Phonological awareness refers to the whole spectrum from primitive awareness of speech sounds and rhythms to rhyme awareness and sound similarities and, at the highest level, awareness of syllables or phonemes. Phonemes are the smallest units in speech, for instance, the /bl, /a/, and /t/sounds that make up the word bat. Becoming attentive to the sound structure of language-becoming phonologically or phonemically aware-is an "ear" skill, unlike phonics, which is the relation between letters and sounds in written words.

Besides continuing to use the full range of teaching strategies effective in the preschool years, teachers boost the phonological awareness of kindergarten children by inviting them to:

  • Build word walls, emphasizing common sounds they hear
  • Isolate the first segment of a word (Can you say the first little bit of snow?)
  • Find all the things in a picture that begin with the /n/ sound
  • Tell what is left when one of the segments is removed from a word ("Say smile without the sss" or "Say team without the mmm")  
  • (From Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children's Reading Success by M.S. Sums, P. Griffin, C. Snow (eds.) (National Academy Press, 1999, $14.95))