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A variety of speech and language skills help lay the foundation for learning to read and write, not the least of these is phonological awareness.

Phonological or phonemic awareness is a child’s knowledge of how speech sounds come together to form words. This awareness is key to the ability to blend sounds together for reading (decoding) and for segmenting words into separate sounds for spelling (encoding).

These concepts can be introduced beginning in preschool through songs, rhymes, games, exploring syllables, and shared reading activities.

Children’s development of these skills will vary, but here are some early milestones where these skills will begin to develop. Please refer to the chart below for when to expect mastery of individual phonological awareness skills.

Early communicators (birth – 18 months):

  • enjoy book reading
  • enjoy nursery rhymes and songs
  • may attempt to sing or chant rhymes/songs.

Early language users (12 – 36 months):

  • start to hear gaps between words in sentences
  • showing interest in syllables and rhymes.

Language and emergent literacy learners (30 – 60 months):

  • start to break up words into syllables (for example clapping syllables)
  • start to recognize/produce rhymes
  • from 36 months: start to recognize words with the same initial sound
  • from 36 months: start to break words up into onset and rime (sun= s+un).

                                    Phonological Awareness Skills by Age

      Ages at which 80-90% of typical students should have achieved mastery of a skill

Age Skill Example
4 Rote imitation an enjoyment of rhyme an alliteration Rat, cat, bat

“Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.”

5 Recognizes a rhyme

Clapping/Counting Syllables

Which two rhyme?  Sat, rug, hat

Dog (1 syllable) rabbit (2syllables)

5 1/2 Blends Onset and Rime


Produces a Rhyme


Isolates Beginning Sound


Distinguishing & Remembering Separate Sounds in a Series

/sh/ /ip/ (ship), /k/ /up/ cup


Tell me a word that rhymes with rug…bug


Say the first sound in net /n/


Repeat sequence of single phonemes using colored squares: /s/, /t/, /f/, /sh/, /s

6 Compound Word Deletion


Syllable Deletion


Blending of 2 & 3 phoneme words


Segments 2 & 3 phoneme words (no blends)

Say sunfish. Say it again without sun (fish)


Say tulip. Say it again without /tu/ (lip)


/s/ /u/ /n/ (sun), /g/ /o/ go


Say the sounds in the word shot as you move a chip/square for each sound /sh/ /o/ /t/

6 1/2 Segments words that have up to 3 or 4 phonemes (including blends)


Phoneme substitution to build new words (no blends)

Say the sounds in the word black as you move a chip/square for each sound /b/ /l/ /a/ /k/

Change the /j/ in cage to /n/ (cane)

7 Phoneme Deletion (initial and final word positions)


Say seed. Say it again without the /d/ (see)
8 Phoneme Deletion (initial position including blends)


Say sled. Now say it again without /s/ (led)
9 Phoneme Deletion (medial and final blend positions) Say past. Now say it without the /s/ (pat)

Adapted from Moats & Tolman, 2009. Adams et al. 1998. Gillon, 2004. Goswami ,2000. Paulson, 2004. Rath, 2001. Catts et al., 2005. Shaywitz, 2003.

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