoneme segmentation boxes:
    •  have students put little objects (mini erasers/pom poms) etc down in the boxes as they state each sound
  • 3. Encoding: 
    • use little race cars to zoom through sounds. 
  • 4. Identify the beginning sound of an object:
    •  Grab an object and have students state the beginning sound.
    • Then, you can advance this to ending sound, middle sound, etc.

Phonics In Early Literacy

Phonics in early literacy is just as important as phonemic awareness. This connects the oral and auditory features of phonemic awareness with the visual features of phonics. 

What is phonics?

  • recognizing each letter has a sound
  • connecting each letter with a specific sound
  • applying the understanding of letter sounds to decode words in print
  • the visual and auditory process linked to learning how to read

What to focus on with phonics activities?

  • how sounds look in writing
  • Explicit phonics instructions involves teaching students all the letter and letter combinations that represent the 44 sounds/phonemes in the English language

Simple phonics activities:

  1. Write a letter in shaving cream, use play dough, mini erasers etc.. Students can identify the sound that each letter makes, as well as the written shape of the letter. (Also can be done with a focus on CVC words- to identify those sounds/letters in words.)
  2. Sensory bins- students can look for letters and then match each letter to a letter mat. (Also can be done with CVC words and images.)
  3. Use letter tiles to actually make a word. Students can put letter tiles together that match up to a picture. Next, they can also use an object like a pom pom or mini eraser to identify the vowel, or specific focus letter sound.
  4. Letter dice- students can roll the dice, then say the sound of the letter. For a CVC focus, roll 3 die and say the sounds before reading the word.
short vowel CVC passages

More Phonics Instruction

Doing phonics in isolation is useful, but you’ll also want to do more phonics instruction, in context. My Phonics passages can help your students practice their newly learned phonics skills. With a focus on isolation first, students will decode the words. Then, they will focus on decoding those same words, in the text. 

A focus on phonics and phonemic awareness, along with fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary, will help your readers develop their early literacy skills. Next, these skills can then be built on as they continue to progress! Students will constantly apply their knowledge of each aspect when reading new words and texts.

Aylin Claahsen

Aylin Claahsen

Providing resources and support to engage all readers.

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Hi, I'm Aylin!

I’m so happy you’re here! I’m a certified reading specialist who loves talking all things literacy. I have a huge passion for providing resources and support to engage all readers!


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