What is Phonemic Awareness?

First of all, Phonemic awareness is not phonics. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds-phonemes--in spoken words. Before children learn to read print, they need to become more aware of how the sounds in words work. They must understand that words are made up of speech sounds, or phonemes (the smallest parts of sound in a spoken word that make a difference in a word's meaning).

Why Phonemic Awareness Is Important

  • It improves students' word reading and comprehension.

  • It helps students learn to spell.

Phonemic Awareness Can Be Developed Through Activities

  • Identify and categorize sounds

  • Blend sounds to form words

  • Delete or add sounds to form new words

  • Substitute sounds to make new words

Phonemic Awareness Instruction Is Most Effective When--

  • Students are taught to manipulate phonemes by using alphabet letters.

  • Instruction focuses on only one or two rather than several types of phoneme manipulation.

  • Phonemic instruction is taught in Kindergarten or First Grade.

Phonemic Awareness Instruction Basics

Children who cannot hear and work with the phonemes of spoken words will have difficult time learning how to relate these phonemes to graphemes (A letter of an alphabet, or all of the letters and letter combinations that represent a phoneme, as f, ph, and gh for the phoneme-American Heritage Dictionary) when they see them in written words. Early readers can show they have phonemic awareness in several ways:

  • recognizing which words in a set of words start with the same sound

  • isolating and saying the first or last sound in a word

  • combining or blending the separate sounds in a word in order to say the word

  • breaking up or segmenting a word into its separate sounds.

Examples of Phonemic Awareness Skills

  • Blending: What word am I trying to say? Nnnnn-oooo--t.

  • Segmentation (first sound isolation): What is the first sound in not?

  • Segmentation (last sound isolation): What is the last sound in not?

  • Segmentation (complete): What are all the sounds you hear in not?

"One of the most compelling and well-established findings in the research on beginning reading is the important relationship between phonemic awareness and reading acquisition." (Kame'enui, et. al., 1997)