Phonological Awareness: Segmenting


February 17, 2017

Jaimi Bird, M.A., CCC-SLP

As shared in my previous post, phonological awareness is a term that refers to a group of pre-reading skills that are important for literacy and language development. Phonological awareness is the ability to hear sounds that make up words in spoken language. This includes recognizing words that rhyme, deciding whether words begin or end with the same sounds, understanding that syllables and sounds can be manipulated to create new words, and separating words into syllables and into their individual sounds.

Check out this post all about rhyming.

Now let’s focus on the next stepping stone in phonological awareness: SEGMENTING!  Recognizing that sentences can be broken down into words and that words can be broken down into syllables and phonemes (sounds) is the first step in segmenting, the next step is doing it!  Children who can segment and blend words back together are able to use this knowledge when reading and spelling. 

Start segmenting at the sentence level. 

Have your child count the number of words in a given sentence.  Touch each word as you count, notice the spaces between words. This teaches kids that words work together to make up a sentence.  We need words to work together to make what we read and what we say make sense. 

Write a variety of sentences on a piece of paper.  Then, cut each word apart and work together to put the sentences back together.  Not only does this strengthen understanding of the power of a word, it’s also a fun way to work on semantics (the meaning of word).  All these words need to go in a specific order so that they make sense.

Now let’s segment words.

Start with compound words, such as “cupcake” or “notebook”.  These words are easy to break into segments because when they are segmented you get two individual words.  A great way to practice segmenting is to clap or tap out the parts.  Using blocks to represent each word chunk also helps some kids actually visualize each part of the word.  For example, if you are segmenting “cupcake” you would have two blocks one for “cup” and one for “cake”.

Once your child understands the concept of segmenting with compound words, move to syllable segmenting.  Use the same strategies: clapping, tapping or use of blocks to represent each syllable.   Names are a great place to start. You might say, “My name ‘Jaimi’ has two syllables, lets clap it out! ‘Jai- mi’.  Now let’s do your name ‘Max’.  ‘Max’ has one syllable- one clap”. 

You can find fun syllable segmenting activities online as well.  Here is a great one from  This activity provides colorful pictures and boxes to use manipulative to aid in breaking words into syllables.  Fun!

Start segmenting words into phonemes.

Once your child has mastered segmenting words into syllables, you can begin segmenting words at the sound level.  Each sound in a word is called a phoneme.  For example, the word “dog” can be segmented to the phoneme level “d-o-g”.  Remind your child that we are listening for sounds that we hear when we say the words, not letters used for spelling. Here are some more examples:

ball is segmented as “b -a -ll”

lake is segmented as “l-a-ke” 

tiger is segmented as “t-i-g-er”

One fun way to help kids visualize words broken into phonemes is to use their bodies.  If you have a three phoneme words such as “cat”, touch your head for “c”, put your hands on your hips for “a” and tough your toes for the “t”. Or you can use your arm to model the parts of the word.  “c” on your shoulder, “a” on your elbow, and “t” at your hand.  This is a great way to gain understanding of the concept of phoneme segmenting. 

Using beads is another great way for kids to see each sound in a word and be able to physically manipulate them.  Here is how you can make segmenting beads from

These pre-reading skills are very important!  Research has shown that, “The best predictor of reading difficulty in kindergarten or first grade is the inability to segment words and syllables into constituent sound units.” (Lyon, G. R. (1995). Toward a definition of dyslexia. Annals of Dyslexia, 45, 3-27.)   So, try some of these strategies with your kids at home!  Or if you feel that your child needs more help, contact us at ETLC, we would love to help.

Jaimi Bird is a Speech-Language Pathologist at Enrichment Therapy and Learning Center. ETLC has locations in the Iowa City, IA area and Des Moines, IA area. We provide individual speech language therapy and tutoring as well as offer a unique group, the Language Enrichment Academic Program (LEAP). At Enrichment Therapy and Learning Center our passion is to help kids achieve effective communication skills and gain academic success. Contact us for more information on how we can help your child succeed.

1210 Jordan Street, Suite 2A
North Liberty, IA 52317

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Urbandale, IA 50322

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