What is Phonological Awareness?
Phonological awareness refers to knowledge of the general structure and sounds of words, including syllables, rhymes, and sounds. We can this by identifying rhyming words, manipulating phonemes (sounds in words), and counting syllables. If you are looking for a no-prep, systematic way to meet your kids’ needs in this area, make sure to check out my Daily Leveled Phonological Awareness Questions & Reference Sheets for Speech Therapy product!
Phonological Awareness vs. Phonemic Awareness
Phonological awareness is sometimes confused with phonemic awareness. Phonological awareness refers to the basic knowledge that a word is made up of different sounds in spoken language. This includes understanding of rhymes, words, syllables, initial sounds, and phonemic awareness.
Phonemic awareness is part of phonological awareness. Phonemic awareness refers to the ability to identify and manipulate the individual sounds in words. We practice this through tasks like identifying and changing out the first sound in a word, blending sounds, and picking out the individual phonemes that make a word. These core abilities are usually absent in students with dyslexia or other reading difficulties.
Why is Phonological Awareness important?
All children need these early literacy skills skills. Early readers benefit from lessons teaching about words, their parts, and how to manipulate them.
In general students with speech sound disorders struggle with tasks that require the organization and manipulation of phonemes (Sutherland & Gillon, 2007). It makes sense that these kids who struggle to hear and monitor correct speech sounds will be challenged by phonological awareness tasks.
As SLPs, it’s important that we know and address these critical reading skills for all of our students. Literacy development is an important part of communication and is well within our scope of practice.
How I Teach Phonological Awareness
I created my Daily Leveled Phonological Awareness Questions & Reference Sheets for Speech Therapy product to make targeting these critical skills easy for everyone!
This resource targets the following skills:
- Rhyme Identification
- Syllable Segmentation
- Blending Onset/Rime
- Initial Phoneme Isolation
- Final Phoneme Isolation
- Phoneme Addition
- Phoneme Deletion
There are leveled phonological and phonemic awareness questions for every day of the year, in addition to reference lists sorted by skill and by speech sound.
The levels for the these activities progress through a very general order of difficulty, based on current research (Ukrainetz, 2015). During this early literacy instruction, the goal is to move the student towards blending and segmenting as quickly as possible, as those skills “contribute more to learning to read and spell well than any of the other activities under the phonological awareness umbrella” (National Reading Panel, 2000; Snyder, 1995).
The levels in the packet are based on some of that research, their identification of easier and more difficult skills, and my professional experience. The leveling system is meant to give you the ability to easily differentiate questions to different students based on their skill level and goal areas.
Phonological Awareness Goals
I have tons of goal suggestions in my IEP goal bank to get you started! Here are some that help me get started with phonological awareness:
- NAME will produce 3 and 4 syllable words with 80% accuracy in 4/5 data collection opportunities.
- NAME will produce 2 sounds in a consonant cluster (e.g., sm, sk, sn) in the initial position of (words, phrases, sentences) with 80% accuracy in 4/5 data collection opportunities.
- NAME will produce final consonants in CVC words with 80% accuracy in 4/5 data collection opportunities.
- Given a visual, NAME will produce /d/ and /t/ in the initial position of words with 80% accuracy in 4/5 data collection opportunities.
As always, these are just a starting point to get you thinking about your individual students!
Phonological Awareness in Middle School and Beyond
In my practice as an SLP, I’ve seen continued phonological awareness, and specifically phonemic awareness difficulties persist into middle school. I wanted to create a resource that involved listening ONLY so that older students weren’t upset due to using materials obviously intended for a younger audience.
I like to frame my questions as a “challenge.” I completed the daily questions with my students as a warm-up right at the beginning of the session and framed it like a daily puzzle (aka “sound puzzle”). My students enjoyed the challenge and I was happy to be able to incorporate such an important skill in an age-appropriate way.
Of course, these activities work well with students of all ages! They are perfect to send home as homework. Teachers love them too, for their simple, daily practice.
Adding Articulation for a Double Dose of Therapy
For students with speech sound disorders, you can pair phonological awareness activities with articulation drill. My packet provides reference sheets by phoneme if you would like to focus on a specific speech sound.
Visuals to Support Syllable Counting, Segmenting, and More
Of course, I always like to pair my speech therapy activities with helpful visuals to scaffold my students’ responses.
My visuals help students:
- count syllables in words
- segment sounds in words or words in a sentence
- identify onset and rime
Visuals are great because they help students get started and can be used in the classroom as well.
Phonological Awareness for all Students
What about students with limited speech or language abilities? Will their limitations impact their ability to use and understand these basic literacy principles?
Well, these researchers concluded that the ability to speak may not be a prerequisite necessary for literacy development (Barton-Husley et al., 2018). Children with developmental disabilities should have access to reading instruction too!
The visuals provided in my packet allow all students to participate in these activities. Picture icons help students who struggle to communicate answer questions about these early reading targets:
- Yes/no can answer questions like “Do ‘cat’ and ‘bat’ rhyme?
- Same/different for questions like “‘More’ and ‘mom.’ Do these words start with the same sound or a different sound?”
- Self advocacy visuals help students ask for help, request a repeat, show that they know the answer, or give them the option to say they don’t know.
Phonological awareness is an important literacy skill that we, as speech-language pathologists can help address!
Barton-Husley, A., Sevcik, R., Romski, M. (2018). The relationship between speech, language, and phonological awareness in preschool-age children with developmental disabilities. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology. https://doi.org/10.1044/2017_AJSLP-17-0066
Sutherland, D. & Gillon, G. (2007). Development of phonological representations and phonological awareness in children with speech impairment. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders. https://doi.org/10.1080/13682820600806672
Ukrainetz, T. A. (2015). Awareness, memory, and retrieval: Intervention for the phonological foundations of reading. In T. A. Ukrainetz (Ed.), School-age language intervention: Evidence-based practices (pp. 445–490). Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.
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