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The 3 Big Ps: Phonological Awareness, Phonemic Awareness, and Phonics

November 11, 2021 by Suzanne Kelley

What are the 3 Big Ps? Teachers know that students will learn to read easier if they have a strong foundation of oral language as they move into Phonics, written language, vocabulary, and comprehension. We know that we must practice oral language and written language activities daily in our classrooms. We hear terms such as Phonological Awareness, Phonemic Awareness, and Phonics ALL of the time! But what is the difference between The 3 Big P’s, and how do we cover all of them?

Well. We got this! ETTC compiled some great activities for you to use when working on Phonological Awareness: rhyming, onsets, rimes, and phonemes. We also have activities for Phonemic Awareness: blending, segmenting, and manipulating phonemes. And,  we are not going to leave you hanging on Phonics instruction which focuses on teaching sound-spelling relationships and is associated with print. But if you are anything like me, you may catch yourself interchanging the three terms. So, let’s define the Big 3 P’s: Phonological Awareness, Phonemic Awareness, and Phonics first!

Definitions of the Big 3 Ps

Phonological Awareness is a continuum of skills where students recognize the spoken parts of sentences and words. These skills include rhyming, alliteration, onsets and rimes, segmenting sentences, syllables, and words. Phonemic Awareness is a subset of Phonological Awareness.


Phonemic Awareness is working with the individual sounds in spoken words. These individual sounds are called phonemes, and with Phonemic Awareness, students manipulate these phonemes by blending and segmenting them.

Phonics is the taking of these phonemes and these Phonemic Awareness skills and applying them to print. Students use their letter-sound knowledge and their recognition of patterns to decode words.

Phonological Awareness–Part One of the 3 Big Ps

  • Syllable Clapping–Clap the syllables. ti-ger. dog. play-ful.
  • If Your Name Begins–If your name starts with /r/, touch your toes. If your name begins with /t/, hop two times. There is also a song that goes, “if your name begins with the letter I say, stand up, stand up. If your name begins with the letter I say, stand up and _____.”
  • Rhyming Circle with Bean BagsYou will say a word such as “hat”. You will then pass a bean bag to the student. The student will think of a word that rhymes with hat, say a word that rhymes, and then gives the bean bag to another student. The game continues with the bean bag being passed around to different students until no one can think of more rhyming.

  • When I Say Onsets–When I say apple, you say a-a-a-a (students making the short a sound). When I say bear, you say b-b-b-b (students making the b sound).
  • Beginning Sounds Worksheets–These worksheets can help your students show what they know as they begin the transition from sounds to print!


  • Word Chains–I say a word like cat, and the first student says a word that starts with /t/ (the end of cat). That child could say top. The next child says something that begins with /p/, and so on.
  • Alliteration–alliteration is the purposeful repetition of the initial sound. I love using books to teach alliteration. Here is an excellent link from The Measured Mom with a listing of some books and descriptions. 

Phonemic Awareness–Part Two of the 3 Big Ps

  • Heggerty’35-weeks of daily systematic phonological and phonemic Awareness lessons’.
  • CVC Videos with Jack HartmannIf you haven’t latched onto Jack Hartmann’s videos, please check them out!

  • Word Counters with Boxes–Elkonin boxes build phonological awareness skills by segmenting words into their phonemes. A child listens to a word and moves a token into a box for each sound or phoneme. 
  • Blends–Incorporate this mini-lesson video into small groups when teaching the “s blends.” This video gives words containing each of the 7 “s blends.”
  • I Spy–I spy with my little eyes something that starts with /a/ and ends with /t/.

  • Substituting Beginning Sounds–This is a perfect activity to do with Dr. Seuss’ book I Have a Wocket in My Pocket!
  • Word Ladders–Players get a starting word and an ending word with words of the same length (PIG and HOG, or CAT and DOG). Players change one letter at a time, moving from the starting word to the ending word. Sometimes I do this as a whole group. Other times we may use letter cards and do it in small groups.

Phonics–And, the last of the 3 Big Ps

  • This Phonics Booklets Bundle includes over 200 booklets covering more than 100 phonics skills and word family patterns. Each booklet contains six activities, including a short fluency paragraph with comprehension questions, sentence and word writing, and a home connection so parents can practice phonics skills at home with fun games and activities.  The best part about this resource is that all you have to do is print, copy, fold, and DONE!

  • Write and Wipe PuzzlesStudents will practice upper and lowercase letter formation and then find the picture on the puzzle pieces that start with each letter.

  • Digital Word Cards–This comes with 154 Self-Checking CVC Word Cards, 216 Blends/Digraphs Word Cards, 21 R-Controlled Word Cards, and 156 Long Vowel Word Cards!


I am looking at these activities and thinking, wow, this is only a sprinkling of what activities are available for the 3 Big Ps. Are you interested in seeing what else Education to the Core has for the Big 3? You are going to want to check out our Premium Membership that has unlimited printables! Get all your Phonics in one space today!


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