Phoneme Deletion

Phoneme Deletion is the ability to identify how a word would sound if one sound were omitted. This is a very important step in the development of literacy, as well as general language development.

A child who is proficient in this skill can tell you that when the /k/ sound is removed from cat, you get at.

Here are two speech therapy activities to use for exercising phoneme deletion skills.

Feed The Puppet

For this activity you will need:

  • A puppet of some sort. The ideal puppet will have a mouth that opens so that you can put things in it. There are puppets on the market that even have a hole in the back of the mouth so that they can "swallow" small objects. If you are on a budget, you can make your own puppet with a small paper bag or a sock. A "Cookie Monster" puppet would be a good match for this activity, especially if you also have small colored discs to use for "cookies".


  • An assortment of different-colored wooden or plastic blocks (or beads, tiles, sticks, or other objects). Poker chips work well for "cookies". If you have five or six different colors and two or three objects of each color, that should be plenty.

The object of this phoneme deletion activity is to make "words" with the blocks, each block representing a sound, and to "feed" the puppet one sound at a time, then have the child identify what word the remaining sounds form.

Start with CVC words from the list of nonsense words. Once the child has got the hang of it, you can start to mix in CCV and VCC words. Put the puppet on your non-dominant hand. Place three blocks of different colors in a row in front of the child as you say, "Let's make the word nud. Here's nud." Remember to arrange the pieces left-to-right from the child's perspective, so the /n/ sound is represented by the block at the left of the row.

Next, have the puppet say, "I'm hungry. I want to eat nnn. Give me nnn, please." Picking out the requested sound gives your child a chance to exercise and reinforce phoneme isolation skills.

Let the child feed the puppet the block corresponding to the /n/ sound (make sure the puppet remembers to say "Thank you"), then say: "Well, we had nud, and we gave the puppet nnn, so now we don't have nud any more. Now we have nud without nnn. Instead of nud we have ..."

Ideally, the child will say "ud". If not, you can review: "First we had nud, nnn, uh, d. Then the puppet ate our nnn sound, so now we have uh,d; ud, right?"

Clear away the blocks and put them back with the others, then pick three others for the next word. After the child has the hang of the activity, start mixing in CCV and VCC words; you may also want to introduce some words with four or five sounds (CCVC, CVCC or CCVCC).

Snack Time

This works in much the same way as Feed The Puppet, but instead of the puppet "eating" pretend food, your child eats little bits of finger food. Here are some suggestions for foods you might use for a nice variety of colors and shapes:

  • Carrots, chopped
  • Apples, chopped
  • Cheese cubes
  • Crackers
  • Tangerine sections
  • Bell peppers
  • Grapes
  • Raisins
  • Celery, chopped
  • Cucumber slices
  • Popcorn
  • Nuts
  • Mini-pretzels

If you want to use M&Ms, Skittles, Froot Loops, or anything else sugary, you're on your own. Let no one accuse me of promoting childhood obesity on my site! Of course, you'll want to use things that your child will actually want to eat; if not, this is one activity that will be over very soon.

To represent the sounds of a word, line up three bits of snack food instead of colored blocks or beads (e.g., a piece of carrot, a cracker, and a cheese cube). Instead of the puppet, your child will be the one who chooses a "sound" to eat. After your child eats the "sound," you prompt him or her to tell you what word the remaining sounds make.

Note

If your child has a lot of difficulty with either of these phoneme deletion activities, try it first with syllable deletion. Instead of using blocks or pieces of food to represent sounds, use them to represent syllables. You can start with compound words like hotdog, sailboat, paintbrush, windmill, and so on ("We had sailboat, but you ate sail, so now it's just ..."). After your child has the hang of it, start introducing two-syllable non-compound words like baby, tiger, bucket, ladder, etc. After that, you may even want to try three-syllable words. Once your child has mastered this task at the syllable level, he or she should be ready to move to phoneme deletion.

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