What is Phonemic Awareness?

Phonemic awareness is the ability to notice, think about, and work with the individual sounds in words. We know that a student's skill in phonemic awareness is a good predictor of later reading success or difficulty. Find out what parents and teachers can do to help children develop this critical literacy skill.

Before children learn to read print, they need to become aware of how the sounds in words work. They must understand that words are made up of speech sounds, or phonemes.

An important pre-reading skill is phonemic awareness. Children become aware that words are made up of sounds which can be assembled in different ways to make different words. Children build these pre-reading skills by practicing nursery rhymes and playing sound and word games such as learning to hear and recognize rhymed words. Tutoring, workbooks, games, or structured computer programs can help teach or reinforce these skills. Parents help in this process by providing high-quality educational materials, establishing a pattern of daily reading, creating a rich language environment, discussing your child's progress with teachers, and following up on their recommendations.

As this phonemic awareness is developed, children should become interested in how words are portrayed in print. Daily reading sessions with the children following along should help develop their understanding of print concept and feed this curiosity. This interest in decoding the words is the fuel for children learning the alphabet and phonics decoding skills.  For more information on teaching phonemic awareness, read the Put Reading First report on Phonemic awareness instruction. 
The "What Works?" Report found that the five key areas in learning to read are phonemic awareness, phonics, comprehension, vocabulary, and fluency.
Phonemes are the smallest parts of sound in a spoken word that make a difference in the word's meaning. For example, changing the first phoneme in the word hat from /h/ to /p/ changes the word from hat to pat, and so changes the meaning. (A letter between slash marks shows the phoneme, or sound, that the letter represents, and not the name of the letter. For example, the letter h represents the sound /h/.) Children can show us that they have phonemic awareness in several ways, including:
  • recognizing which words in a set of words begin with the same sound ("Bell, bike, and boy all have /b/ at the beginning.")
  • isolating and saying the first or last sound in a word ("The beginning sound of dog is /d/." "The ending sound of sit is /t/.")
  • blending the separate sounds in a word to say the word ("/m/, /a/, /p/ – map.")
  • segmenting a word into its separate sounds ("up – /u/, /p/.")


The phonological processor usually works unconsciously when we listen and speak. It is designed to extract the meaning of what is said, not to notice the speech sounds in the words. It is designed to do its job automatically in the service of efficient communication. 

On the other hand, phonological skill is not strongly related to intelligence. Some very intelligent people have limitations of linguistic awareness, especially at the phonological level. Take heart. If you find phonological tasks challenging, you are competent in many other ways!

This fact is well proven: Phonological awareness is critical for learning to read any alphabetic writing system. Phonological awareness is even important for reading other kinds of writing systems, such as Chinese and Japanese. There are several well-established lines of argument for the importance of phonological skills to reading and spelling.

Phoneme awareness predicts later outcomes in reading and spelling.

Phoneme awareness facilitates growth in printed word recognition. Even before a student learns to read, we can predict with a high level of accuracy whether that student will be a good reader or a poor reader by the end of third grade and beyond. Prediction is possible with simple tests that measure awareness of speech sounds in words, knowledge of letter names, knowledge of sound-symbol correspondence, and vocabulary.

The majority of poor readers have relative difficulty with phoneme awareness and other phonological skills.

Instruction in phoneme awareness is beneficial for novice readers and spellers. Instruction in speech-sound awareness reduces and alleviates reading and spelling difficulties. Teaching speech sounds explicitly and directly also accelerates learning of the alphabetic code. Therefore, classroom instruction for beginning readers should include phoneme awareness activities. Phonological awareness interacts with and facilitates the development of vocabulary and word consciousness. This argument is made much less commonly than the first four points. Phonological awareness and memory are involved in these activities of word learning:
  • Attending to unfamiliar words and comparing them with known words
  • Repeating and pronouncing words correctly
  • Remembering (encoding) words accurately so that they can be retrieved and used
  • Differentiating words that sound similar so their meanings can be contrasted
Learning to read has a sequence. If a student is forced to try to learn skills that he or she does not yet have the foundation for, he or she might become frustrated and lose confidence.  Parents should get a sense of what the right sequence is so that they do not inadvertently frustrate their child. Prior to learning to decode words with phonics, there are a few important pre-reading skills.

Happy Teaching-Have a great week!


2 comments:

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  2. Phonemic Awareness? Never really heard of it 'til now so... Thanks for the good research & share of the text.

    Hot guys

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