Phonemic and Phonological Awareness

Learn how we prepare children for writing and reading.

“How does Montessori prepare my child for reading?”

In our approach, we begin by using spoken language games to build the children’s phonemic awareness as well as their overall phonological awareness. These terms are frequently interchanged, but they are actually quite different!

Phonological awareness is the general appreciation of how language can be divided into its components. In the English language, we speak in sentences. Sentences can be broken down into words, words into syllables, and then syllables into individual sounds. We offer phonological awareness activities to the child to help them learn how segment sentences into words, divide words into syllables, identify rhyming words, and hear the individual sounds in words (also known as phonemic awareness).

Phonemic awareness is a sub-skill of phonological awareness that involves a child’s ability to hear the smallest units of sound that make up a word. These small units are called phonemes. All words are made up of several phonemes that are blended together. For example, the word dog is made up of three phonemes: /d/ and /o/ and /g/. We offer phonemic awareness activities to the children to help them more readily identify the beginning, ending, and middle sounds in words. This awareness provides the basis for phonics, which is the understanding that sounds and letters are associated.

In the classroom, we offer phonological awareness and phonemic awareness lessons as spoken language games very early on. Our goal with phonemic awareness activities is to train the child’s ear to hear the initial, ending, and middle sounds in words. Only later, when the child is easily able to identify that the word “cat” starts with the sound /c/, do we then introduce them to what the sound /c/ looks like using the cursive sandpaper letters. At this early stage, we are careful not to use the letter name at all.

Phonemic and Phonological Awareness Activities

WAIT! Unsure of how to make the sounds of the various letters?

Before working with your child on phonemic awareness activities, take a moment to familiarize yourself with how the phonemes are made. Visit the phonetic sounds page and click any symbol below to hear the associated sound/phoneme. You can also review Teaching Phonics the Montessori Way to read how to produce the sounds.

Teaching Phonics the Montessori Way.pdf
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Onset-Rime Game ages 3 and up

The initial consonant that changes the meaning of the word is called an onset, and the following vowel/consonant combination that remains constant is called a rime. Because awareness of syllables, onsets, and rimes develops before awareness of phonemes, this game focuses on ways to expose children to a form of wordplay.

Directions: Play a spoken language game with your child by modeling blending the initial sound (onset) onto the remainder of a word (rime). For example:

Once your child gets the idea, he/she can offer the word. Using familiar words (cat, mom, dog) and longer words (school, family, Montessori) add variety to this fun game!

Beginning Sounds ages 3 and up

Directions: Together with your child, gather a collection of 3-5 objects from around the house. Make sure they are objects your child can easily identify. Try and find objects that BEGIN with VERY different sounds (such as lemon, turtle, spoon, and a fork). Click each step to hear an example of what to do.

sound game tray

*Note: For this game and the others, objects are not necessary at all. You can play I spy games using the articles of clothing your child is wearing or items in the kitchen. Make it fun!

Ending Sounds ages 3 ½ and up

Directions: Together with your child, gather a collection of 3-5 objects from around the house. Make sure they are objects your child can easily identify. Try and find objects that END with different sounds (such as a spoon, a fork, and a turtle). Click each step to hear an example of what to do.

Middle Sounds (game 3) ages 4 and up

Directions: Together with your child, gather a collection of objects from around the house. Try and find objects that have various middle sounds and varied vowel sounds (such as a spoon, a fork, a lemon, and a pig).

Words that have the sound in it ages 4 and up

Directions: This game does not require any objects.

Sounds in a word ages 4 and up

Directions: Collect a group of familiar objects for this game.

Which Initial Sound Is Not Like The Others ages 3 ½ and up

Directions: Print out the game sheet and show the photos to your child. Let him or her know that some of the objects start with the same sound, and one of them starts with a different sound. Ask your child to circle the object that begins with a different sound.

Which Initial Sound is Not the Same.pdf
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Which Initial Sound is Not the Same-2.pdf
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Which Ending Sound Is Not Like The Others ages 3 ½ and up

Directions: Print out the game sheet and show the photos to your child. Let him or her know that three of the objects ENDS with the same sound, and one of them ENDS with a different sound. Ask your child to circle the object that ends with a different sound.

Which Ending Sound is Not the Same.pdf
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Word Lists ages 4 ½ and up

Directions: Invite your child to write a list of words that start with the same sound. For example, a child can choose the sound /c/ and write words, including cat, corn, cake, and clap.

shaded paper COLUMN lists.pdf
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Alliteration Time! ages 5 and up

Directions: Invite your child to read each of the sentences. Introduce the term “Alliteration” to describe the fact that each word in the sentence begins with the same initial sound. Invite your child to write his or her own sentences that use the same initial sound.

Alliteration.pdf
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Rhyming Activities

We offer rhyming activities to help children hear the similarities and differences in how words sound. We explain that rhyming words are two or more words that have the same or similar ending sound. For example, the word “hat” rhymes with “mat” and the word “coat” rhymes with “boat.”

This essential pre-reading skill develops in three stages:

We must help the child train their ears to listen and hear if the ending of two words sound similar (and therefore rhyme) or sound different (and do not rhyme). Once a child can recognize rhyming words, we then move on to asking a child to produce rhyming words. This process develops over the three years a child is in the primary classroom.

Nursery Rhymes ages 3 and up

Directions: Share nursery rhymes with your child. These classic stories introduce rhyming in a way that is engaging and memorable. Older children may read the nursery rhymes aloud. Here are a few suggested nursery rhymes.

Nursery Rhymes.pdf
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Rhyming Poetry ages 3 and up

Directions: Share rhyming poetry with your child. Many child-friendly poets offer wonderful (and humorous) poems with lots of rhyming. Shel Silverstein was one of my childhood favorites who has written many whimsical poems for a young audience. Older children may read these poems independently. Memorizing rhyming poetry is fun too!

Shel Silverstein.pdf
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Rhyme Listening Game ages near 4 and up

Directions: Print out the set of cards. Explain to your child that rhyming words are words that sound the same at the end. Offer a few examples, such as “cat” and “rat” or “bake” and “cake.” Read the first pair of words on the first card. Ask your child to listen carefully as you repeat the word pair. Then, ask your child to decide if the words rhyme or do not rhyme. Continue until all word pairs on the card have been explored. On a different day, play the game with a different card.

Rhyme Listening Game.pdf
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Which One Does Not Rhyme ages near 4 and up

Directions: Print out the set of cards. Look at each square grouping of four cards. Three of the pictures are of words that rhyme. One of the pictures does not rhyme with the others. Place an indicator (penny, button, leaf) on the picture that does not belong with the others.

Which One Does Not Rhyme.pdf
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Rhyming Word Writing Activity ages 5 and up

Directions: Read the word. Write a word that rhymes on the line.

Rhyming Words Writing Activity.pdf
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Rhyming Word Reading Cards: ages 5 and up

Directions: Print out the set of cards. Read the list of rhyming words on the card. On the empty line, write a word that rhymes with the words on the list.

Rhyming Word Cards Set 1.pdf
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Rhyming Word Cards Set 2.pdf
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