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April 11, 2013

Phonological Awareness for ESL/ELL Students

Written By: Brandi Jordan
X Phonological Awareness for ESL/ELL Students

Phonological Awareness for ESL/ELL Students

by Lori Wolfe, Monthly Columnist

Do you have English Language Learners (ELLs) in your classroom who are struggling to learn to read? As many of us do, I wanted to review a crucial element in language and reading instruction that many second language learners miss. Phonological awareness instruction is essential for ELLs yet many children have a shockingly low ability in this area. Take the time and make sure your ELLs have a strong phonological awareness foundation, regardless of their age. Remember the focus is on oral and aural recognition, not sound/symbol. Strong phonological awareness helps English Language Learners gain competency in reading English.

What is Phonological Awareness?

The term phonological awareness refers to a general appreciation of the sounds of speech as distinct from their meaning. When that insight includes an understanding that words can he divided into a sequence of phonemes, this finer-grained sensitivity is termed phonemic awareness. (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998, p. 51)

According to, phonological awareness is the ability to recognize that words are made up of a variety of sound units.

This includes the auditory recognition of small sound units in words and the ability to segment the sounds in words into bigger sound chunks and syllables. Remember this is auditory recognition, not sound/symbol.


The Phonological Awareness Gradient shows a continuum of phonological awareness activities from simple to complex.



(Click here to download this gradient)

There are several categories for teaching Phonological Awareness:


  • Segment Words
  • Isolate Sounds
  • Identify Beginning Sounds
  • Identify Ending Sounds
  • Blending sounds into sound chunks or words
  • Identify individual sounds in a word
  • Count individual sounds in a word
  • Identify missing sound in 2 words cat and at
  • Identify different beginning and ending sounds in a group of words:
  • Identify if a sound is in a word

I recently started using READING BEAR website to help second language learners learn the sounds of the letters. This free site has everything from sounds, segmenting, to reading and incorporates articulation and the main phonics rules. Another great feature of this site is that the definitions of words in sentences have been illustrated allowing ELLs to access the vocabulary they use. I also like how they have integrated multiple ways for students to learn. When students are using the videos from Step 5: learn about the letter sounds! students can see the written letter, hear the letter sound by a native speaker and see a human mouth that is making the letter sound. It is a great tool for second language learners learning the individual sounds of letters. This is a free site that you are going to love!

Check out these other great sites for more phonological awareness ideas, activities and more!

Happy Teaching!


About the Author

Lori Wolfe - Phonological Awareness for ESL/ELL Students

Lori Wolfe has taught English Language Development, bilingual 1st & 2nd grades, and as a Title I Reading and Math specialist.  She also presents professional development workshops, develops curriculum and blogs. Follow her blogs at Fun To Teach ESL and Fun To Teach Math Blog for more great teaching ideas, tips, freebies and more. You can also find Fun To Teach on Facebook.

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  • nancyjohn2010
    November 30, 2014

    I do think it’s worth distinguishing different dimensions of quality in writing, since the EFL/ESL distinction works quite differently in them. 

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