pile of colorful fidget toys

Learning to read is crucial for setting the foundation for future academic success. And phonemic awareness is a major component in making it happen. After all, there is no denying that those students who struggle with phonemic awareness tend to face greater challenges with both reading and writing throughout their education and life.

Successfully utilizing incentives with younger children can help secure phonemic awareness early on and yield the greatest results. Let’s take a closer look at what it is, how it works, and the best tools to use along the way. 


What is Phonemic Awareness?

In a nutshell, phonemic awareness is one’s ability to hear sounds, isolate sounds, blend sounds, segment sounds, and manipulate sounds found in spoken words. 

Phonemes are the sounds that are included in speaking a word. And even the smallest phoneme can change the entire meaning of the word. For instance, changing car to far — that first letter, the first sound or phoneme of that word, will mean something drastically different depending on which one is used. 

To be a successful reader, students must have a great understanding of how the sounds within words work. 

Students learn the sounds that each makes so that they can put them together and create words. They understand the first phoneme, and what it sounds like, and can pick other words that start with the same sound, such as ball, bee, berry, and big. They are also able to isolate the sound at the end of words and the sounds of those letters within it. 

And, of course, once they can understand these sounds, they can blend them to create new words. This helps as they are reading.  


The Importance of Phonemic Awareness

Early education sets the tone for future lessons since one concept builds on the previous one. And when it comes to basic literacy skills, understanding phonemes is so important. As you create lessons using these skills, your students will begin to: 

  • Form words from being able to identify sounds 
  • Blend sounds to form new words 
  • Gain an increase in awareness between sounds and letters, boosting spelling proficiency
  • Enhance vocabulary development and, in turn, reading comprehension
  • Improve their language skills of all types
  • Develop greater reading ability starting at a young age — and building on it as they grow

There is plenty of research showing that phoneme awareness is such an important part of early education and the levels achieved in reading. It has even been referred to as the strongest predictor of one’s future reading ability. Can you see why it’s so important in the classroom? 


Is Phonemic Awareness the Same as Phonological Awareness? 

Although they sound similar and often get used interchangeably, phonemic and phonological awareness are two different things. 

Phonological awareness is the ability of individuals to recognize and manipulate parts of words, such as syllables, rhyming, etc. using sounds. 

Phonemic awareness falls under the umbrella of phonological awareness and refers to the ability to identify and manipulate sounds found within words. Phonemes focus on sounds rather than the letters themselves. 


Why Use Incentives? 

Using incentives within the classroom – and at home – is proving to be highly indicative of future phonics and reading comprehension aptitude. This is a hands-on approach that helps students to better understand what it is they are learning, especially when it comes to learning about the sounds found within words. The more that these tools are used, the greater the chance of high aptitude. 

Below are a few of the best items to use as incentives when teaching phonemic awareness. 


Kids love pop-its. They come in all shapes, sizes, designs, and colors. These sensory toys can be used to help kids pay attention in class and maintain their focus, but they are great for learning early language techniques. For each sound that students hear in a word, they are to push down a bubble. This makes it effective for the lesson and engaging for the students. 

Play-Doh or Putty

Another fun time for kids involves Play-Doh or putty. Give some to each of your students and have them roll it into 4 balls. Sitting it on the desk in front of them, speak the word and have your kids smash the balls as they hear the sounds. 

Before you move on to the next one, have them re-roll the balls once again. This is an easy way to keep kids interested in the activity while learning, too. 


Erasers can also be used as a tool for learning sounds. Give each student 3 to 4 erasers. Then, as they hear sounds, have them line them up in the middle of their desk using one eraser for each sound. 

Buildable erasers also work beautifully as the kids can stack them up! 

Make phonemic awareness fun by changing up the erasers for each holiday or just for fun. This will keep the young students interested, too. 


Using knobby balls – or any type of small ball – have kids play a gentle game of toss around the classroom. As each person tosses the ball to the next, they repeat the sounds found in the word. As they conclude each word, give them a new one so that the game can continue. This is a fun and interactive way to engage students while also learning. 

LEGO Bricks

LEGOs are another option for teaching phonemic awareness in the classroom. As the students hear the sounds that are part of the word, they will piece together that number of LEGOs or place them in a row in front of them. 

Squishy Toys

Squishy toys are fun to hold and play with. They are also perfect for counting sounds. If each student has one, ask them to squeeze their squishy toy with each sound that they hear. This is an easy way to have a tactile phonemic experience. 


Find Your Phonemic Awareness Incentives at GEDDES

Language and reading do not always come easy for every student. This is why it is so important to make it fun and interactive. Engage your students with a hands-on approach using a variety of incentives.

Try using one of the above examples or get creative and come up with your own. Either way, GEDDES is here to help you give your students the best chance for literacy success.

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