“Phonemic awareness and alphabet learning should be interactive, authentic, and FUN!”
​-Caroline Musselwhite


What is alphabet and phonological awareness?

During the emergent literacy phase, children are busy developing their oral language, their understandings of how and why to use print, and their early phonemic and syntactic awareness (Senechal, LeFerve, Smith-Chant, & Colton, 2001).

Phonological awareness refers to the whole spectrum of awareness of sounds in spoken language—from primitive awareness of speech sounds and rhythms to rhyme and syllable awareness to, at the highest level, awareness of phonemes, which are the smallest units of sound in speech (Ziegler & Goswami, 2005).

Students who are at the emergent reading and writing level need explicit and incidental instruction around the alphabet and sounds to improve their alphabet knowledge and phonological awareness.

At an emergent level, word work will focus on phonemic awareness with activities created to bring attention to rhyme (word endings), rhythm (memory), repetition, alliteration (word onsets), and predictability.

Phonemic awareness refers to the ability to focus on and manipulate phonemes in spoken words. We teach this specifically because studies have identified phonemic awareness and letter knowledge as two of the best school entry predictors of how well children will learn to read during their first two years of school. (National Reading Panel Report, p 1-2)

Which students would benefit from alphabet and phonological awareness?



How can students benefit from alphabet and phonological awareness?


How do we teach alphabet and phonological awareness?


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Alphabet Action Man Game – Caroline Musselwhite
Too often, students with significant disabilities are taught the alphabet through flip cards and other boring, inauthentic tasks. The Alphabet Action Man Game is a quick activity for making alphabet instruction fun and meaningful.

Phoneme Isolation – Caroline Musselwhite
To support the development of phoneme isolation, which requires recognizing individual sounds.

Phonemic Sound Substitution – Caroline Musselwhite
To support the development of sound substitution, which requires listening to words, then substituting the initial sound to create a rhyming word.

Tar Heel Reader Alphabet Books

Where can I learn more about alphabet and phonological awareness?


Word Wall, Word Activities and Extension into Writing
This presentation highlights the importance of meaningful, purposeful communication in learning to read and write and connecting oral language to phonological awareness. Many interactive and engaging word wall and word activity examples are provided.

working with wordsWorking with Words
Alberta teachers demonstrate how they use word walls and related making word activities to build literacy skills of all students in their classroom, including students with significant disabilities. (Length: 7 minutes 2 seconds)

Learning Guide: Working with Words PDF