Phonemic Awareness

  • What is phonemic awareness?

    Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify and manipulate the individual sounds, or phonemes, in spoken words. The terms phonemic and phonological awareness are often used interchangeably although they refer to two distinct areas of reading. Phonemic awareness refers to the awareness of individual phonemes; phonological awareness is a more global term that includes the earlier stages of reading, such as rhyme and syllable awareness (Big Ideas in Beginning Reading, n.d.; NICHD, 2000) 


    Research base for phonemic awareness (Key findings of the National Reading Panel, 2000):

    • Phonemic awareness can be taught and learned.
    • Phonemic awareness is effective in improving reading with all types of children under a variety of teaching conditions.
    • Teaching small groups produces better results than teaching individuals.
    • Phonemic awareness instruction helps children learn to spell.
    • Phonemic awareness instruction is most effective when children are taught to manipulate phonemes by using the letters of the alphabet.
    • Phonemic awareness instruction is most effective when it focuses on only one or two types of phoneme manipulation, rather than several types.
    • Teaching sessions of about 30 minutes and a total of no more than 20 hours appear to be the most effective. However, the National Reading Panel recommends tailoring training time to student learning by individual assessment.

    Instructional design for teaching phonemic awareness (Considerations):

    The following sequence of development identified by Big Ideas in Beginning Reading should be considered when instructing phonemic awareness:

    • Recognition that sentences are made up of words.
    • Recognition that words can rhyme.
    • Recognition that words can be broken down into syllables.
    • Recognition that words can be broken down into onsets and rhymes.
    • Recognition that words can begin with the same sound.
    • Recognition that words can end with the same sound.
    • Recognition that words can have the same medial sound(s).
    • Recognition that words can be broken down into individual phonemes.
    • Recognition that sounds can be deleted from words to make new words.
    • Ability to blend sounds to make words.
    • Ability to segment words into constituent sounds.

    Instructional Strategies (Key Elements):

    • Teach systematically and explicitly.
    • Focus on just a few types of skills.
    • Remember that blending and segmentation are the two most critical skills required for phonemic awareness.
    • Teach to small groups rather than individuals or entire classes.
    • Add the manipulation of letters to the phonemic awareness tasks.

    Examples of skill activities for phonemic awareness instruction identified by the National Reading Panel:

    • phoneme isolation (e.g., What is the first or last sound in sat?);
    • phoneme identity (e.g., Which sound is the same in man, mitt, and mess?);
    • phoneme categorization (e.g., Which word doesn't belong? fat, fan, tap);
    • phoneme blending (e.g., What word results when you blend these separately pronounced individual sounds together to make a word? /p/ /i/ /t/;
    • phoneme segmentation (e.g., What are the separate sounds in this word? Show me by tapping or counting each sound as you pronounce the word, or set out a token as you say each sound - ant - /a/ /n/ /t/ - 3 sounds).