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Teaching Phonemic Awareness in Kindergarten

National Institute for Literacy

  • Which phonemic awareness skills are most important for children to learn in kindergarten? How much instructional time should be spent on teaching phonemic awareness in kindergarten?
In kindergarten, children need to develop phonemic awareness by hearing, identifying, and manipulating the individual sounds, or phonemes, within spoken words. Among the activities that might be practiced to help children acquire phonemic awareness are:

• phoneme isolation (e.g., What is the first or last sound in sat?); • phoneme identity (e.g., Which sound is the same in man, mitt, and mess?); • phoneme categorization (e.g., Which word doesn’t belong? fat, fan, tap); • phoneme blending (e.g., What word results when you blend these separately pronounced individual sounds together to make a word? /p/ /i/ /t/; • phoneme segmentation (e.g., What are the separate sounds in this word? Show me by tapping or counting each sound as you pronounce the word, or set out a token as you say each sound – ant – /a/ /n/ /t/ – 3 sounds).

Once children acquire letter knowledge, then they can be taught to perform these activities by pointing to or manipulating letters along with the sounds. The most important types of phonemic awareness for children to acquire are blending and segmentation because they provide the foundation for acquiring decoding and spelling skills. By the end of kindergarten, many children are able to blend and segment phonemes using letters, signaling readiness for phonics in grade 1. Research has indicated that in kindergarten, phonemic awareness can be acquired from instruction usually lasting a total of 20 hours or less, though some individual children might need more instruction to be able to segment words accurately. More than that does not appear to enhance the benefits. It is important to assess students individually to verify that instruction has been successful for all students. More instruction may be required for some than for others.
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