Using Dr. Seuss to Teach Phonemic Awareness


One of the most important building blocks of reading is phonemic awareness. And one of the masters of this skill has a birthday in March: Dr. Seuss!


Phonemic awareness is having the understanding that words are made of individual sounds and being able to manipulate these sounds, which are called phonemes. Phonemes are the smallest parts of sound in a spoken word, such as the /s/ in /sit/.


Children should be able to perceive individual sounds, think about them, and manipulate them. Phonemic awareness allows us to do things like...

  • Rhyme (the fat cat Pat)
  • Pick out syllables in spoken words (Su-san)
  • Separate the sounds in a word (/s/-/i/-/t/)

Dr. Seuss is a master at making rhymes and in a way that children (and adults!) love. His rhymes may not make obvious sense until the quirky characters he creates brings the story to life. And he is know to have created a word here and there to make his verses rhyme like flewn in the quote below from Oh! The Places You’ll Go.

How did it get so late so soon? Its night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?

While some of his made up words sound strange, they are wonderful at helping kids break words down into syllables so that they can make sense out of nonsense words as well as real words. Although The Lorax is a made-up character and a made-up word, it is easy to break into syllables and put back together because it follows the rules of our language allowing young readers to make sense of the word.

Children everywhere have sat down to sound out the words in his classical stories from the The Lorax to Green Eggs and Ham and fall in love with his characters. Separating those sounds as children learn to read is a huge part of phonemic awareness. Being able to sound out words that aren’t real, but are a compilation of real sounds is one of the most important abilities of a good reader. These word attack skills are necessary so students are able to manipulate phonemes in all new words they are working to read. Zamp, wocket, sneetches, glikker, and oobleck all are easily read through phonemic awareness, even though they were made up by Dr. Seuss. 

Teaching sounds along with the letters of the alphabet is important -- it can help your child to see how sounds are related to reading and writing. But it is very important to also make sure that your child's is learning phonemic awareness. Reading Dr. Seuss books is one fun way to include work on this skill at home.


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