Phonemic Awareness: First Steps to Learning How to Read

Phonemic Awareness is a term frequently used by educators and professionals in early literacy and reading development. Children who show strong phonemic awareness have the highest potential to begin learning how to read. What exactly is phonemic awareness? I will answer this question and give you ways you can promote your child’s phonemic awareness skills at home.

Phonemic awareness skills not only serve as a foundation for reading but it is also considered to be the strongest indicator for success in early reading. It is a metacognitive skill that brings attention to oral language in such a way that sets up your child for learning to read.

What is Phonemic Awareness?

Phonemic Awareness is the ability to distinguish individual sounds heard in words. Phonemes are the smallest unit of speech that help distinguish words and word elements from others. There are 44 phonemes in the English language.

But wait, the alphabet only has 26 letters! How can this be?

Phonemic Awareness does not involve letters

Phonemes are the speech sounds. It is important to understand they are separate from letters. Letter naming has nothing to do it because our written language does not directly correspond with the English phonemes. Can you think of any sounds that we produce that do not have a corresponding alphabet letter? Can you think of any letters in words that do not get assigned a phoneme?

Side Note: It is often that we teach sounds along with their letter constituents. Parents and educators will begin lessons in reading development by introducing a sound while pointing to a letter. “‘A’ says /a/ as in aaapple.” That’s all fine and well as this type of instruction is absolutely necessary for success in reading.

However, when it comes to phonemic awareness, instruction is completely auditory. Here are the components of phonemic awareness that can be used in activities to promote your child’s skills.

A great reference resource for understanding phonemic awareness. This lays out information about what it looks like and gives you ideas of different activities that can be implemented to enhance phonemic awareness.
A great reference resource for understanding phonemic awareness. This lays out information about what it looks like and gives you ideas of different activities that can be implemented to enhance phonemic awareness.

Components of Phonemic Awareness

  • Segmenting phonemes within words. The word ‘cat’ is made up of phonemes /k/ /a/ /t/.
  • Blending phonemes together to produce words. State each phoneme separately and then blend them together.
  • Manipulating phonemes to create new words.  The word is ‘cat’. Change /k/ to /p/ to create a new word: /p/ /a/ /t/ or ‘pat’. 
  • Deleting phonemes in words and orally producing what’s leftover. ‘love’ without /l/ is ‘ove’. 
  • Identifying or isolating phonemes based on their position in the word – the final sound in ‘cat’ is /t/. The beginning sound in ‘love’ is /l/.

What about Phonological Awareness? 

Phonemic awareness is a precursor to learning how to read. It falls under the umbrellaing term ‘Phonological Awareness’. Phonological awareness continues to build on phonemic awareness as your child moves onto rhyming, alliteration, and syllable counting. 

Check it Out! Language and the Speed of Sight by Mark Seidenberg

Phonemic Awareness Activities

You should do phonemic awareness activities with your child daily. You can use these activities when you feel your child has a good grasp organically producing words and sentences on their own.

Because phonemic awareness is oral in nature, it can be practiced anywhere and everywhere. Here are a few ideas!

Use Elkonin boxes to work on phoneme segmenting as shown in this video.

A quick video on how to use Elkonin boxes to build Phonemic Awareness. Courtesy of Axelson Academy.

Recommended Material

These little two-color counters can be used in a myriad of activities including working on phonemic awareness. When your child is ready to distinguish between consonant/vowel sounds, assign a color to each for a more in-depth study of phonemic awareness.

Two-Color Learning Counters – Endless uses for learning activities!

Ask your child what sound they hear at the beginning of words as you introduce words to them.

Gather small toys or items around the house and ask your child to categorize them based on their vowel sounds or whatever consonant sounds you choose. 

Remember to keep phonemic awareness activities light and fun!

I hope this post helped you better understand what phonemic awareness is and just how important it is for reading development. Please let me know if you have any questions in the comments below.

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Free Download – Reading Tips for Reading Time with your Child!

Reading tips for reading time. Before, During and After reading questions to ask your child during reading time.

For more reading, check out my post: Building Morphological Awareness: Prefixes and Suffixes

Building Morphological Awareness Prefixes and Suffixes

Read More…


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