Phonological awareness for literacy

What is phonological awareness?

Phonological awareness is the understanding that words are made up of smaller parts (e.g. syllables and sounds). A very strong relationship exists between phonological awareness and the development of reading and spelling skills.

Children with phonological awareness difficulties may:

  • be confused about the difference between letters and sounds
  • have difficulty in recognising the same letters/sounds in different words
  • tend to have difficulty with sound-letter correspondence, especially for vowels
  • be slow at sounding out words when they read, and forget what they've sounded out before getting to the end of the word
  • guess words from the initial letter
  • have difficulty blending sounds together
  • alter the sound sequence, e.g. clamp > camalp
  • omit syllables when spelling, e.g. paradise > pardise
  • have difficulty identifying the sounds in consonant clusters, and omit or add letters when spelling, e.g., stamp > stap, cold > clold
  • omit or substitute vowels from multisyllabic words, e.g. beneath > bnith, orchestra > ochsta.

What is the Phonological Awareness for Literacy Clinic?

The PAL program was developed at the University of Queensland to be run by speech pathology students under the supervision of qualified speech pathologist. The program is strongly based on research. La Trobe Communication Clinic has been running the PAL program since 2004.

The aims of the program at La Trobe are to:

  • Improve a child’s phonological awareness skills including identifying sounds in words, breaking up words into individual sounds, combining sounds into words.
  • Improve the child's ability to know which letters make which sounds
  • Help children to understand the relationship between phonological awareness skills, letter-sound knowledge, word reading and word spelling


All children are invited to attend a pre-PAL program assessment which generally happens in February/March each year.

The assessment involves a number of tasks that assess the child’s knowledge of letter/sound links, phonological awareness and reading fluency. On completion of the assessment the family are informed of the recommended PAL stage.

Children will then be invited to attend the program based on their availability and the number of spaces available. Sessions generally offered on a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday for 5weeks in May.


The PAL program at La Trobe Communication Clinic involves 5 weekly 3-hour sessions across consecutive weeks (a total of 15 hours of instruction). Children normally commence with Stage 1, and depending on need may attend further blocks of intervention to continue through more advanced stages.

Stage 1: focuses on simple words with regular spelling (2-3 sound words)

Stage 2: focuses on more complex words (i.e. those requiring advanced segmentation, blending and manipulation skills) with regular spelling.

Stage 3: focuses on the reading and spelling of multisyllabic words where the spelling is not always regular. Rules for syllable breaking, and the addition of grammatical morphemes are included in this stage.

The program involves student clinicians who work under the supervision of a qualified Speech Pathologist. Children work at their own pace through a mixture of group and one-to-one work. Group sizes are small.

Parents should note that the PAL program is not a comprehensive literacy program. It does not go beyond the word level and it targets very specific skills. These skills are fundamentally important for the acquisition of effective reading and spelling skills, but some children with literacy difficulties will have moved beyond the skills targeted by PAL.


This program is recommended for children in Grades 2 – 6 with a specific reading disability; that is children with unexpected reading difficulties in view of their other abilities.

It is not recommended for children with a significant language delay or disorder, moderate to severe visual or auditory impairment, intellectual disability, or behavioural problems.

Children are assessed before they commence the program to be sure that the program will suit their needs.

If an offer is made, the Speech Pathologist will discuss preferences for day and time of sessions. However, please note that we are not always able to offer all options in terms of day and time of session.

Application Forms

Please complete and return the following application forms. These forms must be completed before a referral will be processed.

If any assistance is required to complete these forms, please call clinic reception on (03) 9479 1921 or email to request assistance.

Other important information

The PAL program is run once a year, usually in Semester 1.


Our fees are not refundable through Medicare or private health insurance. Concession is available on the presentation of a Health Care Card. Fees may be altered according to family income and individual circumstances. For other programs or group therapy, different fees will apply.