Butterfly Park Educational Materials

Phonemic Awareness Activities

Resource Type:

Phonemic awareness is a hearing skill. It does not require the child to recognize the printed letter. It is the ability to notice and identify the sounds, or phonemes, in words. Phonemes are the smallest parts of sound in a spoken word. The sounds in cat are /c/, /a/, /t/, not “cuh, ah, tuh” or “see, ay, tee”. When the sounds are blended together, they create a word. /c/, /a/, /t/ is cat; “cuh, ah, tuh” is cuhahtuh, which is not a word – nor is seeaytee.

Phonemic Awareness training is important because it improves children’s ability to read and spell words. Research has shown that the ability to notice and identify the sounds in words can predict reading success better than IQ or knowing letter names.

Teaching phonemic awareness is fun and easy. Children do not have to recognize letter shapes to learn phonemic awareness. Preschoolers can be taught to identify the first sound in words using toys and alphabet books.

“Teaching children to manipulate phonemes with letters yields larger effects than teaching students without letters,” according to the National Reading Panel Report.

Dianne McGuinness in Early Reading Instruction: What Science Really Tells Us About How to Teach Reading notes that “separate phoneme-awareness training programs…do not come close to ‘improving reading’ compared to a good linguistic-phonics program.” Combining phonemic awareness with phonics instruction is more effective than teaching phonemic awareness separately.

Activities for Identifying First Sound
(First Sound Isolation)

These activities will be more effective when paired with the corresponding letters. Use a letter card, magnetic letter, foam letter, wooden puzzle letter etc. Having the children practice tracing, copying, and writing each new letter until its shape is firmly embedded in memory, enhances the learning process. As they write, children should say the sound the letter stands for.

1. When playing with a ball, say /b/, /b/, ball, or /b/, /b/ bounce.

2. When looking at alphabet books, point to each picture and say the beginning sound before saying the word. For example, on the “m” page, say /mmmm/ man, /mmmm/ moon, /mmmm/ monkey. Point to the letter “m” and say, “This letter is a picture of (stands for, represents) the /m/ sound.”

Collect pictures or items beginning with single sounds and sort them into tubs, envelopes, or folders for the following activities. Pictures and items for sorting can be found in Butterfly Park’s Games for Phonemic Awareness, Hands-on Phonemic Awareness, Farm Animal Games, and Initial Sound Sorting Activities. Lakeshore Learning also has a product called Alphabet Sounds Teaching Tubs which works well for this purpose.

TEACH FIRST SOUND CONCEPT – Hold up an object or picture. Example: “This is a snake. The first sound in snake is /s/. What is the first sound in snake?” Repeat with four or five items beginning with /s/. Hold up the letter “s” card, magnetic letter etc. and say, “This letter is a picture of (represents, stands for) the sound /s/.” It is best to start with continuous sounds such as m, s, f.

SOUNDS FROM HOME – Send home a plastic zip lock bag with the focus letter written in permanent marker, and a note explaining the task. Have children bring one small item or picture from home that begins with the focus letter. For /s/ children could bring a straw or a plastic spoon, etc.

STRETCH – Find a large thick rubber band (about ½ inch wide). Use it to stretch out the sounds in words so that children can hear the first sound.
Example: Stretch rubber band while saying /sssssssssss/. Let it snap as you say “nake”. Put it together – “snake.” Repeat with 5 or 6 more pictures or items beginning with /s/. If the rubber band is big and wide it doesn’t really hurt to snap it, and the children love it when you make a face as it snaps. Have them pretend to stretch out words with you by spreading their hands wide and then clapping them together. Show the letter “s” while doing this activity.

RIDDLE ME – Hold up one item at a time in a closed fist with the object hidden from view – or behind your back. Make up a riddle giving 2 clues: starting sound and helpful hint. For example: “I have something that begins with /ssss/. It doesn’t have any legs and it slithers on the ground.”

CONCENTRATION – Put 5-10 items or picture cards on a tray that begin with the same sound. Allow the children to study the items as you hold each one up and say the first sound and the name of the object or picture. (After you introduce additional sounds, you may put objects with two different sounds on the tray). Cover the tray with a cloth and remove one item carefully without the children seeing what it is. Take away the cloth and have the children study the items again. Give clues as needed, one at a time until children figure out what is missing. Example: “It begins with /mmm/. It has a long handle. It has strings on the bottom. Your mother cleans the floor with it.”

WHAT’S MY SOUND? – After studying the concept of first sound for a number of letters, try putting 5 or 6 objects or pictures beginning with the same sound on a tray. Ask the children to study the items and say the names in their heads. “Does anyone notice anything special about all of these items?” If no one notices that they all begin with the same sound, point to each in turn and say the word, emphasizing the first sound. Ask again. Help children discover that all of the objects began with the sound of /t/ for example. Help them isolate the sound of /t/. (Say it clipped without a schwa sound – not tuh or tah or tee). Invite children to point out other objects in the room that begin with/t/, or any students whose names begin with /t/. Show the letter “t” as a card, magnetic letter, etc.

I SPY – As a review, place two objects or pictures from 4 or 5 letters previously introduced. Say, “I spy with my little eye, something that begins with /m/ and is yellow.” Or “I spy with my little eye, something that begins with /s/ and is long.” Think of one characteristic that distinguishes the two items that have the same initial sound. Make this exercise more effective by holding up, or pointing to the corresponding letter.”

SOUND TRAIN – Say “Here comes the /m/ sound train. You can get on my train if you say a word beginning with /m/. ” (Hold up “m” letter card.) Child says, “moon.” Teacher says, “Get on board.” Child lines up behind teacher. Child says, “monkey.” Teacher says, “Get on board.” Give hints for children that struggle. When you have 5 or so children on board. Say, “Whoooo, chug, chug, chug, chug.” Have children follow train engine around room. Try again with a different letter sound train.

SAMMY SNAKE – This is Sammy Snake. He likes things that begin with /s/. What does he like? Draw a picture of Sammy Snake on the board. List below it all the things the children suggest that belong with /s/. Underline the initial letter “s” in each or write it in a different color. Repeat with different characters for each letter sound. Examples: Billy Bear, Freddy Frog, Patty Pig.


First Sound – Letter Matching Activities

SOUND SORT – Mix up 10 to 12 items or pictures on a surface. Provide two bowls or trays for sorting. What is this? This is a snake. The first sound in snake is /s/. Let’s put all the things that begin with /s/ here. What is this? This is a mop. The first sound in mop is /m/. Let’s put all the things that start with /m/ here. Have the children select one item at a time and decide where it goes – with the /s/ items or the /m/ items. You may also introduce the letter (magnetic letter, written letter on a card etc.) that goes with the sound. This letter stands for the /sss/ sound. Let’s put the snake with the letter that stands for the /sss/ sound. This letter makes the /mmm/ sound. Let’s put the mop with the letter that stands for the /mmm/ sound.

CUT AND PASTE – Use the reproducible activity sheets in Initial Sound Sorting Activities to isolate the first sounds of the pictured words. Cut the pictures out and glue them to the correct corresponding letter. For example, glue pictures of words beginning with the sound /h/ to the spaces provided on the large letter “h”.

FIRST SOUND BINGO – First sounds review. Use the Bingo cards in Games for Phonemic Awareness. Say a letter sound. Child covers the picture with the correct beginning sound using a bean, coin, etc. For example, say /c/. Child covers the picture of a cow. Say /p/. Child covers the picture of a pie. Child tries to get a row covered and then says “Bingo.”

FARM ANIMAL SORT – Use the sorting cards and animals in Farm Animal Games for Phonemic Awareness. Sort the animals into columns on the sorting cards by first sound. Example: Sort goat onto the /g/ column. This may be played by several children by taking turns picking up one animal at a time and finding the right place.

FARM ANIMAL LOTTO – Use the lotto cards and animals in Farm Animal Games for Phonemic Awareness. Sort the animals onto the right letters of the lotto cards according to first sound.

Activities for 2-Sound Words
(Segmentation and Blending)

CONCEPT INTRODUCTION WITH BODY MOVES – Use 2-sound objects in Hands-On Phonemic Awareness or 2-sound picture cards in Games for Phonemic Awareness. Teach names of the objects first. Example: Show the ice object or picture. Say, “Ice has two sounds.” Tap your head and say /ī/. Tap your shoulders and say /s/. Put your fingers together and say “ice.” Repeat with all objects or pictures.
Practice Blending – Without showing the fur or fur picture, ask, “What word am I saying? /f/ /ur/” (Students say ‘fur’.) You can let the first child to guess it correctly, hold it.
Practice Segmenting – Hold up the car or car picture and ask children what sounds are in “car.” They should use the actions and say, “/c/ /ar/.” Repeat with all the 2-sound objects or pictures.

ROBOT TALK - Talk in clipped mechanical sounds.
I am a robot.
I talk this way.
Do you know
The words I say? /c/ /ow/
Have children put the word together and say “cow.”
Repeat with other 2-sound words.
Show a picture or object with 2 sounds such as a shoe. Have a child try to say the word with robot talk. /sh/ /oo/ The class then says “shoe.”

BINGO – Use the Bingo Cards featuring 2 sounds in Games for Phonemic Awareness or Hands-On Phonemic Awareness. Pronounce a 2-sound word in two separate sounds /ī/ /s/ and have the child put a marker on the correct picture (ice).

PENNY PUSH – Use the 2-sound Penny Push cards in Farm Animal Games for Phonemic Awareness, Games for Phonemic Awareness, or Hands-on Phonemic Awareness. Place an object or picture card with two sounds at the bottom of the Penny Push card. Give a student two pennies or markers and have him/her place them in the two bottom boxes. (Make sure the child is old enough not to place them in his mouth.) Say the object’s name, “car”. Students repeat the object’s name, “car.” The student then pushes the first penny or marker into the box above the first box and says /k/. He pushes the second penny or marker into the box above the second box and says /ar/. Repeat for the remaining boxes, showing 8 more 2-sound pictures or objects and having the student slide one marker up one space for the first sound, and the second marker up for the final sound, until the top of the Penny Push card is reached.

SAY IT SLOW, SAY IT FAST – Teacher explains that she will say the sounds in a word slowly. The children take turns saying the word fast. Example:
Teacher says /sh/ /oo/. Child says “shoe.” Repeat with more 2-sound words.

2-SOUND STRETCH – Do the above activity with a rubber band. Teacher stretches a 2-sound word apart as she stretches a rubber band. /iiiiiiii- sssssss/. Children say the word fast as it snaps back to its original length. “ice.” Children pretend to stretch rubber bands for other 2-sound words.

Activities for 3-Sound Words
(Segmentation and Blending)

CONCEPT INTRODUCTION WITH BODY MOVES – Use 3-sound objects in Hands-On Phonemic Awareness or 3-sound picture cards in Games for Phonemic Awareness. Teach names of the objects first. Example: Show the cat object or picture. Say, “Cat has three sounds.” Tap your head and say /k/. Tap your shoulders and say /ă/. Tap your waist and say /t/. Put your fingers together and say “cat.” Repeat with all objects or pictures.
Practice Blending – Without showing the bird or bird picture, ask, “What word am I saying? /b/ /ir/ /d/.” (Students say ‘bird’.) You can let the first child to guess it correctly hold it.
Practice Segmenting – Hold up the dog or dog picture and ask children what sounds are in ‘dog.’ They should use the actions and say,
“/d/ /ŏ/ /g/.” Repeat with all the 3-sound objects or pictures.

ROBOT TALK - Talk in clipped mechanical sounds.
I am a robot.
I talk this way.
Do you know
The words I say? /d/ /ŏ/ /g/
Have children put the word together and say “dog.”
Repeat with other 3-sound words.
Show a picture or object with 3 sounds such as a hat. Have a child try to say the word with robot talk. /h/ /ă/ /t/ The class then says “hat.”

BINGO – Use the Bingo Cards featuring 3 sounds in Games for Phonemic Awareness or Hands-On Phonemic Awareness. Pronounce word in three separate sounds /c/ /ă/ /t/ and have the child put a marker on the correct picture (cat).

PENNY PUSH – Use the 3-sound Penny Push cards in Farm Animal Games for Phonemic Awareness, Games for Phonemic Awareness, or Hands-on Phonemic Awareness. Place an object or picture card with three sounds at the bottom of the Penny Push card. Give a student three pennies or markers and have him/her place them in the three bottom boxes. (Make sure the child is old enough not to place them in his mouth.) Say the object’s name, “goat”. Students repeat the object’s name, “goat.” The student then pushes the first penny or marker into the box above the first box and says /g/. He pushes the second penny or marker into the box above the second box and says /ō/. He pushes the third marker into the box above the third box and says /t/. Repeat for the remaining boxes, showing 8 more 3-sound pictures or objects and having the student slide one marker up one space for the first sound, the second marker up for the middle sound, and the third marker up for the final sound until the top of the Penny Push card is reached.

SAY IT SLOW, SAY IT FAST – Teacher explains that she will say the sounds in a word slowly. The children take turns saying the word fast. Example:
Teacher says /m/ /ă/ /t/. Child says “mat.” Repeat with more 3-sound words.

3-SOUND STRETCH – Do the above activity with a rubber band. Teacher stretches a 3-sound word apart as she stretches a rubber band. /mmmmm-aaaaaa -nnnnnn/. Children say the word fast as it snaps back to its original length. “man.” Children pretend to stretch rubber bands for other 3-sound words.

Activities for Identifying Last Sound
(Last Sound Isolation)

INTRODUCE LAST SOUND CONCEPT- Have children listen to the following words and tell you whether the words are the same or different. Why are they different? The last sound is different. If possible, have them tell you the two last sounds. Make up more of your own.
mat – mad DIFFERENT /t/ and /d/
dog – dot DIFFERENT /g/ and /t/
sam – sam SAME /m/ and /m/

CHOIR DIRECTOR – Sing a familiar children’s song like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Direct children to hold the last sound of the ending word on each line by stretching arms apart and then closing fingers to indicate clipping off the sound. Example:
“Row, row, row your boa……….t.” (What sound did I cut off with my fingers?)
“Gently down the streammmmmm,
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrilyeeeeeeee.
Life is but a dreammmmmmmmm.”

PENNY PUSH – See Penny Push activities under 3-sound words. Help children identify the ending sound as they push a penny or marker forward into the ending box position. Penny Push activities are available in Farm Animal Games, Games for Phonemic Awareness, and Hands-on Phonemic Awareness.

Activities for Identifying Middle Sound
(Middle Sound Isolation)

INTRODUCE MIDDLE SOUND CONCEPT - What is the difference between a pin and a pan? What is the difference between a cat and a cut? The difference is in the middle sound. Help children listen for middle sound with more examples. Have children tell you whether the following are the same or different by listening carefully to the middle sound.
pen – pen SAME
bed – bad DIFFERENT
hat – hit DIFFERENT
bug – big DIFFERENT
bit – bit SAME
sit – set DIFFERENT

VOWEL CHANT – Chant short vowels /ă/, /ĕ/, /ĭ/, /ŏ/, /ŭ/.
Chant words changing middle vowel
Bad, bed, bid, bod, bud
Bat, bet , bit, bot, but,
cat, ket, kit, cot, cut
dag, deg, dig, dog, dug,
sat, set, sit, sot, sut
sang, seng, sing, song, sung
tam, tem, tim, tom, tum

PENNY PUSH – See Penny Push activities under 3-sound words. Help children identify the middle sound as they push a penny or marker into the middle box position. Penny Push activities are available in Farm Animal Games, Games for Phonemic Awareness, and Hands-on Phonemic Awareness.

Activities for 4-Sound Words
(Segmentation and Blending)

CONCEPT INTRODUCTION WITH BODY MOVES – Use 4-sound picture cards in Games for Phonemic Awareness. Note: Teach beginning blends last. Teach names of the objects first. Example: Show the mask picture. Say, “mask has four sounds.” Tap your head and say /m/. Tap your shoulders and say /ă/. Tap your waist and say /s/. Tap your knees and say /k/. Put your fingers together and say “mask.” Repeat with all objects or pictures.
Practice Blending – Without showing the milk picture, ask, “What word am I saying? /m/ /ĭ/ /l/ /k/.” (Students say ‘milk’.) You can let the first child to guess it correctly hold it.
Practice Segmenting – Hold up the tent picture and ask children what sounds are in ‘tent.’ They should use the actions and say, “/t/ /ĕ/ /n/ /t/.” Repeat with all the 4-sound pictures.

BODY MOVES –
Ending Blends – To emphasize the tricky part of a word with an ending blend, wiggle your hips as you touch your waist for the third sound in the movements above.
Beginning Blends- To emphasize the tricky part of a word with a beginning blend, wiggle your shoulders as you tap them for the second sound in the movements above.

ROBOT TALK - Talk in clipped mechanical sounds.
I am a robot.
I talk this way.
Do you know
The words I say? /n/ /e/ /s/ /t/
Have children put the word together and say “nest.” (Ending blend)
/f/ /r/ /ŏ/ /g/ Children say “frog. (Beginning blend)
Repeat with other words.
Show a picture or object with 4 sounds such as a tent. Have a child try to say the word with robot talk. /t/ /e/ /n/ /t/. The class then says “tent’.

BINGO – Use the Bingo Cards featuring 4 sounds in Games for Phonemic Awareness or Hands-On Phonemic Awareness. Pronounce word in four separate sounds /m/ /ă/ /s/ /k/ and have the child put a marker on the correct picture (mask).

PENNY PUSH – Use the 4-sound Penny Push cards in Games for Phonemic Awareness. Place an object or picture card with four sounds at the bottom of the Penny Push card. Give a student four pennies or markers and have him/her place them in the four bottom boxes. (Make sure the child is old enough not to place them in his mouth.) Say the object’s name, “frog”. Students repeat the object’s name, “frog.” The student then pushes the first penny or marker into the box above the first box and says /f/. He pushes the second penny or marker into the box above the second box and says /r/. He pushes the third marker into the box above the third box and says /ŏ/. He pushes the fourth marker into the box above the fourth box and says /g/. Repeat for the remaining boxes, showing 8 more 4-sound pictures or objects and having the student slide one marker up one space for the first sound, the second marker up for the second sound, the third marker up for the third sound and the fourth marker up for the final sound until the top of the Penny Push card is reached.

SOUND TOWN GAME – Use the Sound Town Game Card in Hands-on Phonemic Awareness or Games for Phonemic Awareness. Mix the 2-sound, 3-sound and 4-sound toys or picture cards together and put them in a bag or box. Each player places a marker on the house with a tree at the beginning of the trail. The first player takes an object from the bag, tells what the object is, and says the sounds in the word while moving his/her marker the same number of spaces as there are sounds (phonemes) in the word. For example, move two spaces for “cow”, three spaces for “cat”, four spaces for “mask”, and four spaces for “frog.” Each player in turn repeats the process. The first player to reach the house at the end of the trail is the winner. The winner does not have to land on the house exactly.

SAY IT SLOW, SAY IT FAST – Teachers explains that she will say the sounds in a word slowly. The children take turns saying the word fast. Example:
Teacher says /s/ /n/ /ā/ /k/. Child says “snake.” Repeat with more 4-sound words.

4-SOUND STRETCH – Do the above activity with a rubber band. Teacher stretches a 4-sound word apart as she stretches a rubber band. /fffffff-rrrrrrrr–ŏŏŏŏŏ-ggggg/. Note: Be careful not to say/g/ /g/ /g/ and instead to stretch the /g…../ out like a long growl. Children say the word fast as it snaps back to its original length. “frog.” Children pretend to stretch rubber bands for other 4-sound words.

Activities for Sound Substitution
(Sound Manipulation)

SONG SWITCH – Sing “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” Change the first sound of the chorus “Fee-Fi-Fiddle-ee-I-Oh,” to the focus sound. Example: /m/ “Mee-Mi-Middle-ee-I-Oh.” Sing “Old MacDonald Had a Farm, substituting the first sound in the animal for the first sound of the chorus. Example: For a horse, sing, “Hee-hi, hee-hi, hoh!” For a duck, sing, “Dee-di, dee-di, doh!”

RIDDLES –
What rhymes with pig and starts with /j/? jig
Start with big. Change the middle to /a/. What word do you have?
Start with cat. Change the last sound to /b/. What word do you have?

Activities for Rhyming

DOWN BY THE BAY – Sing “Down by the Bay”. Help children find rhymes for “Did you ever see a cat…wearing a hat?” (dog, bear, pig, whale, bee, frog, goat, dragon, fish, snake, etc.)

RHYMING LOTTO – Use the rhyming lotto cards and farm animals in Farm Animal Games for Phonemic Awareness to match an animal to a rhyming picture.

RHYMING RIDDLES –
What rhymes with bear and starts with /h/? hair
What rhymes with book and starts with /l/? look
What rhymes with lake and starts with /b/? bake
What rhymes with frog and starts with /h/? hog

RHYMING BOOKS and NURSERY RHYMES – Emphasize the word that will be rhymed in the first line or lines and pause to let children fill in the rhyming word.