Mastering Phoneme Substitution

Helping Students Reach Advanced Phonemic Awareness Skills

 It’s well known that phonemic awareness is a critical skill for reading.  In the past we’ve viewed it as something that kindergarten and first grade teachers are responsible for teaching. However, our view of PA is evolving.  Now we realize that, although some of the easier skills like phoneme segmentation fluency (PSF) are important in kindergarten and grade 1, there is more to it.  Instead of stopping with PSF, we must continue with more advanced skills.

Phoneme manipulation is the most important phonemic awareness skill.

Rethinking Phonemic Awareness
Teacher Student Photo for Screener

The reason we’re rethinking phonemic awareness is because its role in skilled reading is deeper than previously realized.  It’s important for word learning.  Advanced phonemic awareness enables readers to look at an unknown word and figure it out.  For example, when you know the word make, it’s possible to figure out sake -- IF you know HOW to manipulate that first sound.  Figuring out unknown words while reading is important because that’s what good readers do – they teach themselves new words.

So WHY is word learning so important?  Having a large sight word bank is what differentiates the fluent from the dysfluent reader. Fluent readers recognize a high percentage of words in text instantly and effortlessly by sight.  Because they know so many words, they rarely have to decode an unfamiliar word.  Strong readers build a large sight word bank by teaching themselves new words and the number of words learned while reading far outnumbers the words students learn from explicit classroom instruction.

Reading Intervention Programs Teach Phoneme Manipulation Skills

If a student reaches grades 2-4 without having developed strong phoneme manipulation skills—that is phoneme addition, deletion, and substitution – should they still be taught?

In his book, Essentials of Assessing, Preventing, and Overcoming Reading Difficulties, David Kilpatrick, says that the most successful intervention curriculums involve eliminating the phonological awareness difficulties in weak readers.  Teaching struggling students to manipulate phonemes is essential to equipping them to learn unfamiliar words

Looking for a great way to screen students on advanced phonemic awareness skills? 

Kilpatrick says that phonemic manipulation skills continue to develop through 4th grade and that most curricula and assessments stop monitoring phonemic awareness in 1st grade.  Yet advanced phonemic awareness skills are essential for learning unfamiliar words. To ensure that your students in grades 1-4 have mastered this critical skill, 95 Percent Group is providing a complimentaryPhoneme Substitution Screener.

With this 1:1 assessment, students listen to directions and provide answers without seeing the printed words.  To show mastery, students need to score 4/5 on each of the 3 sections (beginning, ending, and medial sound substitution).

Teacher Student Photo for Screener

Download and print the screening tool and the personalized student scoring sheets here. Note that there are 2 screening forms.

  • FORM X includes easier words for students in grades 1-2, and FORM Y has more challenging substitution prompts, including substituting sounds in a blend, allowing you to assess students in grades 3-4.

Be sure to SHARE this valuable Phoneme Substitution Screening Tool with your colleagues.

Sophisticated phonemic manipulation skills matter far more than just helping kindergarten and first graders to tackle early reading demands.  That’s why we need to explicitly teach the phoneme substitution to students who never showed mastery and monitor acquisition.  Watch your students become skilled readers as they master phoneme manipulation.

Listen to Dr. Susan Hall explain the importance of mastering Phoneme Substitution for ALL Students

Be sure to turn on the volume at the bottom right side of the video screen if you are viewing Dr. Hall on a computer. 

   To play the video with sound,  click on the triangle in the center of the screen and then click on the white x that appears in the bottom right corner of the screen.

*Kilpatrick, D. (2015). Essentials of Assessing, Preventing, and Overcoming Reading Difficulties (NJ: Wiley).




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