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Phonemic Awareness Lessons for Kindergarten

Phonemic Awareness Lessons for Kindergarten

At Reading Teacher, phonemic awareness is the foundation of long-term reading success. This fundamental skill takes time to develop -- but by starting as early as kindergarten, young readers can get a headstart on their ability to hear, recognize, and play with the individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words.


Whether you’re a parent or educator, it’s helpful -- and, at times, essential -- to have a healthy backlog of phonemic awareness lessons for kindergarten students. Phonemic awareness is the backbone of confident reading; and in the long run, both you and your student will be grateful for the early start.


Read on for a brief review of phonemic awareness -- because who doesn’t need a refresher? -- followed by four fun and effective phonemic awareness activities for kindergartners.


What is Phonemic Awareness?


When readers unlock the magic of hearing, recognizing, and manipulating the sound units in words, they’re using phonemic awareness.


While there are only 26 letters in the English alphabet, there are 44 phonemes. You can attribute this phenomenon to the power of sound manipulation. Because we can blend certain letters together, such as /sh/ or /ch/, our alphabet allows for unique mixes of sound.


To practice their manipulation skills -- and, in turn, develop their phonemic awareness -- students will also practice segmenting words into phonemes, removing one sound to make a new word, or substituting one sound for another: for example, changing the /g/ in “goat” with /c/ to make “coat.”


Best Phonemic Awareness Lessons for Kindergarten


In kindergarten, many students are eager to tap into the magic of reading. But before they can do this, they have plenty of skills to develop!


Fortunately, these phonemic awareness lessons make it easier for kindergartners to blossom into proficient first-grade decoders -- and, eventually, lifelong readers.


1.   Silly Songs

Phonemic awareness is all about sounds -- so to appease their listening ears, get silly with singing. For an easy tune, try “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands”: you can replace the main chorus with “If you think you know this word, shout it out!”


After singing the verse, shout out the sounds (phenomes) of a simple, 3-letter word. For example, you could say F-A-R, and kindergartners shout back “far.” Teachers who use this activity recommend preparing words beforehand: this lesson can get loud, but it’s also fun and interactive.


2.   Sound Swaps

This lesson is all about manipulating phonemes. You can use a whiteboard, cards, or another visual cue to present a word. Ask students to read the word, then challenge them to swap a sound in the word with a new one. For example, students can make the following swaps:

  • Bat to Cat
  • Dog to Log
  • Sand to Send


Notice that the sound “swaps” can occur in the beginning, middle, or end of a word, depending on the student’s skill level. To cement the meaning of each word, you can invite students to draw a simple picture of the word’s definition, before and after the swap.


3.   Nonsense Words

What’s the purpose of reading nonsense? When students are just beginning to develop their phonemic awareness, there’s actually a purpose to reading nonsense words, which are simply parts of whole words that, on their own, have no meaning.


For example, “rep” and “lat” aren’t actual words -- but “reptile” and “later” definitely are! When students read nonsense words, they’re also learning syllables, which are essential for reading fluency. Nonsense words also give adults a sense of whether a student knows how to decode 3-sound phonemes.


Regardless of their current decoding skills, nonsense words help students build confidence with silly, sometimes funny word-bites before facing the real words in their favorite stories.


4.   Rhyme Time

We love rhyme time: it’s an accessible and engaging lesson that can be incorporated into classroom lessons or while driving to soccer practice. Simply present a word to the student -- for example, dog -- and invite them to list as many rhyme pairs as possible (log, fog, cog, bog, etc.).


For an extra challenge, adults can add a timer or present the word in “20-Questions” style. For example: “I’m thinking of an animal that rhymes with ‘sat.’ What is it?” The answer is “cat”, but it might take the student a few guesses to get there!


What’s the best part about this activity, and most phonemic awareness activities? There’s no pen or paper involved! It’s all about sound, careful listening, and a willingness to get silly while learning alongside your students.



  • Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, recognize, and manipulate the individual sound units (phonemes) in words. Alongside phonological awareness, it’s an essential foundation for reading success.
  • Phonemic awareness lessons for kindergarten are all about sounds, active listening, and lots of fun! Some of our teacher-tested favorites include:
    • Practicing phonemes with silly songs
    • Swapping out sounds to make new words
    • Reading nonsense words
    • Turning any time into “rhyme time”!

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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.