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Easy Phoneme Isolation Activities

What is phoneme isolation and why is it SO important for early readers?

Phonemes are sounds. Phoneme isolation is the act of picking out sounds at the beginning, middle, and end of words. This set of skills most commonly refers to picking out sounds in CVC words, aka consonant vowel consonant words and is taught in the following order:

boy isolating beginning phoneme
  • Beginning sound isolation
  • Ending sound isolation
  • Middle sound isolation

What is an example of phoneme isolation?

A child who can do all three phoneme isolations will know that the beginning sound of log is /l/, the middle sound is /o/, and the ending sound is /g/.

If a child is unable to isolate sounds they will have a really hard time reading and will not be able to write independently.

Phoneme Isolation Activities you can do with little to no effort:

Beginning Sound Isolation

What sound does rabbit start with? If you said R, you're wrong! The letter R is not a sound, it's a letter.

If you said /r/ (the sound that R makes), you would be spot on! Beginning sound isolation comes before ending and middle sounds so try these activities before moving on:

  1. Go on a scavenger hunt in your home for 5 things that start with the sound /r/. Switch up the sound each time.
  2. Clear the Board: Place 3-5 items on the ground that all have different beginning sounds. Ask your child, which one starts with the sound /b/? Continue removing each item until there are no more!
  3. Play "I spy" with a tray of items. Remember to focus on the phoneme, so give instructions like "I spy with my little eye, something that starts with the sound /d/."
phoneme isolation tray with beginning sounds

Ending Sound Isolation:

You can play any of the beginning sound isolation games but switch the phoneme you're focusing on to ending sounds.

  1. Toy Thief is one of my most favorite phoneme isolation games. Tape 5-7 light toys to a door. Have your child rescue the ones by their ending sound. Keep in mind that words like "horse" have an ending sound of /s/. Call out, "Rescue the animal with the ending sound /p/.
isolating ending phonemes

2. Play "Which one?" We play this in the car. I ask my child, "Which one ends in /m/?" Then I give three choices like "sat, bam, or fin?" You can even play with two choices to make the game simpler.

3. Stand up, Sit Down is a great game from Pride Reading Program where you give your child two words. They stand if they have the same ending sound and they sit if they have different ending sounds! That's a game you can play for just one minute and get a ton of practice with ending phoneme isolation!

For more incredible ending sounds games check out my post on the top 7 ending sounds activities for kids.

Middle Phoneme Isolation:

When I talk about middle sounds, I mean the middle sounds of CVC words aka 3 letter words. Hearing the middle vowel sound is difficult!

Here are the two ways to help kids listen for the sound:

  1. Whole body approach - Take the word and stretch it from your head to toes as you say it. As you model stretching the word, start at your head for the beginning sound, tummy for middle, and feet for ending sound. This helps visual and kinesthetic learners grasp middle sounds!
  2. Speak "Whale"- like in Finding Nemo. Say the word as Dory would when speaking whale, really stretching it out... "LAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAP." Did they hear the /a/ sound?
phoneme isolation with dory for middle sounds


What is next? Phoneme Segmentation...

Once a child is able to break up a word into all the sounds, they will be able to do the next phonemic awareness skills called phoneme segmentation. This means they can segment a word into all the phonemes or sounds it has.

An example of phoneme segmentation with the word lit: /l/ /i/ /t/

To practice phoneme segmentation, I use two strategies most commonly:

  1. Karate chop words- kids chop with their hands as they segment each phoneme
  2. Robot talk- kids speak in a robot voice as they break the word into it's sounds

Phoneme isolation and segmentation go hand in hand as children develop the ability to spell on their own and understand the structure of words as they become readers!

My co-teacher Mr. B has created so many hands-on ways to practice phoneme segmentation in this silly Youtube video.

September 20, 2021

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