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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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What is the Difference Between Phonological Awareness and Phonemic Awareness?

What is the Difference Between Phonological Awareness and Phonemic Awareness?

At Reading Teacher, we understand the struggle. When teachers try to learn new reading terms, they’re often faced with a storm of conflicting information, provided by everyone’s favorite yet sometimes unreliable friend: the Internet. We’ll save you the stress by outlining the difference between phonological awareness and phonemic awareness, followed by reading activities that help readers understand the tricky relationship between sounds and words.

Phonemic Awareness and Phonological Awareness Similar

What is Phonological Awareness?

Phonological awareness is the ability to manipulate individual units of sound, or phonemes, and understand how they form words. If a reader can blend, separate, add, delete, or substitute sounds, then they are master manipulators - of sound, that is.


What Does It Mean to Manipulate Sounds?

When defining phonological vs. phonemic awareness, we need to know what it truly means to manipulate a sound. Take the word “cat,” for instance: to assess whether a child is able to manipulate the sounds in the word “cat,” you can ask them to blend the sounds /c/ /a/ /t/, without telling them that these three phonemes form the word “cat.”

Phonemic Awareness and Phonological Awareness

Phonological Awareness Activities

What is a phonological awareness activity? Any lesson that asks a reader to manipulate sounds by blending, segmenting, adding, deleting, or substituting to form a word. Although we’ll continue with our “cat” example, any age-appropriate sight word can be used to practice the manipulation of sound.

  • Back to “cat”: you can directly present the word “cat” to a child and ask them to separate the sounds into /c/ /a/ /t/
  • Ask the reader: what’s another that sounds like “cat”? Answers could be “car,” “camp,” “cow,” or any other word that starts with /c/
  • Extra tricky: ask them to substitute sounds by giving them a new phoneme to start the word. Instead of /c/, substitute /r/ to sound out “rat”

What is Phonemic Awareness?
Compared to phonological awareness, which focuses on the connection between sounds and the words they form, phonemic awareness concentrates on the individual sounds in spoken language, defined as phonemes.


There are 44 phonemes in the English language - but with 26 letters in the English alphabet, how is this possible? The answer lies in the concept of digraph phonemes, in which two consonants create blended sounds. Sounds such as /sh/ and /ch/ may be composed of two letters each, but they’re still perfectly valid phonemes.

Phonological Awareness

Phonemic Awareness Activities
Because phonemic awareness is so specific, it can be difficult for educators to come up with targeted reading activities to test this skill. Because phonemic awareness assumes that readers are able to hear individual sounds, related activities can push children to become better listeners and interpreters of sound. Some simple ideas include:

  • Clap It Out: Sing a song or recite a favorite poem with your child, and clap loudly as soon as you hear a new syllable.
  • Noisy Phonemes: Find a “mystery item” in your home that makes a recognizable noise: perhaps a piece of bubble wrap, pot, or another noisy item. Have your child close their eyes, listen to the sound made by the item, and guess what it is, answering in a full sentence! This is an easy phonemic awareness activity for younger and/or more active readers.


How are Phonemic Awareness and Phonological Awareness Similar?

Both phonological and phonemic awareness emphasize sounds instead of letters. A handy rule of thumb - or tongue, in this context! - is that because phonological and phonemic awareness attend to sounds only and not letters, any activities that test these two skills can be done in the dark.


When explaining the differences between phonological awareness and phonemic awareness to a fellow teacher, start with the basics. As tedious as it can feel, this knowledge can take reading teachers, their lesson plans, and their readers much farther than they’d expect.

Phonemic Awareness


  • Phonological awareness refers to the ability to manipulate sounds and use them to form words, while phonemic awareness is hyper-focused on the ability to hear individual sounds.
  • Both phonemic and phonological awareness are focused on sound units, not letters.
  • Phonological awareness activities ask readers to blend, segment, and otherwise manipulate sounds, whereas phonemic awareness activities highlight the connection between hearing and speaking individual sound units.

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.

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