What Does Not Work for Phonemic Awareness Instruction

With so many sub-skills and potentially effective strategies, it might seem that just about anything you do will help students develop their phonemic awareness skills. This is not true. Some strategies, and associated activities, either do not contribute to phonemic awareness or are only minimally effective.


Reason Why It Does Not Work

Flash Cards

When using flash cards, the emphasis is on decoding the words and word recognition. This is phonics, not phonemic awareness, and does not require identification and modification of the sounds within words.

Reading Drills

For the same reason as flash cards, reading drills do not require the use of phonemic awareness skills. Instead, the focus is on accurate decoding.

Sustained Silent Reading (SSR)

Phonemic awareness is about sound. SSR is silent. Students do not have to use any phonemic awareness skills when doing SSR.

Computerized Instruction

Very few computerized instructional programs recognize and analyze speech patterns. (Rosetta Stone comes to mind.) As a result, most programs cannot determine whether or not students are accurately identifying sounds or using phonemic awareness sub-skills. Some programs ask students to find a picture of an object with a particular sound in its name, similar to an I-Spy game. What they lack, however, is follow-up correction and instruction. These types of computerized instruction cannot be as effective as a teacher’s instruction.


Worksheets might be used for assessment purposes if students are indicating letter groups, words, or pictures that have particular sounds. Of course, this assumes that students are already reading or already know the names of the items in the pictures, as well as the sounds within the words or names.


For instructional purposes, however, they are ineffective or, at the most, minimally effective. Worksheets are a very poor way to teach sounds or the phonemic awareness sub-skills.

Individual Oral Reading

Here, individual oral reading refers to a student reading aloud a passage without teacher intervention except, possibly, help with some of the words. Generally, with oral reading the focus is on phonics and fluency. It may be a decent strategy for assessing these two reading components, but simply reading words aloud does not help students learn to identify sounds within words or to modify them. Guided oral reading (and other out-loud reading activities with correction, instruction, and repeated reading), on the other hand, will give the teacher the opportunity to explore the sounds within specific words. Guided oral reading by itself does not provide instruction in phonemic awareness, but it can provide opportunities for phonemic awareness instruction.