Phonemes are the smallest units that make up words in spoken language. The word dog, for example, has three phonemes: /d/ /o/ /g/. Phonemic awareness is the ability for a child learning to speak, read and write to focus on and manipulate phonemes in spoken words. Activities for elementary school children, such as third-grade students, involves auditory-verbal exercises that direct a child's attention to sound and individual letters.


Phonemic awareness is especially important for third graders, and all elementary school-age children, because understanding phonemes builds the basis for spelling, word recognition and reading skills.

Reading and Writing

According to the WETA “Reading Rockets” program website, phonemic awareness is one of the best predictors of how well children will learn to read during the first two years of school instruction. Third-grade students are typically reading at a more advanced level, developing vocabulary and sounding out difficult words to pronounce. Without a solid foundation in phonemic awareness -- and reinforcement throughout elementary school -- spelling and reading comprehension could suffer as a result.

Example Activity: First Phonemes

This phonemic awareness activity sharpens students awareness of initial phonemes. The 3rd graders compare, contrast, and identify the first "sounds" in a set of words. A teacher will need some picture flashcards for the activity. Lay the picture flashcards of interesting objects on a table. Asks students to find the pictures which start with the initial sound they have been given, such as "th" or "ch."

Ask students to identify the name and initial phoneme of each picture and to sort them into two piles accordingly. Because this activity can be made simpler or more difficult, depending on the age group, for 3rd graders, choose engaging pictures with odd spellings, such as "xylophone" or "knight." You can also incorporate homophone words like rose (flower) and rose (past tense of "rise").

Example Activity: Listening Games

Parents or teachers will need a book of familiar stories or poems for this activity. Ask the third graders to sit in a circle, close their eyes and listen to the story or poem you are about to read. Recite or read aloud a familiar story or poem to them, but every so often replace a familiar word with an unexpected one.

For instance, in Alice in Wonderland, you can say that Alice saw a bottle that said "Me Drink." This is an example of word reversing. Other ways of playing with the wording help focus a child's attention to individual words and their meanings. In Alice's famous line "If it had grown up, it would have made a dreadfully ugly child; but it makes rather a handsome pig, I think," you could recite it instead as "If it had grown up, it would have made a dreadfully ugly pig; but it makes rather a handsome child, I think.

You can substitute words, switch a sentence around, reverse the order or make up a non-sense word. The third graders objective is to detect those changes. If you make the exercise creative and fun, students will be involved and excited.