Breaking Down the Sounds in “Ham” – A Guide to Phonemic Awareness

For beginning readers and phonics students simple words can be broken down into individual sounds or phonemes. This skill called phonemic awareness, is a key building block for literacy development. In this article, we’ll use the classic word “ham” to demonstrate phoneme segmentation and blending.

What is Phonemic Awareness?

Phonemic awareness is the ability to identify isolate and manipulate the individual sounds in spoken language. It involves skills like

  • Identifying phonemes – understanding that words are made up of discrete units of sound

  • Segmenting words into phonemes – breaking words down into individual sounds (/h/ /a/ /m/)

  • Blending phonemes together to make words – combining sounds together (/h/ + /a/ + /m/ = ham)

  • Deleting or adding phonemes to make new words – removing or adding sounds (ham without /h/ is am)

Mastering phonemic awareness gives children a huge boost in learning to read. It allows them to connect letters and sounds to unlock the code of written language.

The Word “Ham” Broken Down

Let’s break the word “ham” into its individual phonemes using phoneme segmentation:

/h/ /a/ /m/

There are three letters in the word “ham” but only two phonemes – the individual sounds that make up the spoken word.

The two phonemes in “ham” are:

  • /h/ – a glottal consonant sound
  • /m/ – a bilabial nasal consonant sound

The letter “a” is represented by the vowel sound /a/.

So while “ham” contains three letters, it only has two distinct phonemes or sounds. This demonstrates the difference between letters and sounds.

Identifying the Phonemes in “Ham”

Let’s take a closer look at the two phonemes in the word “ham”:


This phoneme is called a voiceless glottal fricative. To make this sound, you open your mouth and force air through the vocal folds without vibrating them. This creates a friction-like “hissing” sound.

Some examples of words starting with /h/:

  • house
  • happy
  • hello
  • hi
  • hat


This phoneme is called a bilabial nasal consonant. To make this sound, you close your lips together and breathe out through your nose. This causes a “humming” sound as the air vibrates through the nasal passage.

Some examples of words ending in /m/:

  • ham
  • gum
  • ram
  • drum
  • yum

Understanding the mechanics of producing these sounds helps children in learning phonics and sounding out words.

Blending Sounds Together

Once students can identify the individual phonemes in a word, they can practice blending those sounds together to build the word:

/h/ + /a/ + /m/ = ham

Blending is an essential early reading skill that helps kids decode new words by combining sounds.

Some other examples of blending three-phoneme words:

  • /c/ + /a/ + /t/ = cat
  • /d/ + /o/ + /g/ = dog
  • /m/ + /a/ + /p/ = map

With practice, blending becomes fast and automatic for beginning readers. Mastering phonemic awareness with simple words like “ham” paves the way for reading success.

Segmenting Words into Phonemes

The opposite of blending is segmenting – breaking whole words down into discrete sounds. With the word “ham”, students can segment it into its phonemes:

ham = /h/ /a/ /m/

Here are some other examples of segmenting three-phoneme words:

  • cat = /c/ /a/ /t/
  • fog = /f/ /o/ /g/
  • bus = /b/ /u/ /s/
  • lip = /l/ /i/ /p/

Practicing segmentation boosts phonological awareness. Along with blending, it’s a core skill for developing readers.

Using simple words, educators can model segmenting and blending to build students’ abilities. The classic word “ham” is the perfect example for introducing these key concepts.

Mastering phonemic awareness through words like “ham” gives young readers a tangible way to grasp the relationship between sounds, letters, and print. It forms the foundation for connecting those dots as they embark on the exciting journey of literacy. Understanding the discrete sounds in language is the first step to unlocking the code of reading.

Count the sounds in words


How many phonemes are in a word?

Most words have two or more phonemes. Some phonemes can be spelled in more than one way.

How many sounds are in the word “people”?

A phoneme is a unit of sound, usually a syllable of a word. In the word people, there are two phonemes: “peo-“ with a long “eee” sound and a silent “o” and “ple-“ pronounced “pul.” The accent (emphasis) is on the first syllable/phoneme.

How do you say Ham in the UK?

Below is the UK transcription for ‘ham’ : Break ‘ham’ down into sounds : [HAM] – say it out loud and exaggerate the sounds until you can consistently produce them. Record yourself saying ‘ham’ in full sentences, then watch yourself and listen. You’ll be able to mark your mistakes quite easily.

Is honey baked ham as good as regular ham?

The addition of honey will affect the calorie content of the food. One tablespoon of honey contributes to approximately 64 calories. In addition, the use of heat when making baked ham will reduce the quality of the honey.

What makes different types of ham different?

When we say “ham,” we’re typically talking about a specific cut of pork, and most of the time, it’s taken from the leg. However, what sets different types of ham apart is how it is made—including the smoking process, curing techniques, and distinct flavors added.

Does Ham come from a leg?

We’ll explore various types of ham shortly, but it’s worth noting that not all ham originates from the leg! For instance, deli ham might contain pork leg and other parts since it’s mechanically processed. Then there’s picnic ham, which derives from the pork shoulder and not the leg. How Is Ham Made?

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