What is Phoneme Segmentation?


Understanding Phoneme Segmentation for the Beginning Readerfireflies clip art

There are many pieces under Phonemic Awareness that go into teaching a child how to read. One piece of the reading puzzle is phoneme segmentation. Phoneme Segmentation is when you break a word into its individual sounds. For example, the word “phone” is made up of 3 individual sounds: /ph/ /o/ /n/. Phoneme Segmentation is on the development continuum of Phonemic Awareness, along with rhyming and blending, but is one of the more difficult concepts for children to grasp.

A phoneme* is the smallest unit sound in speech. There are 44 unit sounds in the English language, which include all the alphabet letter sounds, including the short and long vowel sounds (31) plus when two or three letters go together to create a new sound (example: /ch/ /sh/ /dge/), while segmentation* means to divide or break into parts.

Mastering the practice of phoneme segmentation will help your child break apart sounds in a word, blend them together, and read! Segmenting a word is opposite of blending. Where blending a word is when a child can hear sounds and put them together to form a word: “What word is made up of the sounds: /d/ /o/ /g/= dog”, segmenting is breaking the word up into its sounds” “What sounds are in dog? /d/ /o/ /g/.” Mastering this skill also helps with spelling


Your child will show that they understand phoneme segmentation if they are able to break words into their individual sounds, like this: cat —> c/ /a/ /t/ ,  books —> /b/ /oo/ /k/ /s/, horse —> /h/ /or/ /s/ .

For the beginning reader, start by teaching the 31 sounds of the alphabet, then once mastered, move into sounds that include 2 or 3 letters (we call these digraphs: /th/ /wh/ /ph/ /spr/).

You can strengthen understanding of phoneme segmentation by playing a variety of auditory and visual activities. For example, have your child echo you as you break a word into sounds: “fin= /ffffff/ /iiiiii/ /nnnnn/” or “ship= /sssshhhh/ /iiiii/ /pppp/.”  Or use picture aids with sound boxes (1 box per sound) like in the picture below, that include CVC words(consonant-vowel-consonant) also known as ‘word families’ (wet/jet/pet OR dig/pig/fig):


Teaching your child how to segment words by their sounds will help them when they get to a word that looks intimidating. Instead of saying, “I don’t know that word,” you can help them break the word apart and then blend the sounds together. By teaching your early reader how to segment words into their phonemes, they will grow academically and confidently.

Below are some great websites that share activities on how to teach and reinforce phoneme segmentation.






Happy Reading!

Joanna Merideth







Previous posts in my The Reading Tree series:


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