Children begin their literacy development with phonological awareness. Phonological awareness is a child’s ability to reflect on the structure of words they hear. According to current research, these skills are a predictor for later literacy acquisition. With strong phonological awareness skills children are able to link their spoken language, written language and understand as well as access and achieve the school curriculum.

So, how do we reflect of the structure of words? Well, let’s begin with some syllable and sound segmenting - this involves what can be phonemes (what can be heard)…

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Now, let’s incorporate graphemes and letters. This will involve what the word looks like…


For the word ‘tree’

  • We hear 3 phonemes (or sounds) t|r|ee

  • We use 3 graphemes to represent the three sounds t|r|ee

  • We use 4 letters to spell the word t|r|e|e

Let’s try another! Take the word ‘spoon’

  • We hear 4 phonemes - s|p|oo|n

  • We use 4 graphemes - s|p|oo|n

  • We use 5 letters – s|p|o|o|n


Now that we’ve got an understadning of phonological awareness skills, how might we teach them?

  • Elkonin boxes are a fantastic visual support. See how they are used for the word ‘spoon.’

  • Be very explicit when asking a child to “find a word that starts with…”
    If you are working on sounds, you might say, “find a word that starts with the /s/ sound” (make sure you use the sound - “sssss” and NOT the letter). This could include words like soap and sock.
    If you are working on letters, you might say, “find a word that starts with the letter ‘S’. This could include words like soap and sock but also, show and shoe. 

With a solid foundation of these pre-literacy or phonological awareness skills, children can then begin learning about the wide variety of graphemes and letters used in the English language!

More information:



Gillon, G. T. (2004). Phonological awareness – from research to practice. the guildford press New York.

Schedfer, B., Stackhouse, J., & Wells, B). (2017). Phonological awareness development in children with and without spoken language difficulties: A 12-month long longitudinal study of german-speaking pre-school children. International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 19)465-475).