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Phonemic awareness is the ability to focus on and manipulate the spoken sounds of language in order to produce spoken words. It is sometimes said that phonemic awareness work can be done “with your eyes closed” because it is about the sounds rather than about the associated graphemes. However, although phonemic awareness focuses on manipulating the sound system of language, it is not entirely disconnected from letters, print, and phonics. Research suggests that phonemic awareness instruction is most effective when it is combined with print awareness (Mraz, 2008).

Types of Phonemic Awareness Tasks

Although there is not an exact sequence of phonemic awareness skill development, some phonemic awareness tasks require more understanding of the language sound structure than others. These tasks are listed below, from simplest to most challenging:

  • Phoneme isolation: The child can recognize the individual sounds in words. For example, asking children the first sound in a word.
  • Phoneme identity: The child can recognize the common sound in different words. For example, asking children to identify the sound that is the same at the beginning of a group of words.
  • Phoneme categorization: The child can recognize the word with the odd sound in a sequence of three or four words. For example, asking children to identify the word that does not belong in a given set of words.
  • Phoneme blending: The child is able to listen to a sequence of separately spoken sounds and then combine those sounds to form a recognizable word. For example, asking children to put the sounds together, /d/ /o/ /g/ makes the word dog.
  • Phoneme segmentation: The child is able to break a word into its sounds by tapping out, counting the sounds, or pronouncing each sound and moving a marker to indicate each individual sound. For example, giving children a word and they will say each sound separately.
  • Phoneme manipulation: The child is able to delete, add, or substitute phonemes. For phoneme deletion, the child can recognize what word remains when a specified phoneme is removed. For example, small without /s/ is mall. For phoneme addition, the child can identify what word is created when a specific phoneme is added. For example, mall with /s/ at the beginning is small. For phoneme substitution, the child can recognize a word when one phoneme is replaced by another. For example, if you replace /m/ with /b/ in the word mall, you have the word ball.

Interventions for Phonemic Awareness:

See how it works

Check out this DVD:

Every Child Reads Unit 5: Phonemic Awareness, from the Central Rivers AEA lending library to see examples of phonemic awareness lessons; as well as, listen to Dr. Steven Stahl and Dr. Rita Bean provide an overview of phonological awareness, SBRR findings, instructional recommendations, the phonological awareness continuum, and linking phonemic awareness with print.

Check out these lesson plans:

Building Phonemic Awareness with Phoneme Isolation, from ReadWriteThink.org.

Teaching Sound Isolation, using the song Old MacDonald Had a Farm.

Check out these websites about Phonemic Awareness:

Reading Resource.net: Phonemic Awareness Activities

Reading Rockets: How Now Brown Cow: Phonemic Awareness Activities

Florida Center for Reading Research:  This site contains teacher guides and resources related to phonemic awareness and other areas of literacy for grades 2-3

Do what works


  • Mraz, M. Padak, N. D., & Rasinski, T. V. (2008). Evidence-Based Instruction in Reading: A Professional Development Guide to Phonemic Awareness. Boston, MA: Pearson Education.
  • Yopp, H.K. (1991, May). “Developing Phonemic Awareness in Young Children.”  The Reading Teacher, 45(9), 696-703. (Go to article in EBSCO)