Phonemic Awareness: Everything You Need to Know

This refers to the ability to pick out the minute, almost undecipherable sounds in a word. Phonemic awareness is one of the most crucial parts of phonological awareness, and phonemic awareness performance is a key predictor of long-term spelling and reading success. There’re 44 phonemes in the English language. Modifying a phoneme in a word modifies the word’s meaning. For instance, changing the phoneme /a/ in the word ‘map’ to the phoneme /o/ changes the word ‘map’ to ‘mop.’

From a very early age, kids recognize the phonemes of the language spoken in their home. However, according to research, most kids don’t have phonemic awareness skills when they first enter school. They’re meaning-focused and don’t consider spoken words as strings of phonemes.

A successful phonemic awareness program should address six important skills.

Isolation: Children identify individual sounds in a word. For example, ‘fan’ begins with /f/ and ends with /n/.

Blending: Children listen to a particular order of separately spoken sounds and then merge those sounds to form a word. For example, /f/ + /a/ + /n/ = fan.

Segmentation: Kids break a word into separate sounds and count the number of sounds they hear. For example, ‘fan’ = /f/ + /a/ + /n/ = 3 sounds.

Deletion: Children remove a phoneme from a word to form a new word. For example, ‘spark’ – /s/ = park.

Addition: Children create a new word by adding a phoneme to a word. For example, /s/ + ‘park’ = spark.

Substitution: Kids substitute one phoneme for another to form a new word. For example, the word is ‘trip.’ Students substitute the phoneme /i/ for /a/ to form the word ‘trap.’

Some kids incidentally develop phonemic awareness, picking it up through phonological and other listening activities and games, while others may need it to be explicitly taught. Teachers should remember a few important things when teaching phonemic awareness.

·         It’s important for students to hear lots of modeling of phonemic awareness skills before they’re asked to do it themselves.

·         Most students learn to orally blend words before they’re able to orally segment. And when they learn to segment, they may not be able to hear and say all the phonemes in a word.

·         Ideally, children should learn the concept of phonemic awareness, or at least demonstrate some understanding of it, before they start learning GPC (grapheme-phoneme correspondence).

Phonemic awareness may be developed without any written word. Making activities practical and multi-sensory is important, particularly with younger kids or those with special educational needs.

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