Individual & Phoneme Isolation: Beginning, Medial, & Final

Most kids are fast learners, but if you really want to make sure you’re helping them develop their full reading potential, you should train their phonemic awareness. One of the most critical parts of that essential “package” is phoneme isolation.

What is phoneme isolation?

Phoneme isolation is the ability to identify where a sound appears in a word, or to identify what isolated sound appears in a given position in a word. This is a very important step in the development of literacy, as well as general language development.

Children who have mastered this level of phonemic awareness can accurately answer questions like “Does the /p/ sound come at the beginning, middle, or end of the word tap?”

Your kids must be able to identify where a sound appears in a word to gain solid literary skills. In addition, they need to know the positions of certain sounds. How can you know that your child has mastered phonemic isolation? Ask them about where is the “r” in the word “car.” Is it in the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of the word?

Once they grasp one-syllable words, try them out with phoneme isolation on longer words.

Your kids must be able to recognize individual sounds to develop phoneme isolation skills. For example: “What is the first sound in ‘cat’?”

If a child can do phoneme isolation, they should know where the “t” appears in such words – the beginning, the middle, or the end of the term?

So, you have dozens of examples to train with your kid. Then, you can ask them to isolate phonemes. For example, “What is the first sound in a word dog?”.

Phoneme isolation is essential; after all, all the individual sounds make up a spoken word by breaking down or isolating various sounds.


Phoneme isolation – the initial sound

  • What is the first sound in the word “sat?” “S” would be the correct answer.

Phoneme isolation – final sound

  • What is the last sound in “sat?” “T” would be the correct answer.

Phoneme isolation – middle sound (medial sound)

  • What is the middle sound in the word “sat?” “A” would be the correct answer.

Teaching kids phoneme isolation

Every child is different, and so is the tempo of their progress. Once you start with phoneme isolation, your kid might be able to isolate sounds in one-syllable words. However, after some practice, children are typically able to isolate sounds in more significant words quickly.

Some children tackle this skill in less time, while others need to train harder to identify different sounds. Luckily, there are tons of exercises you can find online to help your child perfect this vital skill.

When do kids typically master phoneme isolation?

Research has shown that children usually tackle isolating the initial sound by the middle of kindergarten. Then, kids can do it in late kindergarten or early first grade for final sounds. And finally, kids typically get the medial sound by the late kindergarten or early first grade.

Looking for an app to practice? Here’s a list of fun games/apps to help assist your child with their development of phoneme isolation.

Try the silly sound game

Give your kids a sound and ask them to replace it at the beginning of their names or any other words. So, if you say that the silly word is, for example, “b,” the phrase “Sam” becomes “Bam.” Kids have loads of fun playing this game.

The Takeway

With these exercises/assessments, your kids should be able to grasp phoneme isolation quickly. However, everyone is unique, and what works ideally for most might not be best for everyone. That is where phonemic awareness activities swoop in to save the day. With a fun and creative approach, every child can master these skills to develop their literary skills.

Thanks again for your time. I hope you are enjoying learning some of the basics of phonics and language. Please let me know your thoughts!

Dr. Kim Southwell

Share This