How to Teach Phonemic Awareness

Parents and teachers can look for experiences that:

  • Help develop positive feelings toward learning. There should be a sense of playfulness and fun.
  • Encourage interaction among children in a group setting.
  • Encourage children’s curiosity about language and their experimentation with it.
  • Allow for individual differences in children’s learning.

Phonemic awareness is an oral task. Children learn about sounds by

    • Wordplay
    • Learning nursery rhymes and rhyming games
    • Singing songs

Parents can provide these kinds of experiences for their children in daily conversation and play. Hearing individual sounds is a natural part of learning language. Beginning in infancy, children need many hours of language (speaking and listening) interactions with adults.

Language Play: By involving children in game-like activities children begin to recognize that some words sound the same at the beginning or at the end. This recognition is done by singing songs, learning nursery rhymes, and playing verbal word games with rhyming words.

Reading books: By reading books that play with language, children begin to hear and experience the sounds of our language.
Inventing Rhymes: By encouraging children to make up their own rhymes, they are becoming aware of sounds and laying a foundation for phonics instruction in school.

Word Families

Sounds are often stable in the part of the word from the vowel forward, known as the rime. Ninety-five (95)% of the 286 phonograms that appear in primary grade-level texts are consistent. Thirty-seven (37) most common rimes have been identified that form 500 words through the substitution of onsets. These rimes are also known as word families.

Check out audio examples and word lists for the most useful and other Common Word Families.

Most Useful Rimes: The following rimes are useful for children when learning to read and more useful than learning rules and generalizations because the brain formulates ideas in patterns.


Sight Words
(High-Frequency Words)
A relatively small number of words (about 100) make up most of the text children read. Some of these words are irregular or not decodable. Successful readers have a large number of words they can read automatically by sight. These are known as sight words. There is so much early childhood education help available. Just ask if you want to be sure you’re on the right track!

How to Teach Sight Words
Select words that the children need to use in their reading or writing. Ask also the parents for support. After all, they are the child’s first actual teachers, aren’t they?

Choose a small number of words:
In first grade teach 3-5 words per week.
Provide practice writing and spelling.
Use magnetic letters.
Find new words in context.
Develop a word wall.

Suggested Sight Word Lists
Dolch Sight Words

The Dolch list of 220 basic sight words was developed in the 1930s, based on three comprehensive lists of words compiled in the previous decade. The Dolch words hold sentences together and include adjectives, adverbs, articles, conjunctions, prepositions, pronouns, and verbs.

They include between 52 and 70 percent of all the words children generally find in assigned reading and are commonly divided into four lists: a Pre Primer list, a Primer list, a First Grade List, and a Second Grade list. Other lists of words have been developed with a high degree of consistency in the first hundred words. See also this post about Early Childhood Education Programs.

Fry Instant Words List

The newer Fry Instant Word List was developed from “500-word samples from over 1045 books in 12 subject areas in grades 3 through 9” as well as samples from library books and magazines. The Fry words are divided into groups of the first 100 most frequent words, the second 100, and so on. “Over two-thirds of the 100 most frequent words…have highly regular spellings….

These 100 words “make up about 50 percent of all material written in English….The first ten words make up 24 percent of all written material….The first 25 words make up a third of all printed material.” These words should be recognized instantly, no more than one second, for fluency in reading.

These 240 words, arbitrarily selected by Frank May, include many of the high frequency irregularly spelled words and many common nouns.

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