• phonemic awareness: the ability to recognize that spoken words are made up of separate sounds (phonemes, the smallest units of sound), and to manipulate those sounds in speech
  • phonics: the understanding that letters represent the sounds in words
  • phonemes: the smallest units of sound
  • phonological awareness: the ability to recognize that words are made up of a variety of sound units
  • nonsense words: made-up words, used for the phonemic principle being taught
  • sound matching: the ability to match words that begin or end with the same sound

Play with Sounds and Words

Before watching this video, read the text below. When instructed, watch the video from the beginning to end.

When teaching phonemic awareness skills, you should also focus on helping children learn the sounds of language. These important skills should be taught sequentially, from easiest to most difficult, but can still be shared in informal, fun ways. Children often begin with clapping syllables, first in their own names and then in other words. Next, children begin to recognize and match like sounds at the beginning of words. Finally, when children learn to recognize letter forms and letter sounds, they match sounds to make words. At this point, children are moving into phonics. The sequence of skills looks like this:

  • Clap syllables. Help children recognize that words are made up of parts, and the parts make a whole word.
    • Clap names. Have children clap the syllables in their own names. As the game progresses, have children determine who has the longest name, e.g., Victoria (the most claps), or the shortest name, e.g., Sean (only one clap). Play a guessing game: I am going to clap a name. (clap twice) Whose name has two claps?
    • Clap words. Children can progress to clapping words. It’s especially fun to clap unusual and interesting words. Challenge children to think of a long word they would like to clap: hippopotamus, elephant, chalkboard, or calliope.
  • Match sounds. Soon after they understand how to clap syllables, children will begin to recognize words that start with the same sound (sound matching). At this stage, children are not asked to name or identify beginning letters. They are recognizing the sound of the letter with which the word begins. For example, encourage children to recognize that sand and sun both begin with /s/ or that bell and ball begin with /b/. Ask, What do you notice about these two words: rhyming, reptiles? Praise children for hearing the sound itself.
  • Identify and isolate initial sounds. Children learn to hear and identify the sound that comes at the beginning of words. Ask, Who knows another word that begins with the sound /h/?
  • Match sounds to letters. Once children learn letter sounds, they begin to move into phonics and match those sounds within words. For example, say, Tell me the sound you hear first in mat, mouse, and mail? What letter stands for that sound? Or, Who can tell me the letter you hear at the beginning of sail, Sam, and sit? Or, If I want to write Bella's name, what letter will I write first?

In this video, you’ll see educators teach phonemic awareness by playing with sounds and words. As you watch, look for effective strategies used by the educators in the video and jot down answers to these viewing questions in your Learning Log.

  • What strategies do the educators use to encourage children to listen for word “chunks” or syllables?
  • How do the educators teach sound matching activities?


How can educators use songs and games to help children learn phonemic awareness skills?

  • Singing songs is fun for children, and they can learn from each other as they sing.

What do children learn by clapping syllables in names or other words?

  • Children learn to listen for sounds in words.
  • Children begin to understand that words are made up of separate sounds.

Why is sound matching an important skill?

  • Sound matching activities prompt children to listen to the beginning sounds in words.
  • As children identify the beginning sounds of words, they can group words that begin with the same sound. For example, /h/: head, hair, hummingbird.
  • Once children master the skill of identifying beginning sounds, they will be able to match the sounds to letters in the alphabet.


Think about the learning environment at your own program as you answer these reflection questions in your Learning Log.

  • What strategies do you use to teach children to focus on sounds in words?
  • What did you learn that you will take back to your learning environment and put into practice?
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