Phonological Awareness Skills: What Strong Readers Must Know

Do you still have students that are still struggling with reading CVC words? If you do, they may have some gaps in terms of their phonological awareness skills. 

In this training, I’m going to walk you through what those phonological skills are and the specific activities that you can be doing to make sure they master those skills. 

Phonological awareness is an umbrella term that includes many different skills. There are four levels of phonological awareness. Within each level, there are a handful of skills. If we can ensure that students can master all these skills, we can be sure that our students will become successful readers. 

1 – Word Level 


When it comes to phonological awareness skills, the first skill students need to be able to master at this level is segmenting sentences. When you say a sentence, students should be able to clap once for each word they hear in a sentence. All of the skills in this level use auditory engagement. So kids are listening and responding, but not writing anything. 

The next skill at this level is blending compound words. As you will see, blending and segmenting words and sounds are skills students need to use at every level. You would simply give the students two words “up” and then “stairs” and ask them to provide a response in one word: “upstairs” 

Likewise, students need to be able to segment compound words. If you give the students the word “doorway”, they would provide a two-word response with “door way”. You can easily visually represent these two parts using hand signals or post-it notes, even without the words written on them. 


2 -Syllable Level


Next, at this level of building phonological awareness skills, students should be able to blend the parts of a word together to form a single word. 

For example, if you give them the parts, “ta-” and “-ble”, students should be able to put those together to form one word. After that students should be able to take a whole world and break it into individual syllables. 


3 – Onset -Rime Level 


Moving on up, now we are moving into teaching more finite phonological awareness skills where we are helping students to identify the onset (which is any letters that come before the vowel)  and the rime (which is the vowel and the following letters). 

To begin, students need to be able to recognize a rime. A fun way to practice this skill is to have students stand. Offer them sets of two words. If they recognize a rhyme, they can jump or spin. 

Now students are ready to try producing a rime on their own. If you offer them the word mill, they can find a partner and come up with two more additional rhyming words like fill or will. 

Lastly, you would give the students the onset and the rime like /c/ and /at/ and they would be able to come up with the word “cat”. Students should also be able to take a whole word and break it up into the correct onset and rime that makes up the word. 


4 – Phoneme Skills


At the most difficult level of building phonological awareness skills, we have phoneme skills. Here we will help students identify the initial sound of a word. If you give the student the word, “dog”, they are going to respond with the sound /d/. Again, post-its are a perfect way to visually represent the sounds. Elkonin boxes are also a great strategy for this and I have a training all about how to start using those today right here. 

Then students are going to discover how to identify the medial or middle sound. If we give the student “pig”, they would be able to respond with /i/. They should also be able to define the final sound in the word in the same way. 

Mastering the skill of blending and segmenting phonemes is one of the biggest predictors of how successful students will be. Blending is just putting those individual sounds together, which helps students be able to decode. Segmenting sounds helps students be able to encode, which is also known as spelling. 

Lastly comes phoneme addition and substitution. Phoneme addition is when you give students a word or syllable like “it” and ask them to add /b/ at the beginning. Substitution is when you provide students with a word and ask them to change the initial, medial, or final sound. For example, you offer the word “tab” and ask them to remove the /t/ and add a /c/. What word do they have now? 



Covering Every Level of Phonological Awareness Skills


When teaching phonological awareness skills, you always want to start at the easiest level and work your way up to the most complex levels. It’s also important not to try to introduce two skills at once, so as to confuse students. We always want to provide enough opportunity to practice every skill. 

If you’re anxious to implement activities for each of these skills, but would love a little extra strategy and support, be sure to grab my freebie, Planning a Successful Phonological Awareness Intervention Quick Start Guide. In this tool, you will receive an assessment that will help you identify the exact skills gap your students have and walk you through a plan for how to fill that gap. 


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