Continuum Unpacked

Phonemic Awareness

Segmenting Words - K/1

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: Segmenting Phonemes

Kindergarten/Grade 1
Segmenting spoken words into phonemes, starting with simple structures with two phonemes and progressing to more complex structures with more phonemes.


Grade 1
Segmenting spoken words with structures that have more than two phonemes



Grade 2



Grade 3



Grade 4


Looks like: Kindergarten / Grade 1

segmenting CV/VC and CVC words, starting with continuous sounds, and then progressing to stop sounds

(Note: C stands for consonant; V stands for vowel.)

Looks like: Grade 1

  • segmenting the sounds of spoken words containing up to five phonemes
  • segmenting CVC and CCVC/CVCC words (e.g., prompt: “To segment the word wish, say each sound like this: /w/ /i/ /sh/”), starting with continuous sounds, and then progressing to stop soundssplitting a multisyllabic word into its syllables and then segmenting each phoneme in each syllable


Why is this important?

Segmenting is a critical phonemic awareness skill. When students spell a word, they first must segment a word into its phonemes before representing each phoneme with a grapheme. Segmentation is often included in early reading screening measures because it can predict students who are likely to struggle to learn to read.


Segmenting should be explicitly taught and carefully sequenced. Generally, it is easier for students to segment words with fewer sounds than words with many sounds. Segmenting ‘key’ into /k/ /ē/ is easier than segmenting ‘bench’ into /b/ /e/ /n/ /ch/. It is also easier for students to segment words with continuous sounds since they can be exaggerated. Segmenting ‘sun’ into /s/ /u/ /n/ is easier than segmenting ‘top’ into /t/ /o/ /p/ since ‘sun’ is composed of continuant sounds that can be stretched out or exaggerated.

Consonant blends or clusters, such as the < br > in ‘brush’, are especially challenging for students to segment. Before teaching students to segment words with blends, ensure they can accurately segment VC, CV, and CVC words first. Provide plenty of clear, explicit modelling of examples and non-examples to support students in segmenting blends.

As quickly as possible, segmenting instruction should be linked to print. We teach segmenting to support students’ reading and spelling skills, so take care to limit extended oral blending practice.

As a rule of thumb, research tells us that phonemic awareness instruction is most effective when it is provided in small groups, when only 1 or 2 skills are taught in a lesson (blending and segmenting have the most research support), and for very brief periods of time (no more than 30 minutes per week).