Phoneme Segmentation

The best way to increase your students’ reading and writing development is to work on phoneme segmentation. There is a clear order to work on these skills to best support the students in your classroom. For all the skills, you want students to be able to hear, match similar sounds, and break apart words with their sounds only, before matching the sounds to letters. Once they can hear and manipulate the sounds, then you can start adding letters to the mix to support their letter-sound correspondence and literacy development.

Beginning sounds

phoneme segmentation

The first sounds that children can hear, and isolate is the beginning sounds of words. Work with them to identify those sounds and connect those sounds to the letters they are learning. They should be able to label their pictures with the beginning sounds and fill in missing beginning sounds in words. They should also be able to match beginning sounds. Once they can identify the matching sounds, you can have them manipulate the sounds by changing up the beginning sounds and seeing how the words change. For example, if I have “pan” and then change the first letter to /f/ what word do I have? This should be the first skill you work on when working on phoneme segementation.

Ending sounds

phoneme segmentation

After working on beginning sounds, children should next be able to hear and isolate the ending sounds in words. When choosing words to work on, they should be simple words ending in consonants. Just like the beginning sounds, children should be able to match similar ending sounds and fill in missing ending sounds in words. Students can also practice manipulating the ending sounds by asking them to change the ending sounds and see what new words they can make. For example, change the ending sound of “pet” to /n/ and what word do you get? You want to see them start to add the ending sounds to their labels, so that they now have two sounds written down.

Middle sounds

phoneme segmentation

When I say middle sounds, I mean short vowel sounds in CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words. Middle sounds and vowels are the hardest for children to learn and identify. It’s definitely important with middle sounds that students practice matching words with the same middle sound inside. It’s important to introduce here that vowels can sound differently depending on words, but to try the short vowel sound first and see if that sounds right. You can introduce the other sounds that vowels make, but do not expect students to transfer that knowledge into their reading or writing until first/second grade. It’s also important to teach students that every word has a vowel, so they are important letters to know.

I definitely recommend changing the middle sounds in words to practice different vowel sounds. For example, the word sat changes to set, and sit depending on the vowel inside the word.

Put them all together

phoneme segmentation

Once students can isolate and manipulate the beginning, ending, and middle sounds, you want to put them all together to work on reading and writing CVC words. Have students tap out with their fingers the beginning, middle, and end sounds of the words. It may be easier for them to figure out the beginning, ending and then the middle. I love using elkonin boxes as a way to organize the sounds. I first start with just being able to hear the individual sounds. Then I work on adding in letters to the work. We want to get in the habit of having students isolate and identify each sound, as well as blending them together. I like to have them sound out and write the CVC words and then blend them together and read them before getting the OK to erase it. Students should have practice reading and writing CVC words, as well as isolating the CVC sounds and blending them together.

Nonsense words

phoneme segmentation

A fun way to work on all the skills with phoneme segmentation is to practice with nonsense words. Children are asked to use their knowledge of letter sounds to blend together the nonsense words. It’s very informative to see how they understand the rules of spelling and letter sounds. You can also have them write some of their own and sound them out or ask their friends to sound them out.

More Complicated Phoneme Segmentation Sounds

phoneme segmentation

I do like to introduce blends, digraphs, and suffixes to my kindergarteners, but only as an introduction. Kindergarteners should be able to hear the sounds and match similar sounds. But, I do not expect them to be able to read or write the sounds independently in kindergarten, but since the sounds are often in the harder level texts they are starting to read, I want them to know about them. Blends are also a great way to continue the practice of blending together consonants together and can be used to decode and/or write CCVC or CVCC words – the next step up from CVC words.


There is a specific order to teaching phoneme segmentation and when done correctly, your students will use these skills to increase their literacy development. To learn more about how I teach phonics skills, check out this blog post.

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