Continuum Unpacked

Phonemic Awareness

Articulatory Gestures - K/1

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Category: Phonemic Awareness

Phonological awareness refers to the ability to reflect on the sound structure of spoken language.

Phonemic awareness is a subcomponent of phonological awareness. It refers to the ability to identify and manipulate the smallest unit of sound in spoken words, called a phoneme. When students begin to identify, notice, segment, blend, and manipulate individual sounds or phonemes in words, they are developing and consolidating their phonemic awareness. Teaching these skills occurs largely in the context of teaching the decoding and spelling of written words.

Knowledge and Skills: Isolating Phonemes

Kindergarten/Grade 1
Isolating the phonemes they hear in words – an important skill to support segmentation
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Looks like: Kindergarten / Grade 1

Noticing and describing the oral-motor movements used to produce a sound when helpful, including placement, manner, and voicing (e.g., lips popping with a quiet voice box for /p/ or tongue tapping the back of the teeth with a noisy voice box for /d/)

Why is this important?

Research indicates that students show stronger word reading skills when they are taught to monitor the articulatory gestures used to produce phonemes (Castiglioni-Spalten & Ehri, 2009). It is assumed that when students can identify how sounds are produced in their mouths, they are better able to read and spell words.


When teaching articulatory gestures to young children, carefully consider the placement (where sounds are produced), manner (how sounds are produced), and voicing (whether vocal cords are vibrating). This is challenging for adults to understand, so take some time to ensure you have the knowledge necessary before beginning instruction. Consider using aids like mirrors to show the articulators (including teeth, tongue, and lips), or a tissue held in front of a student’s mouth to illustrate airflow.


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