Normally, the groundwork for phonological and phonemic awareness is laid in Kindergarten and 1st grade. (Although, advanced skills still have a place in regular instruction in 2nd and 3rd grades!) As we all know, the interruptions in learning caused by COVID have really done a number on our students. In our Facebook community, we are hearing from teacher after teacher about how hard this year is and how big the learning gaps are. If you’re a 2nd-grade teacher, a phonological awareness intervention might not be something you’re very comfortable with or confident leading. That’s okay! We’re teachers and we are used to wearing a million different hats and adapting to new challenges. If your literacy screenings have shown that your students lack fully developed early literacy skills and you’re looking for some phonological awareness interventions, you’re in the right place!
What Is Phonological Awareness?
Before we jump into the activities let’s make sure we’re all on the same page on what exactly phonological awareness is. Normally, in 2nd grade we’re diving deep into those multisyllabic words and expanding vocabulary but if your students need phonological awareness we need to take a giant step back. (It’ll be worth it, I promise!) Phonological awareness is not print. It’s all about what we hear. It’s the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds in words and sentences. Some people use phonemic awareness and phonological awareness interchangeably but while they are connected they’re also different. Phonological awareness includes skills like breaking sentences into individual words, rhymes, syllables, and onset-rime. Meanwhile, phonemic awareness is the manipulation of individual sounds, or phonemes, within words. There’s a quick video explaining phonological awareness below if you’d like to hear a bit more. For a much more in-depth article on phonological and phonemic awareness, check out this post from Reading Rockets.
Why Is Phonological Awareness Important?
If you google phonological awareness you’re going to read over and over that phonological awareness has been shown in multiple studies to be a strong predictor of later reading achievement. This has been shown to be especially true for students who struggle with literacy. Researchers have found a correlation between reading difficulties and a lack of phonological awareness. So, it’s very important that we stop what we’re doing and circle back to phonological awareness if that’s where we’re finding gaps in student learning. We can’t build that big beautiful reading house with a strong foundation! Read Charlotte has a really great short video discussing just how important this skill is if you’d like to take a look. Also, here is some helpful guidance for how to identify any gaps your students have in phonological awareness.
Levels of Phonological Awareness & Activities
Alright, now that we’ve got the basics of phonological awareness down, let’s drill into the levels of phonological awareness and some activities you can do at each level.
This post is organized by three phonological awareness levels:
I) Early Skills
II) Basic Skills
II) Advanced Skills
Our set of Phonological Awareness Toothy task cards are split into these same three categories. You can use the following checklist from our PA Toothy set as a reference for the different skills that fall under each level.
Intervention Activities for Early Skills
We’ve included some sample activities for the following early phonological awareness skills:
- Word Level Activities
- Rhyming/ Onset & Rime Activities
- Syllable Activities
1. Word Level Activities
At this level, students are able to hear someone say, “I like to eat cake” and know that this phrase represents 5 separate words instead of one long word, “Iliketoeatcake.” Here are a few very quick games you can play with your students to master this level.
Word, Word, Sentence
This is like Duck, Duck, Goose but with an educational twist. A student who is “it” walks around the circle tapping classmates’ heads, one tap per word, until they finish a sentence.
For example: My (tap) dog (tap) likes (tap) to (tap) eat (tap) socks!
When they get to the end of their sentence they run! My students like this game because it starts to create some pretty complex sentences after a while. It also helps them work on appropriate places to end sentences which can transition into a lesson on using periods later!
This is a great active phonological awareness intervention brain break! Say a sentence like, “This burrito is so spicy!” Instruct students to repeat your sentence and hop once for every word. This one can get pretty silly pretty quickly! Your students will love it.
Unifix Cube Sentences
This activity is a great quick small group activity. Give your students unifix cubes (yay for crossfunctional manipulatives!) or any other manipulative you have on hand. Say a sentence out loud. Ask students to stack a cube for each word they say while they repeat the sentence.
2. Rhyming & Onset-Rime Activities
Depending on who you ask these two are blended into one level of awareness or they are separated. To streamline things a bit, they’re being combined for this next set of activities. At this level students are working on skills like rhyming, alliteration, and chunks of words. Try out some of these fun activities with your students:
It’s a classic for a reason. I Spy is so adaptable. Try playing a rhyming twist with your students. Start off with, “I spy with my little eye something that rhymes with door.” The best part of this game is it can be played anywhere. Try a quick whisper round on your way to specials or while lining up for lunch.
Who knew these could be a phonological awareness intervention as well as a way to get some giggles? Tongue twisters give your students an opportunity to play with sounds and notice similar sounds in words. This list of tongue twisters will definitely have your students working hard and laughing hysterically.
Whose Rhyme Is It Anyway?
The title of this game won’t mean anything to your students but it always makes me laugh. This activity works on both rhyme and word-level phonological awareness. Begin by writing a few sentences on the board to make a short story like, “I went to the store. I need to buy something to drink. Some ham, too!” Students will pick words from the sentences to replace with a rhyming word to make the sentence silly. For example:
- I went to the floor. I need to buy something to drink. Some cheese, too!
- I went to the floor. I need to buy something to stink. Some cheese, too!
- I went to the floor. I need to buy something to stink. Some fleas, too!
As you can imagine as students contribute the sentence gets sillier and most nonsensical. They love it!
Rhyme Memory Game
This game requires a little bit of prep but can be used again and again. Print out images of rhyming word pairs onto cardstock. Have students face all the cards down and flip them over one set at a time. If they found a match that rhymes they get to keep those cards right side up.
3. Syllable Activities
At this level, we’re starting to hit some 1st-grade skills. Students with mastery here should be able to hear and count syllables in words. Phonological awareness intervention activities at this level are easy to incorporate into small group lessons or sprinkled throughout your day for some extra practice. Find more ideas for teaching syllables in this post.
Clapping Syllables or Chin Syllables
This is a quick and pretty common activity because it requires no prep. Say a word and ask students to repeat it while clapping on each syllable or by holding their hand under their chin and feeling the chin drops. Once they master clapping along ask them to count the syllables as well.
Add this activity to your math block for a little cross-curricular fun! Have students graph how many syllables are in their names. Using first and last names tends to give a slightly better spread of results. If you have a small class you can graph the names of family members or school staff.
For this phonological awareness intervention activity take a hoop or some baskets and place them around your room. Attach a post-it note with a number on it to the front. Then, collect a group of objects or print out images for your students. Ask them to sort the objects into the baskets/hoops by the number of syllables. To make it a little more difficult, simply number the baskets and tell them to find their own objects or draw pictures of objects with the corresponding syllables.
4. Phonological Toothy – Early Skills Task Card Set
Phonological Awareness Toothy has all the early phonological awareness skills covered! 28 task cards that specifically target rhyming, alliteration, words in a sentence, onset-rime and more. See some of the Toothy intervention tasks for early skills in action below!
Intervention Activities for Basic Skills
We’ve included some sample activities for practicing phonemes, the cornerstone of the basic phonological awareness level.
These kids have climbed a phonological awareness mountain and now we’re at the phoneme level! This is where phonemic awareness comes in. At this level, students are able to hear and manipulate individual sounds in words. This is blending, segmenting, substituting, and deleting. This is where it gets a bit more challenging for many students but don’t worry! With opportunities to practice, your students will get it!
Phonological Awareness Toothy
Download Phonological Awareness Toothy HERE
This resource has already been mentioned but now that your students are past the Early Skills task cards they can move into the Basic & Advanced Skills sets of cards. These task cards target those higher-level skills and offer your students a low-pressure reinforcement and practice. It’s also very easy for teacher aides or parent volunteers to use. This way you’re getting every moment of intervention you can get without having to always be directly involved and there’s no need to lesson plan. Adults simply read the prompts on the back. For a closer look check out the video below.
Talk Like A Robot
This is a great activity to use as a phonological awareness intervention brain break. Tell your students they can talk to their peers for a few minutes but it can ONLY be in a robot voice that breaks each word into its sounds. Or in a small group tell your students that you are a robot and only understand other robots. Robot voice forces your students to slow down their speech and break each word into its individual sounds.
Tell your students that you are going to give them a list of words and they have to try and figure out the “secret word.” The secret word has the same initial/final/medial sound (depending on what you’re working on) as a word you’re going to write on the board. For example, put up a picture of a ROAD on the board. Tell your students that the secret word has the same final sound as the word on the board then put up images of a bush, someone who is sad, a castle moat, and a lion. I number the images so and ask them to hold up the number they think is correct. In this example, students write the number 2, to represent “sad” because it ends in /d/, on a whiteboard and hold it up. If you’re teaching virtually this can easily become a fun Kahoot game. If you’d like to incorporate a little movement you can turn this into a four corners style game!
I Spy (again!)
This game is being added again because it is so versatile as a phonological awareness game. At the phonemic level, you can use prompts like, “I spy with my little eye something that begins with the sound /ch/” or “I spy with my little eye something with a short A as the medial sound.” Use it with whatever you’re currently teaching for a no-prep super quick reinforcement activity.
Sounds boxes (or you might hear them referred to as Elkonin boxes) are simple visuals that help students visualize how the sounds in words work. Students use these sound boxes to learn how to segment words into their individual phonemes. These boxes are all about the sounds in each word and not necessarily the amount of letters. So the word “stay” would fit nicely in a sound box with 3 spaces even though it technically has 4 letters. For a more in-depth look at how to use sound boxes take a look at this post from Understood.
Download Sound Boxes HERE
This is a great activity from the Florida Center for Reading Research and it requires minimal prep. Click here to download the picture cards and print them out. Printing on cardstock would make this a more durable game that can be used as a great ELA center. Each image is broken into the number of phonemes in that word. Students say the name of the picture and segment the words into their phonemes using the number of pieces as a reference. They slowly slide the pieces together and repeat the word to complete the picture. If you haven’t had the chance, visit the Florida Center for Reading Research for a ton of great information and activities!
Intervention Activities for Advanced Skills
We tend to think of phonological and phonemic awareness as a skill that’s only taught and practiced in preschool and kindergarten. But, it’s important to understand that there are advanced PA skills that belong in regular reading instruction in 2nd and 3rd-grade classrooms. When kids are ready for advanced levels, they are able to start manipulating phonemes:
- switching syllables
- phoneme subtraction
- phoneme substitution
- deleting initial, medial, and final sounds
- substituting sounds
- reversing/ chaining sounds
We’ve got you covered with scripts and task cards in our Phonological Awareness Toothy kit. See some advanced skills in action below!
Phonological Awareness Intervention
Having to take a few steps back in reading instruction can be difficult. However, phonological awareness is absolutely critical to kids’ future as proficient and confident readers. Plus, your students are going to LOVE all of these activities! They’re fun and most are low or no-prep, making them a win-win!