Welcome back! In part two of our series, we will dive into the first essential component of literacy, phonological awareness. If you are an educator or parent, you know that there are many literacy essentials that young children need to learn, and phonological awareness plays a critical role in reading and writing, enabling children to:

The term phonological awareness comes from two Greek roots: “phon-” meaning sound, and “-ology” from “logos” meaning word or speech. At its core, phonological awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate sounds in words, and it helps children learn the letters of the alphabet and how to blend them to form words. It also helps developing readers associate letters with sounds and understand that there are patterns in spelling.

For example, through phonological awareness, children learn to sound out words and break them into smaller units, such as syllables or phonemes (the smallest unit of sound). For example, they might separate “cat” into “c” and “at” or “ear” into “e” and “ar.”

Phonological awareness skills are also needed for reading fluency (the ability to read fast enough that the reader does not lose his or her place). Without it, children may have difficulty recognizing that words can be broken down into smaller parts (syllables), and then those parts can be recombined into new words.

Children who have strong phonological skills can also improve their reading comprehension by helping them recognize the meaning of unfamiliar words based on the sounds they make (e.g., if they know what a word starts with, they can guess what it means).

So, what does this look like? Well, children who have good phonological awareness skills can:


Phonological Awareness Skills

There are three main types of phonological awareness skills. They include segmenting, blending, and rhyming. Below we will take a closer look at each of these three terms. 


Segmenting is breaking words into smaller units (phonemes), usually syllables. Students should practice segmenting initial sounds, onset-rime, and individual sounds in a word. Segmenting should be taught orally using direct and explicit instruction. 

Check out these segmenting activities you can use at home or in the classroom created by the Wisconsin Department of Reading Instruction.


The opposite of segmenting is blending. This is when you blend together phonemes to form whole words. Students should be taught blending onset-rimes and individual sounds in a word with direct, explicit instruction.

Check out these blending activities you can use at home or in the classroom created by the Wisconsin Department of Reading Instruction.


A rhyme is a repetition of similar sounds in the final stressed syllables and any following syllables of two or more words. Students should recognize that words rhyme and use this knowledge when reading. For example, if you know that ‘cat’ rhymes with ‘hat’, then you can use this information when reading new words such as ‘mat’ or ‘pat’. 


Activities to Build Phonological Awareness Skills


Children are always listening to what is going on around them. This is one of the best ways for them to build their phonological awareness skills by picking up on sounds, syllables, and rhymes in the words they hear. 

For example, if you’re reading One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, ask your child to listen to the /fffff/ sound in fish. Outside of reading time, try pointing out other words that start with the /fffff/ sound, just like in the book.

Playing Rhyming Games

Read aloud to your child or students using books that rhyme. Dr. Suess is a great author when it comes to finding rhyming books where your child or students can point out repeated sounds. 

For example, The Cat in the Hat can be used to ask questions such as, “Did you hear a word that rhymes with cat?”

Making Connections Between Letters and Sounds

Ask your child or students to grab a whiteboard and marker or set them up with Sensational Sand or shaving cream in a tray. Using segmenting and blending skills, have them draw letters to form CVC words /b/ /a/ /t/, and have them blend the sounds together to say bat as they write out each individual letter. 

Check out more classroom activities to facilitate phonological awareness in this IMSE blog!


Stay tuned for the rest of the series:

  1. The Essential Components of Literacy Instruction, Part 1 of 6
  2. What Is Phonics? Part 3 of The Essential Components of Literacy
  3. What Is Fluency? Part 4 of The Essential Components of Literacy
  4. What Is Vocabulary? Part 5 of The Essential Components of Literacy
  5. What Is Comprehension? Part 6 of The Essential Components of Literacy