Must children master rhyming before being taught to recognize, segment, blend, and manipulate individual phonemes?


The early stages of phonological sensitivity development, typical of preschoolers, encompass word play, rhyme recognition, rhyme production, syllable identification, segmentation, and blending, and first sound matching. If kids are on track, they are adept at these tasks by about age 5. Typically, they will move into the “later alphabetic” phase during kindergarten, recognizing and segmenting all single phonemes in words with two to four phonemes. This phase is best described by Dr. Linnea Ehri in her four phases of word reading.

What if rhyme production is a stumbling block and kids just can’t come up with a word that rhymes with block? Must rhyming be mastered before instruction moves to individual phonemes? No, and here’s why. The tasks associated with early phonological awareness, while serving as “red flags” or indicators of potential reading problems, are only moderately associated with early reading and spelling. Learning to be better at them is not necessarily going to lead to proficiency in what really counts. It is phoneme awareness – specifically, the ability to say the individual phonemes in words, to pull them apart, and to put them together – that enables kids to read and spell in an alphabetic writing system like English. That is what instruction should focus on, especially from mid-kindergarten onward.

Students who are weak on indicators of phonological awareness development will benefit most from instruction aimed at systematic strengthening of the skills that are most closely related to understanding how letters represent spoken language. While rhyming might be in the mix, the tasks with the biggest pay-off will be those focused on phonemes.

Submitted by: Schools & Districts
Topic: Beginning Reading


Ehri, L. (2002). Phases of acquisition in learning to read words and implications for teaching. In R. Stainthorp and P. Tomlinson (Eds.) Learning and teaching reading. London: British Journal of Educational Psychology Monograph Series II.

Gillon, G. (2017). Phonological awareness: From research to practice (2nd ed.). Guilford.

Muter, V., Hulme, C., Snowling, M., & Taylor, S. (1998). Segmentation, not rhyming, predicts early progress in learning to read. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 370-396.

Paulson, L. H. & Moats, L. C. (2017). LETRS for Early Childhood Educators. Voyager Sopris Learning.