#Literacytip: Sounds and Syllables

What is Phonological Awareness?

Although phonological awareness sounds complicated, it is actually very simple.  In fact, it is skill commonly learned in the toddler and early childhood years!

So what is phonological awareness?

"Phonological awareness is a broad skill that includes identifying and manipulating units of oral language"

Reading Rockets

 What do they mean by units of oral language? The answer is: sounds and syllables. 

Children with phonological awareness are able to:

  • identify parts/sounds of words (bat = /b//a//t/ and patch = /p//a//t//ch/)
  • identify letter sounds (b-b-b- banana)
  • match similarities in the beginnings of words (‘mom’ and ‘mud’ both start with the mmm sound, written /m/)
  • identify, count, and clap syllables (/mite/ has one, pea/nut has two, el/e/phant has three)
  • match similarities in the ends of words (k/ite & b/ite, b/unch & cr/unch, c/ook & b/ook)

For further information, check out these Reading Rockets articles:

Phonemes and Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is one of the most important skills for children learning to read. What is phonemic awareness?

Phonemic awareness is "the ability to identify, hear, and manipulate the individual sounds in spoken words."

Reading Rockets

You likely remember being told to sound out words you did not know as an early reader.  You may even use the technique now when reading particularly difficult text. 

But how can you tell an early reader to “sound out the word” if they do not know the sounds the letters are meant to make?  Readers must have strong enough phonological awareness and phonemic awareness to accomplish this task.  

So how does one teach phonological awareness and phonemes?  You probably already know some ways!

Tools for Practicing Phonological Skills

Early Phonological Learning

Phonological awareness takes a lot of work to develop. The good news is that some of the work is not much work at all.  Children begin to understand language long before they actually begin to speak it, simply by being exposed to its use. 

We are not sure how helpful passively overhearing conversations, music, and television is for early learners.  However, we do know that being directly addressed and engaged in conversation directly influences language development. It also influences speech proficiency, and even later academic proficiency.

The moral of the story?  Talk to your child, about anything and everything.  A child who is being spoken to is a child who is learning to understand language, to recognize sounds, and to speak.

Nursery Rhymes and Songs

Nursery rhymes are not just for babies!  Rymes and songs are great learning tools for young children.  

Not only are they fun, they also highlight important parts of speech like:

  • early vocabulary
  • common (and uncommon) letter and word sounds
  • rhythm
  • rhymes
  • alliterations
  • onomatopoeia
  • story progression

Here are some fun rhymes and songs to learn and sing with your child.

Playing with Rhymes and Sounds

Rhyming I Spy is a fantastic way to encourage your child to develop their phonemic awareness just about anywhere!  This is a great game to pass time in situations when everyone needs a distraction to stay occupied and entertained.  Here is how you play:

  • Have your child find an object in their space
  • Ask your child to identify the object by name (a cat, a pot, a spoon)
  • Identify the sounds the word makes as well at the ending syllable (the part that participates in rhymes)
  • Ask your child to come up with a word that rhymes (c-at rhymes with m-at)

This game provides the opportunity to work not only on rhyming, but also on letter and sound identification, and counting syllables, 

Use the Library to Your Advantage

Your local library has books written with phonological skills in mind.  There are even books and early reading kits designed specifically for learning these skills, called phonics books. 

To use these books to your advantage: 

  • model the sounds of the words for your child
  • point out repeated sounds and letters
  • give examples of rhymes
  • try to get your child to guess the rhyming word that makes sense before you have read it for them

Check out these phonics friendly reads!

Want to learn more?

Check back next week for another literacy tip!  In the meantime, check out these other posts for more book recommendations, literacy tips, and crafts.


Moats, Louisa, and Carol Tolman. “The Development of Phonological Skills.” Reading Rockets, 10 Mar. 2021, www.readingrockets.org/article/development-phonological-skills.

Murray, Bruce. “Making Friends With Phonemes.” Reading Rockets, 7 Sept. 2018, www.readingrockets.org/article/making-friends-phonemes.

Partnership for Reading. “Phonemic Awareness: An Introduction.” Reading Rockets, 12 Aug. 2017, www.readingrockets.org/article/phonemic-awareness-introduction.

“Phonological and Phonemic Awareness.” Reading Rockets, 14 Apr. 2016, www.readingrockets.org/helping/target/phonologicalphonemic.

Reading Rockets. “Rhyming Games: Classroom Strategy.” Reading Rockets, 25 Oct. 2020, www.readingrockets.org/strategies/rhyming_games.

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