Continuum Unpacked

Phonemic Awareness

Isolating Phonemes - K/1

Video Coming Soon

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


Grade 1



Grade 2



Grade 3



Grade 4



Looks like: Kindergarten / Grade 1

Identifying phonemes orally in spoken words (e.g., prompt: “What is the first sound in the word sun?”), first with continuous sounds, and then with stop sounds

Why is this important?

Young children must be taught explicitly that words are made up of sounds. When students are able to isolate individual phonemes in words, they are working toward the ability to map those sounds onto print, which supports students’ reading and spelling skills.


Instruction should be carefully sequenced. First, teach students to isolate the first sound of a word, then the final sound, then the middle sound. Medial (middle) sounds are most challenging for young students to identify. Limit words with blends at first; for example, ask students to isolate the first sound in a word like ‘bug’ instead of ‘brush.”

Continuous sounds (sounds that can be stretched or exaggerated) are easier to isolate than stop sounds. Instruction can be thoughtfully sequenced to give students opportunities to practice isolating continuous sounds first, like the /s/ in sun, and then progressing to stop sounds like the /t/ in top.

Phonemic awareness instruction should be purposefully linked to print. After students identify a target sound in a word, consider explicitly teaching them to identify how they would represent the sound in print.