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Guest Post: Teaching Phonemic Awareness to At-Risk Kindergartners: Where do we Start?

 Hi there!  My name is Jen from Speech Universe and to day I am doing a guest post for Smart Speech Therapy on phonemic awareness.  I am a speech-language pathologist who works in a public elementary school.  A few years ago, my district created an initiative for all speech-language pathologists to work with our most at risk kindergarten students by addressing phonemic awareness skills.  I currently work with a group of four kindergarten students four times a week for about 20 minutes each session.  We use lots of songs and literature to target phonemic awareness skills.

Working on phonemic and phonological awareness skills is an evidence-based practice.  “Preschool children who are at-risk for later developing reading disorders, including children with speech-sound disorders and children in poverty, need explicit instruction on phonological awareness skills, including segmenting, rhyme, and print awareness.  Use of age-appropriate literature to facilitate motivation in children is an effective therapy technique.” (Justice, Chow, Capellini, Flanigan, & Colton, 2003)

There are four main areas of phonemic awareness that I specifically address in my groups.  I look at word awareness, syllable awareness, rhyming, and sound awareness.

Word Awareness:  Tasks in this area encourage students to recognize words as meaningful units.  They point to individual words as we read them, fill in the blanks with missing words, and counting words.

Syllable Awareness:  Tasks in this area encourage students to become aware of syllables in words.  We start by clapping syllables, and then move on to blending syllables to create words.  Often, we start with compound words such as “cupcake” or “goldfish” before moving on to two and three syllable words such as “pocket” and “overalls”.  The compound words seem to be a bit easier for the students to hear the syllables in.

Rhyming: Tasks in this area encourage students to listen to parts of words and distinguish that words can sound the same and different.  Rhyming requires students to listen for the beginning of a word (onset) and the vowel and consonant of the word (rime).  Typically, I work on two different tasks within rhyme.  First, students discriminate whether or not two words rhyme.  E.G., pat-hat, or cat-dog.  They can answer with a yes/no response, or use sorting games, etc. to show if words rhyme or do not rhyme.  Next, students can work on rhyme generation.  E.G., “what rhymes with dog?”  Using literature when working on rhyme is key.  Dr. Seuss books are great to use when working on rhyme.

Sound Awareness:   Tasks in this area encourage students to identify individual sounds that make up words.  These tasks could include identifying words that begin with given sounds, generating words that begin with given sounds, blending monosyllable words (onset-rime), and blending individual sounds to make a word.  Students can also move on to identify beginning, middle, and ending sounds, as well as segmenting simple CVC words (“what sounds do you hear in the word ‘dog’?”).  When working on sound awareness, I like to use different colored blocks to represent each sound in a word.  Students can manipulate the blocks while sounding out the CVC word.

I love to use literature to target specific areas of phonemic awareness.  Below is a list of great books that I have used to work on phonemic awareness:

Rhyming Dust Bunnies By Jan Thomas

Hooray for Fish! By Lucy Cousins

The Foot Book By Dr. Seuss

The Snowy Day By Ezra Jack Keats

The Mitten By Jan Brett

If You Give A Mouse A Cookie By Laura Joffe Numeroff

If You Give A Moose A Muffin By Laura Joffe Numeroff

I have included a sheet for you with ideas of how to work on specific phonemic awareness skills.  You can get this FREE RESOURCE HERE.

I also have several book companion packets that I have created to go along with some of the above books.  You can find these at my TPT store.  You can also check out my blog 

Thanks so much for taking the time to learn a little bit about phonemic awareness.  Happy reading!



Justice, L.M., Chow, S.M., Capellini, C., Flanigan, K., & Colton, S. (2003).  Emergent literacy intervention for vulnerable preschoolers: Relative effects of two approaches.  American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 12, 320-332.

Lachance, S. (2002).  Sounds Abound Storybook Activities.  LinguiSystems, Inc.

 Jen ShambergerMy name is Jen Shamberger.  I have been a speech-language pathologist working in the schools for 12 years.  I work with students in grades K-5 at an elementary school.  I am lucky enough to be in one building, and in addition to my general caseload, I also work with students in two self-contained Autism Spectrum Disorder classrooms.  I am married, and have two boys, ages five and six, who really keep me busy!  In the fall of 2012, I started a blog.  I have had a great time starting to communicate with so many of the great SLP’s that are out there in the cyber world!  When I get a minute or two, I also love creating new speech and language materials for my TPT store.


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