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Phonemic Awareness Skills

Phonics vs. Phonemic Awareness

Phonics is a big word in education. You could say it’s a “buzz” word. There are many phonics workbooks, programs, and games on the market. In its simplest form, phonics teaches letter/sound correspondences. Phonics helps children learn to read, spell, and write. Phonics is generally taught between Kindergarten and 2nd grade. Phonics is essential to teach, but phonemic awareness is a different skill that is also essential to teach.

It would be a mistake to say phonics and phonemic awareness are the same thing. Phonemic awareness is not the same as phonics. Phonemic awareness does not involve letters, only sounds. It is focused solely on spoken words. Phonemic awareness is an auditory skill and a prerequisite skill for students to become competent spellers, readers, and writers. Phonemic awareness should develop alongside phonics and at a basic level often develops even earlier than phonics.

Phonemic Awareness Doesn't Come Naturally for Everyone
The majority of students will develop phonemic awareness very naturally, without direct instruction. About 15% of individuals will not – they will struggle with these skills. Struggling readers/spellers often have difficulty with phonemic awareness skills and will need to be explicitly taught all 7 phonemic awareness skills. Having these skills, students will realize that words can be broken into syllables, which can be broken into individual sounds.

Hearing Individual Sounds are Important

A phoneme is a unit of sound. For example, the word dog has three phonemes, /d/, /o/, /g/, but the word home also has three phonemes, /h/, /o/, /m/. As you can see, it is not how many letters are in a word but how many sounds or units of sound are in a given word. When teaching phonemic awareness, often times students benefit from using colored tiles or felt so they can assign the sounds to something concrete. It's important, when spelling, that students are able to hear individual sounds.  It's also important, as spelling words become longer, that they can identify the syllables within words, There are 7 types of phonemic awareness skills. These skills are important for improved reading fluency as well as improved spelling.  The following are the skills and examples of each.

7 Essential Phonemic Awareness Skills

  1. Phoneme Segmentation: Tell me the sounds you hear in the word mop? What's the middle sound in the word cub?
  1. Phoneme Deletion: If you take the /t/ off the word table, what’s left?
  1. Phoneme Matching: Listen: do the words snake and sun start with

the same sounds?

  1. Phoneme Counting: How many sounds are in the word tough?
  1. Phoneme Substitution: Change the /s/ in sad to /r/. What is the

new word?

  1. Blending: What word do the sounds /h/ /u/ /g/ make when blended?
  1. Rhyme: Start with the word cat and tell me three words that rhyme

with cat.

To learn more about the current research on phonemic awareness I recommend picking up a copy of David Kilpatrick's book, Equipped for Reading Success.

“People are often surprised to learn that it is phonemic awareness and not intelligence that best predicts ease of learning to read.” Sally Shaywitz, Overcoming Dyslexia.

“Phonemic awareness is the core and causal factor that separates normal readers from disabled readers.” Reid Lyon, NICHHD

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