phonological awareness

Literacy is the comprehension and decoding of the written language; phonological awareness is a foundational skill to become literate. Phonological awareness is vital to the foundation for reading success; it is a prerequisite skill to literacy. Researchers show that poor reading and spelling development can be predicted by how a child struggles or comprehends phonological awareness. 

If you want your child to read, teach them phonological awareness.

What Is Phonological Awareness?

Phonological awareness is the understanding of how oral language can be divided into smaller components and manipulated. (Chard and Dickson, 1999) It is a reading readiness skill that helps a child hear the sounds of orally spoken words before learning to read. The child with phonological awareness skills hears,  recognizes, and manipulates orally spoken parts of a word. 

Newborns to three-year-old toddlers’ phonological skills relate to syllables and rhymes. Older children comprehend more complex phonological awareness skills like onset-rime, alliteration, and individual phonemes.

Foundational Skills Of Phonological Awareness

Phonological awareness includes the five primary developmental levels: word awareness, syllable awareness, onset-rime awareness, rhyme awareness, and phonemic awareness.

Word awareness is to hear words as a unit of sound. Children with word awareness understand that a sentence consists of individual words, leave spaces between words when they write, and say one word when they see one word in written text.

Rhyme awareness teaches children sound patterns that help them learn and apply phonic skills. A child’s future reading success is predicted by their ability to play with rhyming words.

Syllable awareness breaks words into chunks of sound. Children count the syllables in a word and differentiate between single-syllable words with one vowel sound and two and more syllables.

Onset and rime awareness break syllables into smaller sound sections. The initial sound is the onset, and the last word part is the rime.

Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate sounds in words orally. Children with phonemic awareness skills isolate sounds in words (beginning, ending, and middle sounds), blend sounds, segment words into individual sounds, and create new words by changing the sounds.

What Is The Difference Between Phonological Awareness and Phonics Skills?

The difference between phonological awareness and phonics is that phonological awareness focuses on the awareness of speech sounds of oral language. In contrast, phonics is a method of teaching reading focusing on sounds and letters in the written form of language.

Awareness of oration sounds, rhymes, and syllables forms part of the phonological awareness skill, whereas mapping phonemes to letters is a phonics skill.  

Why Phonological Awareness Skills Are Important For Reading And Spelling

Phonological awareness is essential for reading and spelling skills because spoken words correspond to written words (Ehri, 2004; Rath, 2001; Troia, 2004). Readers must be aware of the speech sounds that letters and letter combinations represent to move from a printed word to a spoken word (reading) or a spoken word to a written word (spelling) (Moats, 2010). 

Children learn early to comprehend sounds and develop an awareness of syllables; understanding the spoken language helps them hear and understand the words they are learning to spell. It also helps combine sounds from words they are reading now to words they have read. 

Phoneme Awareness For Learning And Using The Alphabetic Principle

At least 80% of poor readers show a deficiency in phonological awareness and/or phonological memory. Readers who are weak in phonological processing awareness often struggle with spelling. (Cassar, Treiman, Moats, Pollo, & Kessler, 2005).

Phonological awareness helps children grasp a firm foundation of the oration sounds in words they will need to learn to read and write. The written language consists of 26 alphabet letters expressed in 44 speech sounds. Phonological awareness also helps with reading other writing systems like Japanese or Chinese. 

In the English language, the alphabet writing system features letters that, single or combined with other letters, represent single speech sounds. Children who have mastered the basic level of the alphabet system can divide the words into sounds, recognize their identity, and combine them again. Without phonemic awareness, students may be baffled by the alphabet system and why it represents the spoken word, and they may not even know what the term sound means. Students without phonemic awareness may not even know the difference between the letters W or D and T. 

Phonics Skills Predicts Later Life Spelling and Reading Outcomes

The National Reading Panel Report (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000) found that phonemic awareness at the beginning reading level and knowledge of alphabet letters are excellent indicators of how well children will learn to read during the first two years of formal reading instruction.

By testing a child’s awareness of spoken sounds in words and knowledge of letter names, sound-symbol correspondence, and vocabulary, an elementary school teacher can estimate whether the student will be a poor reader or a fluent reader at the end of 3rd Grade and beyond. 

Beginner Readers Benefit From Phoneme Awareness Instruction

Phoneme awareness is an integral part of learning to read because phonemes help children understand the meaning of words. Students who are aware of phonemes are better readers than students who are not. 

 Phonemic awareness instruction helps students learn how letters correspond to sounds. It helps them learn the alphabetic code faster. When you learn how to pronounce words correctly, you’re learning how to read them.

Phonological Awareness Stimulates Vocabulary And Word Consciousness

In 2019, NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores revealed that only 35% of 4th graders and 34% of 8th were considered proficient readers. The two main reasons are that students in primary grades aren’t explicitly taught phonics and phonemic awareness or the basic levels of segmenting sounds and blending sounds. They’ve learned to memorize words as a whole without a strategy enabling them to read new words or comprehend what they are reading.

Phonological awareness teaches children letter-sound relationships that help them compare unfamiliar words with known words. They can recognize sounds, build vocabulary, and remember and retrieve words accurately. 

How To Teach In The Real World

Most children often pick up phonological awareness skills naturally in early childhood before starting formal schooling. Educational toys help parents prepare their kids for reading by developing the foundational skills in their children. Before teaching students reading skills, teachers can help children learn and practice phonological awareness skills.

Word Awareness Activity

Word awareness is the easiest phonological awareness skill to learn. A word awareness activity teaches children to identify words as a sound unit in a sentence.

  • First, demonstrate and then give a sentence and ask the children to count the words in the sentence.

Alliteration Awareness Activity

Alliteration repeated initial sounds in a sentence. Teaching students alliteration awareness is fun.

  • Tell them a silly phrase with each word starting with the same letter and have them isolate the first sound.
  • Use the first sound in your name or the child’s name and make a funny alliteration poem.
  • Read poetry with alliteration.

Rhyming Words

Rhyming is when two words have the same sound at the end of the word. Most parents, kindergarten teachers, and elementary school teachers are already doing rhyming activities with the kids.

  • Finding the rhyme is a fun activity where the parent or teacher gives three words, one non-rhyming word, and two rhyming words. The children need to identify the rhyming words.
  • Give the kids a word pair. Thumbs up mean the word pair rhyme and thumbs down they don’t.
  • Nursery rhymes, singing songs, and reading rhyming stories can motivate kids to create their own rhymes.

Syllabification Activity

Words are the largest and syllables the next largest unit of sounds. Children break words into smaller sections by hearing and counting the syllables.

  • Children place a hand under their chin and count the times the chin moves to isolate syllables in simple words and later in more complex words.
  • Heads Down, Fingers Up is a fun game to assess individuals in a small group. They can’t see how many fingers the other kids raise with their heads down.

Phonological Awareness Onset-Rime Activity

Onset and rime skills precede phonemic skills. Onset and rime awareness determines how well a child hears the onset, the initial sound, and blends it with the rime, the rest of the word.

  • Practice onsets and rimes using objects in the classroom. After blending the sounds, the students can point to them.

What is Phonemic Awareness?

Phonemic awareness is understanding that individual sounds called phonemes are combined to create spoken words. Phonemes are the smallest units of sounds. A child with phonemic awareness skills can identify and manipulate phonemes (these individual sounds) in spoken words. 

Before children can understand the written language, they need a strong understanding of the spoken language. Phonemic awareness skills are one of the most critical aspects of phonological skills. Work occurs at the phonemic level when readers blend the phonemes they hear to make a word.

What Are The 6 Phonemic Awareness Skills?

Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear the sounds within the words, not written letters. Phonemes form the sound system of a language. For example, the word cat has three phonemes (c/a/t), and so does the word bike (b/i/k). There are six phonemic awareness skills; the first three are more straightforward to master than the latter.

  • Isolating phonemes identify the first, middle, and final sounds of a word. For example, the c is the first sound, a is the middle sound, and t is the final sound in the word cat—progress students to words with long vowels when they understand short vowels.
  • Blending sounds blends phonemes to make a word; for example, d-o-g spells dog.

Phoneme manipulation includes adding, deleting, or substituting sounds.

  • Phoneme deletion removes a letter sound in a word and creates a new word. For example, saying trail without the letter sound r is the new word tail.
  • Phoneme additions form words by adding a letter sound to a word. For example, adding a letter s at the beginning of the word nail creates the word snail.
  • Phone substitution forms words by substituting one letter sound for another. For example, replacing r in rat for c creates the word cat.

Phonemic Awareness Activities

Teaching students phonological and phonemic awareness alongside phonics will help them become good readers. Without these skills, children struggle with reading difficulties. Phonemic awareness activities and games are engaging ways to master phonemic awareness skills.

If your child has reading difficulties because they are struggling with phonemic awareness, listening games can help them.

  • Go for a walk and focus your child’s attention on the sounds in nature and the environment.
  • Make sounds that sound like things, such as a bouncing ball, a train, going down a slide, or closing a door.
  • Use the pitch, tone, and beat of instruments.
  • Clap or stamp feet for each syllable in a word. Use the child’s name as an example.

What Can Affect A Child’s Phonemic Awareness Skills?

Several causes can affect a child’s phonemic awareness skills resulting in reading difficulties.

  • Incorrect phoneme pronunciation leads to difficulty blending words, such as saying duh instead of d.
  • Reading disability or dyslexia makes it difficult to spell and read words accurately and fluently.
  • Speech and language difficulties affect how children pronounce words and sounds. A child may need a Speech and Language Therapy assessment.
  • Autism may cause auditory processing disorders. Children with autism are often visual thinkers and find oral blending and segmenting challenging to understand.
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