Reading Teacher

Phonemic Awareness Activities in Kindergarten

Phonemic Awareness Activities in Kindergarten

Kindergarten is a big year. It sets the foundation for a child’s social life, academic career, and reading success. Along with their early literacy skills, many kindergartners will also develop their phonemic awareness.


What do kindergartners’ grown-ups need to know about this essential skill? If you need a refresher (it never hurts!), we’ve got you covered.


Phonemic Awareness


Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, recognize, and manipulate the individual sound units, or phonemes, in spoken words. “Manipulation” includes blending and segmenting words into their phonemes or substituting one sound for another: for example, swapping /c/ in “cat” with /r/ to make “rat.”

Phonemic Awareness Activities in Kindergarten

Why is Phonemic Awareness Important?


Phonemic awareness is important for one major reason: it’s the last skill to develop before students achieve full reading fluency, and it’s a major predictor of long-term reading success.


Before moving onto bigger and better things in first grade, it’s crucial for kindergartners to have strong phonemic awareness. The best methods for teaching reading in kindergarten involve daily practice, lots of patience, and plenty of phonics. With the support of an adult and the following activities, your kindergartner will become a phonics wizard in no time.


What Are Some Phonemic Awareness Activities for Kindergarten?


You asked: we answered! Here are some teacher-approved phonemic awareness activities for kindergartners, which can be easily implemented at school or home.


Rhyme Time


Stop: it’s rhyme time! Turn any moment into an opportunity to play with a simple rhyming phonics game. Throughout the day or at the dinner table, present a word to your child - for example, bat - and ask them to list as many rhyming words as possible (rat, sat, cat, bat, etc.).


Turn up the fun by adding a timer, or pose the rhyme in a 20-Questions-style format. For example: “I’m thinking of a food that rhymes with leg. What is it?” Answer: egg.

Phonemic Awareness Activities for Kindergartener

Beginning Sounds Bonanza


Grab some stuffed animals and toy foods (or real foods, if you’re careful!). Your kindergartner’s goal is to match the beginning sounds of the foods and the animals: for example, popcorn with a pony. This is an easy way to practice phonemic awareness at home; if you’re playing at school, each student can bring in a stuffed animal for some reading-friendly show-and-tell.


By mastering this skill (also known as sound discrimination), kindergartners will become better listeners - and over time, better readers. By paying attention to the beginning sound of each word, students pick up new words faster and master more complicated words in first grade and beyond.

Phonemic Awareness Activities for Kids

Silly Singing: The Nonsense Game


If you’re searching for phonemic awareness activities for groups, we’ve got you covered. Invite students to sit around you and ask them to close or cover their eyes. Then read or sing a familiar song or poem to them. The trick is to alter some of the wording: if you’re singing “Five Little Speckled Frogs,” for example, you might change sat on a speckled log to sat on a log speckled.


Whenever students notice a misphrased sentence, then can raise their hand and correct the mistake. While this is a more advanced activity, the teacher can modify difficulty based on skill level. Using a variety of songs and nursery rhymes, teachers can document students’ progress throughout the year: over time, your emergent readers will become serious sentence detectives!


Snail Speak


You and your kindergartner will “speak like snails” by taking simple words and stretching them out. For example, the word lamp becomes /llllaaaaammmmp/, so little ones can hear and feel each sound in the word. Start with shorter words, and then add more syllables as your child improves their snail speech!


Pro Tip: Phonemic awareness activities are focused on the sounds that words make, not their visual components (i.e. letters). With these suggested games, we’re working on sounding out words, not writing them down - but your kindergartner will get there soon!


What does phonemic awareness look like in kindergarten?


At the kindergarten level, phonemic awareness looks like learning how to manipulate sounds. In addition to blending and segmenting words, kindergartners will become “sound detectives” and learn how to isolate and identify the beginning, middle, and ending sounds of short words, ranging from two to three syllables in length.


By creating games and activities that focus on spoken and written words, adults help their youngsters become better readers and listeners.

Phonemic Awareness Activities


  • Phonemic awareness - the ability to hear, recognize, and manipulate phonemes in spoken words - is an essential reading skill.
  • Phonemic awareness activities in kindergarten should be fun and conversational, but also provide an appropriate challenge! Some of our favorite games involve rhyming, stuffed animals, silly songs, and speaking in funny voices.
  • These activities help young readers become better manipulators of sound, and challenge them to identify the beginning, middle, and ending sounds of increasingly complicated words.

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When Do Emergent Literacy Skills Begin to Develop?

When Do Emergent Literacy Skills Begin to Develop?

Ah, literacy lingo: it’s loved by researchers and tolerated (begrudgingly!) by parents and teachers.


If you’re a teacher or parent of an emergent reader, you’ve likely encountered your fair share of reading-related lingo. While language evolves with our understanding of how young people learn to read, it can be taxing to keep up!


Today, we’re unpacking the lingo of emergent literacy. We’ll discuss what emergent literacy means and when these skills develop; as always, we’ll follow with research-backed strategies to encourage emergent readers when words get tough.

Emergent Literacy Skills Begin to Develop

What is an Emergent Reader?


First, a quick recap: an emergent reader is literally “emerging” into a new phase of reading potential. You’ll notice that an emergent reader displays some - or all - of the following behaviors:

  • Points out high-frequency words in books and in everyday contexts (for example, on signs or menus)
  • Writes in scribbles or incoherent strings of letters
  • Expresses excitement about reading and listening to others read


There’s no “correct” timing or sequence for the development of emergent literacy skills. That said, many researchers argue that literacy skills begin to develop from birth. As soon as children begin to see and interact with print at home, in public settings like the store or daycare, and eventually at school, they’ll begin to recognize and point out familiar words and symbols.


Why Emergent Literacy is Important


Compared to other stages of literacy development, researchers emphasize emergent literacy as the foundation of lifelong learning. From birth to the preschool years, children absorb a remarkable amount of information. As a supportive adult, it’s less important to follow and perfect the lingo of literacy, as it’s always changing! Instead, we encourage parents and educators to concentrate on and encourage children’s natural interests in words, stories, and images.


The importance of emergent literacy can also be explained using the relationship between written and spoken language. As fluent readers, we don’t just read in silence: frequently, we also read aloud and speak to others about what we’ve just read! When surrounded by fluent adult readers, emergent readers will gradually develop their sound awareness - the ability to hear phonemes - and their confidence.


In this way, you can think of emergent literacy as a 24/7 Book Club. Emergent readers are seeing and sounding out new words on a daily basis; ideally, they’re given ample opportunities to talk about the new words and stories they hear or see hear.

Emergent Literacy Skills

Emergent Literacy Activities


Even before children begin school, they’re considered emergent readers. Using the following activities, you can engage your reader in the joy of reading, writing, and sharing books with others.


Before Preschool:


1.     Talk, talk, talk!

Talk to your child. Name objects, people, and events in your everyday world.


2.     Sound repetition

Young children will often string together series of sounds. Those sound strings might be incomprehensible now, but they’re worth repeating! Hearing am adult speak the same sounds back to them will enhance a child’s sound awareness - and, over time, their ability to hear and speak new words.


3.     Point!

When it comes to reading, pointing isn’t considered poor manners! For emergent readers, pointing out signs and logos will improve their recognition of print in everyday contexts.


During Preschool:


1.     Singing and rhyming

Sing it out! Many songs incorporate rhymes and short words that are easy for little ears to hear and sound out on their own. A rhyming song structure also demonstrates how different words can sound and feel similar when spoken aloud.


2.     Drawing

Take a break from the daily reading lesson: it’s time to unlock your child’s creative side. Drawing can help emergent readers communicate more complicated stories and ideas, even before they have the writing skills to do so.

emergent literacy

After Preschool:


1.     Popcorn reading:

As your child becomes more comfortable with reading, you can play “popcorn” and take turns reading parts of a book. Your child gets to hear proper pronunciation, practice their own, and enjoy some quality time with one of their favorite adults!


2.     Games

Emergent literacy is a time of exploration and play - so games are a natural addition to the learning process! Some of our favorite games for this age group emphasize pretend play. Any emergent reader can design a fantasy world inspired by their favorite book or story.

Adults can even create a “mystery box” filled with creative and educational materials, such as a notepad for writing secret messages or an object related to a story the child just read.

emergent reader



  • Emergent literacy spans from birth to the preschool years, although the timeframe varies depending on the child and other situational factors.
  • The emergent phase of reading development sets the foundation for a child’s reading journey.
    • As emergent readers, children develop their sound awareness and begin to recognize the relationship between words and spoken language.
  • To support emergent readers through preschool and beyond, adults can use a variety of low-cost activities that focus on sound awareness, pronunciation, and play!

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Developing Readers vs. Emergent Readers

Developing Readers vs. Emergent Readers

Emergent readers, developing readers, beginning readers: as a parent or teacher, where do you even begin?


Throughout the years, experts have developed a range of terms to describe readers in the earliest stages of their literacy journeys. Today, we’re clarifying the differences - and similarities - between developing readers vs. emerging readers, followed by a discussion of how this language shapes our understanding of how children learn to read.


Differences Between Developing Vs. Emergent Readers


Before we dig into the differences between a developing reader and an emergent reader, it’s crucial to answer: what is a developing reader? While definitions vary, we’ve identified a few key characteristics:


  • A developing reader is learning the basics of reading such as decoding, phonics, the alphabet, and sight words that are essential for long-term literacy.
  • A developing reader is making the transition to longer books with more complicated plotlines. Before they know it, they’ll bid goodbye to picture books and hello to chapter books.
  • Critically, a developing reader is evolving into a more skilled and confident reader.


Reading experts debate whether there is a significant difference between developing readers and emergent readers. Whereas the use of “developing reader” emphasizes that young readers are developing the foundational skills that will support lifelong literacy, an “emergent reader” is truly emerging into a new territory of reading potential. The excitement of an emergent reader is worth noting. While you might not remember the first time you read a book, rediscovering your zest for reading alongside a child is refreshing for all parties involved.

Developing Readers vs. Emergent Readers

The key characteristics of emergent readers are similar to those identified among developing readers. Parents and educators may notice that their emergent readers:


  • Recognize and point out high-frequency words, both in books and during everyday travel to school, home, and other familiar destinations
  • Write in scribbles and/or incoherent strings of letters
  • Show a strong desire to read and listen to others read


Ultimately, most experts agree that emergent readers fall under the category of developing readers: technically, anyone who reads could be considered a developing reader, as we are all strengthening our comprehension and writing skills well into adulthood. There may not be a significant difference between emergent readers and developing readers - and that’s perfectly okay. Because language used to describe reading development can be complicated, supportive adults are encouraged to meet their readers at “eye-level” with age-appropriate reading strategies.


Reading Strategies for Emergent Readers


For an emergent reader, struggling and overcoming are both part of the process. Emergent readers are working on lots of goals: they’re learning more letters of the alphabet, expanding their perspectives through new books, and taking big steps toward writing. To support an emergent reader, literacy experts suggest the following reading strategies to help them advance toward reading fluency.

Developing Readers

1. Identify the title, author, and illustrator of their favorite books.

Imagine yourself as a five year-old and take a good look at your child’s favorite picture book. For an emergent reader, there’s a lot of information to digest - and that’s only on the cover! Get your child used to reading the title, author, and illustrator of a book. This helps set the stage for what they’re about to read and helps them understand the basic purpose and structure of the book.


2. Use read-aloud books to help children increase their phonemic awareness.

By using books specifically designed for adults and children to read aloud together, emergent readers will gain a firmer grasp of the relationship between letters and sounds- otherwise known as phonemic awareness.


3. After the last page, talk about the book!

The end of the book marks the beginning of a meaningful discussion. Encourage your reader to talk about major events in the story, the resolution of any conflicts, and their favorite parts and characters. These concluding conversations will enhance their reading comprehension and overall engagement in the story.


Clarifying the difference between emerging readers vs. developing readers is just the beginning. Ultimately, these shifts in phrasing are usually more important for adults to understand than the readers themselves. When working with emergent readers, we’re regularly reminded that reading is an ongoing journey toward understanding & sharing stories with others.

Emergent Readers


  • The definitions of developing and emergent readers are mostly similar. While the phrases are often used interchangeably, educators emphasize that emergent readers are progressing toward the developmental stage of reading fluency.
  • Emergent readers are typically:
    • Learning the alphabet
    • Writing in scribbles
    • Reading and memorizing their favorite books with the help of an adult
  • Some helpful strategies for emergent readers include reading aloud, discussing books they’ve read, and finding the title, author, and illustrator to uncover the book’s basic structure.

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.