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Phonological Awareness – Reading Comprehension Series

In our last blog post, we talked about print awareness as the first step toward reading comprehension, which means understanding that written letters and words are meaningful and not random shapes. A child also needs to understand that spoken language is specifically represented in written form through the letters of the alphabet (e.g. the letter B makes a "b" sound, the letter C makes a "s" or "k" sound). The skills a child needs to have before they can understand the letter-sound relationship is called phonological awareness.

Some children might develop this awareness on their own, but others might need to be taught it directly. In this blog post, we list different areas within phonological awareness and what parents/guardians can do to teach them.


Target Age: 3-4 years old

The goal here is that the child will be able to first identify words that rhyme. The simplest way to assess if a child has this ability is to say two words and ask them to give a thumbs up if they rhyme or a thumbs down if they don't. The second step is having them come up with rhyming words on their own.

When reading a book that has rhymes in it, let the child fill in the blank. For example, "The Itsy Bitsy Spider went up the water spout. Down came the rain and washed the spider _____." If they struggle to come up with the word, give them the first sound as a hint.

Here are a few examples of books that rhyme that are great for children aged 3-4:

Syllable Awareness

Target Age: 4-5 years old

This skill is present when children realize that words are made up of syllables. To get a child familiar with this concept, ask them to clap for each syllable in a word (e.g. "Purple" becomes "Pur (clap)-ple (clap)"). Eventually, you can have them think of the longest word they know and demonstrate the length by clapping each syllable (e.g. "Cat-er-pil-lar", "Al-li-ga-tor".)

Sound Awareness

Target Age: 5-6 years old

Once a child understands that words can be broken into syllables, it's helpful if they can identify the sounds in the first, middle, and final positions of a word. When stuck in traffic or getting groceries, you can play I-Spy and ask them to find something that begins with the sound "k" (remember to give the sound, not the name of the letter).

Another activity would be listing items that begin with the same sound. Identifying the initial sound in a word is usually the easiest; once the child has mastered this, you can try the activities with the middle and final sounds in a word (e.g. "what's the last sound in 'dog'? ggg, that's right!")

Sound Blending

Target Age: 5-6 years old

We want children to string together individual sounds to form a word. After mastering I-Spy in sound awareness, play a new version of the game where you stretch out the word and ask them to determine what the object is.

  • For example: "I spy a c-a-r. Do you know what I see?"

They should be able to start blending the sounds of 'car' together to recognize the word. Start with short, one-syllable words and help them out in the beginning.

Awareness of Number of Sounds

Target Age: 6-7 years old

Just as its name suggests, this skill is the ability for a child to count how many sounds are in a word (not counting the letters, but the sounds you hear). Using a set of cards with pictures on them or small toys, you can have the child sort the items into piles based on how many sounds are in each.

  • For example, a pile of items with three sounds would include things like: dog (d-o-g) ball (b-a-ll), sun (s-u-n), hat (h-a-t), phone (ph-o-ne).

  • A pile with four-sound items would include: flag (f-l-a-g), crab (c-r-a-b), drum (d-r-u-m), frog (f-r-o-g), spoon (s-p-oo-n).

Sound Manipulation

Target Age: 7 years old+

This final skill in phonological awareness is the ability for a child to omit or substitute sounds from a word to make a new one. While waiting at the doctor's office, driving to school, or eating dinner, you can ask the child:

  • "Say 'pat'.... Good, now replace the 'pah' sound in 'pat' with a 'ha' sound. "

The goal is for the child to say 'hat'. You can continue this activity with different sound positions (first, middle, final) and word lengths.

When a child has mastered these skills, they will be able to reflect on words and sounds and be able manipulate them easily. This gives them a strong understanding foundation in phonological awareness that will help them in their journey to reading. Check back soon for our next reading blog post about decoding and sight-words!


Andalusia Speech Therapy has multiple clinics across Ontario and offers virtual therapy to clients anywhere in the world. Contact us more for information.

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