The ability to hear, identify and manipulate phonemes ~ the smallest units of sound.  

Click here to access a printable copy of the information presented on this page. 

What is Phonemic Awareness? 

Phonemic awareness is the identification and manipulation of phonemes within spoken words (Cunningham, 1998).  It is a skill that does not come naturally to children and, therefore, requires explicit instruction. Click here to read "Keys to Reading: Phonemic Awareness", an article from the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education website, to learn more about what phonemic awareness is and it's importance in the reading process. 

What is a phoneme? 

  • The smallest units of sound in the English language.

Why teach Phonemic Awareness? 

The article "Phonemic Awareness in Young Children", from the Reading Rockets website, highlights the importance of explicit phonemic awareness instruction and provides detailed information about the structure of language.  Included in the article is the following research: "A child's level of phonemic awareness on entering school is widely held to be the strongest single determinant of the success that she or he will experience in learning to read - or, conversely, the likelihood that she or he will fail (Adams, 1990; Stanovich, 1986)." (Adams, 1998).  To read the article "Phonemic Awareness in Young Children" and to learn about the importance of explicit phonemic awareness, click here

How many phonemes are there in the English Language? 


The chart below organizes the 44 phonemes into letter and letter combinations. 

18 Consonant Sounds 
/b/ in bat
/k/ in cat and kite
/d/ in dog
/f/ in fan
/g/ in goat
/h/ in hat
j/ in jam
/l/ in lip
/m/ in map
/n/ in nest
/p/ in pig
/r/ in rat
/s/ in sun
/t/ in top
/v/ in van
/w/ in wig
/y/ in yell
/z/ in zip

5 Short-Vowel Sounds
short /ă/ in apple
short /ĕ/ in elephant
short /ĭ/ in igloo
short /ŏ/ in octopus
short /ǔ/ in umbrella

6 Long-Vowel Sounds
long /ā/ in cake
long /ē/ in feet
long /ī/ in pie
long /ō/ in boat
long /ū/ (yoo) in mule
long /ōō/ in flew

3 r-Controlled Vowel Sounds
/ur/ in fern, bird, and hurt
/ar/ in park
/or/ in fork

Diphthongs and Other Special Sounds
/oi/ in oil and boy
/ow/ in owl and ouch
short /ŏŏ/ in cook and pull
/aw/ in jaw and haul
/zh/ in television

7 Digraphs
/ch/ in chin
/sh/ in ship
unvoiced /th/ in thin
voiced /th/ in this
/hw/ in whip *
/ng/ in sing
/nk/ in sink
* (wh is pronounced /w/ in some areas)

Watch the below video to see what and how phonemic awareness is taught in the classroom.  

Howcast. (2011, June 17). What is Phonemic Awareness?. Retrieved from 


Listening for words that start with the same beginning sound. 

Example: Dog and duck both start with the /d/ sound.
Non-Example: Flower and Car do not start with the same beginning sound.  

Books that promote alliteration: 

  • Sheep on a Ship by Nancy Shaw
  • The Absolutely Awful Alphabet by Mordicai Gerstein 
  • Some Smug Slug by Pamela Duncan Edwards  


The ability to hear two words that end the same way. 

Example: cat and bat 
Non-Example: cat and dog

Books that promote rhyming: 

  • Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault 
  • Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
  • Is Your Mama a Llama? by Deborah Guarino  

Visit the Scholastic website to read more about these five concepts of phonemic awareness. 

Phoneme Substitution 

The ability to change one phoneme to another to make a new word.  

Example: Changing the c in cat to a b to make the new word bat.
Non-Example: Changing the d in dog to a l to make the word lot

Books that promote phoneme substitution: 

  • Cock-a-Doodle-Moo by Bernard Most
  • There's a Wocket in My Pocket by Dr. Seuss
  • The Hungry Thing by Ann G. Seidler and Jan Slepian

Watch the video below to see how phonemes are substituted, deleted, and blended in a Starfall website game. 

Starfall Education Foundation. (2011, Sep 16). CVC Words: Phoneme Substitution, Deletion, and Blending. Retrieved from


The ability to separate words into individual phonemes, syllables, and onset-rhyme. 

Example: mat = m/a/t; contest = con-test; hop = h/op
Non-Example: mat = p/a/n; contest = con-u-test; hop = h/ot

Books that promote segmenting: 

  • Sounds of a Powwow by Bill Martin, Jr.
  • The Listening Walk by Paul Showers


The ability to put individual phonemes together to make words. 
Example: Blending the sounds /c/-/a/-/t/ to make the word cat. 

Non-Example: Blending the sounds /c/-/a/-/t/ to make the word bar.  

Books that promote blending: 

  • Jolly Olly by I. Plater
  • The Baby Uggs Are Hatching by Jack Prelutsky
  • Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss


Fun ways to build phonemic awareness at home. 

 Elkonin Boxes

1. Pronounce a target word slowly, stretching it out by sound. 
2. Ask the child to repeat the word.
3. Draw "boxes" or squares on a piece of paper, chalkboard, or dry erase board with one box for each syllable or phoneme.
4. Have the child count the number of phonemes in the word, not necessarily the number of letters. For example, wish has three phonemes and will use three boxes. /w/, /i/, /sh/
5. Direct the child to slide one colored circle, unifix cube, or corresponding letter in each cell of the Elkonin box drawing as he/she repeats the word.

Blending Slides

Materials Needed:

~Long rectangle of paper with consonants or consonant blends written vertically.
~Short rectangle or paper with two horizontal slits cut through. Write word ending on horizontally.
How to use:
1. Slide the long rectangle through the horizontal slits to slide through.
2. With your child say the first letter sound and then say the word ending to create a whole word.


FREE segmenting Elkonin Boxes game from The Measured Mom. This website provides printable Elkonin boxes with color images and directions on how to create a game using Elkonin Boxes.

The Measured Mom. (2016, Oct 16). Elkonin Boxes [Photograph]. Retrieved from 

Want to assess your child's phonics skills at home?

Click here or on the center image below to get a FREE Teachers Pay Teachers phonemic awareness assessment pack, including two versions of a basic phonemic awareness assessment and one version of an advanced phonemic awareness assessment. Directions for the assessments are provided in the FREE download. 

Paul, S. (2016). Phonemic Awareness Assessment [graphic]. Retrieved from

Share your successes or personal tips on how to improve phonemic awareness at home below: 

Do you have more questions about phonemic awareness?

Please contact me below with all your phonemic awareness and reading questions to help bridge the gap between reading instruction at school and at home.