Components of the Reading Rope: Phonological Awareness

Phonological awareness is the strand of Scarborough’s reading rope that relates to spoken sounds. When a student is phonologically aware, he or she is able to identify, produce, and manipulate parts of spoken language. Here are the skills included under the umbrella of phonological awareness.


One of the first skills beginning readers learn about is rhyme, first by identifying words that rhyme, then by generating their own rhyming words. They learn about partial rhymes like ‘butch’ and ‘catch’ (when only part of a word’s “rime”—or the letters that follow the initial sound—are the same as another’s), and full rhymes, like ‘fish’ and ‘wish’ (when a word’s entire rime matches that of another).


Alliteration is when consecutive or adjacent words begin with the same letter or sound, as in cool cucumber. Once students can recognize examples and create their own, they have mastered alliteration.

Working with syllables

An important skill in phonological awareness is recognizing syllables. Once students can count the number of syllables in a word, it becomes much easier for them to read it. This is especially true of words containing one or more affixes.

Manipulating Onset (the first sound in a word) and Rime

Word play in which students manipulate individual sounds in words to create new words is another important part of phonological awareness. When we change the first sound in a word (from pot to hot, or bun to fun), we are changing the onset. When we change one or more of the letters that follow (pot to pod or bun to bin), we are changing the rime.

Phonemic Awareness

The final, and perhaps most important piece of phonological awareness is phonemic awareness, or a student’s ability to work with individual sounds in spoken words, like substituting, inserting, or deleting sounds to create new words.

Activities to Build Phonological Awareness

Sound Deletion Games

Anything that allows children to practice the skill of orally adding or removing sounds to create new words will strengthen their phonological awareness. Start with a simple word like ‘hat.’ Ask students to change the beginning letter to create a new word. Perhaps they have chosen ‘cat.’ Now tell them to add an ‘r’ before the t. They’ll say ‘cart.’ Now tell them to replace the first letter with the ‘ch’ sound to make ‘chart,’ and so on and so on. You can cater this game to be as simple or as challenging as is appropriate for your child.

Don’t Clap Syllables…Use Your Jaw Instead

A popular strategy for counting syllables is by clapping them out. But this is hard to teach, especially when children aren’t naturally able to hear the syllable division. A better method is to teach them using their chin or jaw. Place your hand underneath your chin and say a word, moving your mouth a little more dramatically than you normally would. Every time your jaw drops or moves, that’s a new syllable! (It’s also usually when there is a new vowel or vowel team.)

Guessing Games

Using your students’ knowledge of words and word play, have them guess what you are thinking of by giving them a clue that contains either a rhyme, the beginning sound, or just a description. For example, you could say, “I spy something that starts with…” or “I’m thinking of something big that rhymes with “fountain.”

Sound Scavenger Hunt

Have students look for objects that either start or end with various sounds. You can give them pictures of the objects they are looking for to give them clues, or just the letters on a sheet of paper. There’s no wrong way to do a scavenger hunt, and they’ll never even know they’re learning!

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