How to create powerful phonological and phonemic awareness activities kids love.

Create Powerful Phonological and Phonemic Awareness Activities Kids Love

Phonological and phonemic awareness activities are key to beginning a research-proven lesson plan for beginning reading.  I love doing these activities with students and I want you and your students to love them too!  

If you aren’t sure where phonological and phonemic awareness activities fit into the big picture of reading instruction, you may want to check out my Seven Key Components to Teaching & Learning How to Read in the Primary Grades.  Get it delivered to your inbox by filling out the form on the right of this page. 👉🏻These are the components that are the 💜 of my teaching and the content I create.  

The big idea I discovered in studying the science of literacy and reading is that print is language written down.  Language skills come first!  Learning to read is not natural, but speaking is!  

When we speak, language comes out in the form of entire words, sentences, and conversations.  We don’t say words one sound at a time.  That is EXACTLY what we need to be able to analyze in learning to read and write.  

I have mentioned Speech to Print by Dr. Lousia Moats before.  If you are interested in a more technical discussion of this idea that we need to start with language development first, this is the resource for you.  

I love a great quote and this is the one that is inspiring the content in this post…👇🏻

“Reading and writing present a cognitive hurdle that speaking and listening do not.  …there is nothing in the child’s normal experience with spoken language that necessarily acquaints him with the fact that words have an internal structure….Yet it is precisely this fact that must be understood if the alphabet is to make sense, and if its advantages are to be properly exploited.”  Alvin Liberman (1988, p. 149).  

"Reading and writing present a cognitive hurdle that speaking and listening do not."

How to Build Phonological Awareness

So, how do you build phonological awareness?  Practice! 🏀🏈⚽️⚾️🎹🎺🎤🩰  Just like anything we want students to get good at, we have to have them practice.  

For a more in-depth discussion of phonological and phonemic awareness activities, you might be interested in my previous post:  Phonemic and phonological awareness:  What is the difference and why does it matter? 

A little practice in every daily lesson is all it takes to build phonological awareness.  In fact, one minute is all you need!  

How to Develop Phonological Awareness for Beginning Readers

Before we figure out how to develop phonological awareness for beginning readers, we need to assess students.  I know assessment has gotten a bad name.  It is important to begin here.  Stick with me!

How to Assess Phonemic Awareness and Phonological Awareness

For beginning readers, this means figuring out what they already know and can do and moving them forward from there.  I don’t want to spend time on skills they already know.  I want to find that sweet spot 🍬 and challenge students just enough that they are learning and growing.  

If you don’t already have or use a phonological awareness assessment, that is the first place to start.  I have previously written about the two assessments I use.  

For kindergarten and first grade, I like The assessment that goes with the Heggerty Curriculum.  It starts with early phonological skills like syllables and onset-rime.   

For second grade and up I like the PAST Assessment from Dr. David Kilpatrick.  It starts with basic phonemic awareness skills of phoneme blending and phoneme segmentation.  It then goes on to the advanced skills of deletion and substitution which are key for readers at second grade and above.  

Planning Activities to Build Phonological Awareness

It is helpful in planning if you have a curriculum to pull activities from.  You can find sample lessons at  However, it is not difficult to create them yourself.  Make it simple and use words from your lessons and text you are already using.  I plan for one minute’s worth of practice for one skill at the beginning of each lesson.  Here is an example of how I would do that.  

Early Phonological Awareness:  Onset-Rime

If I found that a student needed to work on hearing the onset sounds in words, I would choose words from the day’s lesson to use for warm-up.  Let’s say it is a first-grade student at the beginning of the year.  The first lesson includes short a and consonants n,d,p, and f.  The name of the decodable might be Dan and the Fan.  

If this fictional student is struggling with onset sounds, I would choose words that start with /d/ and /p/ to start with.  These two sounds are stop sounds.  They are easier to hear and take off the beginning of a word than the continuous sounds /n/ and /f/ that are in the lesson.  So my list of words might be:  

Dan /d/

Pat /p/

Dog /d/

Park /p/

Done /d/

Planning activities to build phonological awareness is easier with  a template.

How to Increase Phonological Awareness Daily

I would continue creating examples like above until this student could easily identify the beginning sounds when they are stop sounds.  In order to increase phonological awareness skill, I would then add continuous sounds.  That list might be: 

Dot /d/

Nat /n/

pay /p/

fan /f/

cat /c/

The key is to know where you are at, where you are going, and what the student needs next to get there.  Increase the challenge a little bit every day.  

I use fun and colorful manipulatives like felt squares and rectangles for onset-rime activities.
A dry erase marker makes a great visual for onset-rime activities.

How to Develop Phonemic Awareness and Have Fun

Now that I understand the importance of phonemic awareness and how to teach it, I know how to develop phonemic awareness and have fun doing it!  

First, use an assessment to find out what students can do and what they need to work on.  Then, follow a scope and sequence to increase the difficulty to get students where they need to go.  I can use a purchased curriculum or I can create the examples easily myself without much time and effort by using the words I find in other parts of the lesson.  Finally, I use fun and colorful manipulatives.  

If you are interested in how I’m using digital planning this school year, check out my post:  Lesson Planning for Reading in 2021-2022.  The lesson template you see in the photograph in this post is included in the digital binder.  You can find it in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.  

Share the Joy of the Science of Reading

Share the joy of teaching and learning to read!  If you like this post, share it with a friend.  Find more beginning reading resources, early literacy resources, and information throughout my blog and website. I am on a mission to help as many students learn to read as I possibly can.  The best way to do this is to help as many parents and educators that teach reading as possible. I only post teaching and learning information that is research-proven and I fully support and believe in the Science of Literacy and Reading.

All of the ideas are my own and do not necessarily represent the views, positions, strategies, or opinions of any of the authors or companies mentioned. I do not receive any compensation for the resources mentioned in this post.   


Liberman, A.M.  (1988).  Reading is hard just because listening is easy.  (Haskins Laboratories, SR-95/96).  Status Report on Speech Research, 145-150.  Retrieved from

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Dr. Jenelle Strecker teaches beginning reading

Hi, I'm Jenelle!

I help K-3 teachers teach with the science of reading so that all of their students learn to read.

Learn more about me and how I can help you here.  

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