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teacher and kindergarten students demonstrating sound parts in words

Onset-Rime Games

The “onset” is the initial phonological unit of any word (e.g. /c/ in cat) and the term “rime” refers to the string of letters that follow, usually a vowel and final consonants (e.g. /a/ /t/ in cat). Not all words have onsets. Similar to teaching beginning readers about rhyme, teaching children about onset and rime helps them recognize common chunks within words. This can help students decode new words when reading and spell words when writing.

Key Information


Phonological awareness

Appropriate Group Size

With small groups
Whole class setting

Why teach about onset-rime?

  • They help children learn about word families, which can lay the foundation for future spelling strategies
  • Teaching children to attend to onset and rime will have a positive effect on their literacy skills
  • Learning these components of phonological awareness is strongly predictive of reading and spelling acquisition

Whiteboard: explaining onset-rime

This video explains the phonological awareness skill onset-rime and shows examples. (What Works Clearinghouse practice guide: Foundational skills to support reading for understanding in kindergarten through 3rd grade.)

Watch a lesson:  blending onset and rime

At La Verne Heights Elementary School in La Verne, California, teacher Stephanie Fincher helps her students practice blending onset and rime using manipulatives to represent the sounds. (Reading Universe)

Collect resources

From the Florida Center for Reading Research, download and print these activities:

These articles offer suggestions for how to use simple onset and rime activities to help students develop phonological awareness.

Construct-a-word: “ig” in Pig. The link below outlines a strategy that can be adapted to teach different onset and rime word patterns. This activity helps teachers isolate and teach the rime “ig” using the book If you Give a Pig a Pancake by Laura Numeroff. There is an instructional plan that accompanies the activity and extension ideas included to advance the learning process. See example › (opens in a new window)

Download blank templates

See the link below for more help building word families using onset and rimes.

Differentiated instruction

For second language learners, students of varying reading skill, and younger learners

  • Have students create and write word sorts of the target word pattern
  • Use pictures instead of words in activities for younger and lower level readers

See the research that supports this strategy

Bear, D., Invernizzi, M., Templeton, S., & Johnston, F. (1996). Words their way: Word study for phonics, vocabulary, and spelling instruction. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Chard, D., & Dickson, S. (1999). Phonological Awareness: Instructional and Assessment Guidelines.

Ellis, E. (1997). How Now Brown Cow: Phoneme Awareness Activities.

Goswami, U., & Mead, F. (1992). Onset and rime awareness and analogies in reading. Reading Research Quarterly, 2, 153-162.

Wise, B. W., Olson, R. K., & Treiman, R. (1990). Subsyllabic units as aids in beginning readers word learning Onset-rime versus post-vowel segmentation. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 4, 1-19.

Children’s books to use with this strategy

Topics this strategy is especially helpful for

Phonics and Decoding, Phonological and Phonemic Awareness