Effective Practice Guides

Phonological Awareness: Do


Try the following practices with preschool-aged children. Use as much of the child’s home or tribal language as possible. Find out how home visitors can put these practices to work with families.

Phonological awareness learning experiences support children in recognizing and distinguishing smaller segments of sound, as well as combining and separating sounds in preparation for reading. Focus on sounds rather than sound/print correspondence, and remember to keep it fun. To scaffold learning, explain why answers are correct or incorrect. To lead phonological awareness experiences, you need to know the sounds and sound combinations of a language very well. Only lead phonological awareness experiences in languages in which you are fluent.1


  • Watch and listen for children’s spontaneous play with sounds of language. Respond by encouraging and extending it. For example:
    • When a child taps two blocks together while vocalizing, “bam, bam, boom, boom,” join in by tapping two blocks while saying, “zam, zam, zoom zoom.” Extend the play by asking, “What other sounds can you tap?”
  • Similarities between phonemes (individual sounds) in English and children’s home languages can be used as a foundation for building phonological awareness (e.g., if the child’s home language has some of the same phonemes as English, start using them for rhymes or beginning sound learning experiences as they are sounds with which children are already familiar).
  • Offer opportunities that involve rhymes. For example:
    • Sing rhyming songs and play rhyming games.
    • Read books and poetry that have rhyming words.
    • Invite children to fill in rhyming words (e.g., "One, two, buckle my ___ (shoe)").
    • Encourage children to make up their own rhymes.
  • Play word-combining games to make compound words like raincoat and sunshine. Use photos or pictures for visual cues and to make the games hands-on for children.
  • Clap the syllables in a child’s name to identify them during transitions (e.g., Me-lin-da, Char-lie, Gi-o-van-na) or in a sentence (e.g., “We are going outside (six claps)").
  • For older preschoolers, play guessing games in which children add sounds together (e.g., /c/ + /up/ = cup) or subtract beginning sounds to make a new word (e.g., rice - /r/ = ice).

Home Visitors

Home visitors can support parents in identifying, adapting, and trying the practices listed above during home visits and group socializations. Here are more ideas.

  • Encourage parents to sing songs, perform finger plays, and recite chants, nursery rhymes, and tongue twisters in the language(s) they know best.
  • Model reading rhyming books together. Explain that with re-readings, parents can help their children recall rhyming words (e.g., “Mary had a little lamb. Its fleece was white as snow. And everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to ___ (go).”). Supply the correct word or provide clues as needed.
    • Let families know that this can also be done with familiar songs, chants, tongue twisters, and nursery rhymes.

1National Center on Early Childhood Development, Teaching, and Learning (NCECDTL), “Planned Language Approach: Phonological Awareness” (Washington, DC: Author, 2019), https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/no-search/dtl-pla-phonological-awareness.pdf.

2California Department of Education, California Preschool Curriculum Framework Volume 1 (Sacramento, CA: California Department of Education, 2010), 133–139, Phonological Awareness, http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/cd/re/documents/psframeworkkvol1.pdf [PDF, 8.8MB].

3Hally K. Yopp, and Ruth E. Yopp, “Phonological Awareness is Child’s Play!,” Beyond the Journal, Young Children on the Web (Washington, DC: NAEYC, January 2009), http://www.anchorageaeyc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Phonological-Awareness-Is-Childs-Play-Handouts.pdf [PDF, 510KB].

Topic:School Readiness

Resource Type: Article

Last Updated: December 3, 2019