6 Important Things about Phonemic Awareness

Phonological (and phonemic) awareness is an essential part of reading. If kids don’t have strong P.A. skills, their reading will likely suffer. Here are 6 important things to know about phonemic awareness!

Did you know that phonemic awareness is one of the best predictors of reading success? And even though it can be "done in the dark," that doesn't mean it has to. It's so important to make sure our students get enough practice with phonemic awareness along with phonics instruction. Here are some important things to know about phonemic and phonological awareness!

1. Phonemic awareness is not the same as phonics.

While phonics includes the letter representations for sounds, phonological awareness is an auditory awareness of sounds and the ability to hear and manipulate them. Phonemic awareness is an awareness at the individual-sound level.

In simple terms, if you’re using letters, whether in print or using letter names, it’s phonics. If you’re doing auditory activities that don’t include letter names, it’s phonemic awareness.

PHONICS activity examples:

  • Looking at letters and making their sounds
  • Identifying a letter that makes a sound
  • Building new words by switching letters

PHONEMIC AWARENESS activity examples:

  • Isolating the first sound in a word
  • Blending sounds to say the word
  • Segmenting a word into its individual sounds

Similarly, phonological awareness is different from phonemic awareness, although one is part of the other. 

2. You CAN (and should) combine phonics and PA instruction.

You may have heard the saying, “You can do phonemic awareness in the dark.” While that is true, it doesn’t mean you should. In fact, incorporating phonics early in tandem with phonemic awareness activities actually helps children make the connection between letters and sounds and start reading faster. 

You may have heard that phonemic awareness can be done in the dark. Yes, it could, but it doesn't mean that it has to be! In fact, introducing phonics early on can help kids make the connection between graphemes (letter representation) and phonemes (sounds). So don't be afraid to show those letters while practicing phonemic awareness! Read this post for more important things about phonological and phonemic awareness.

Some ways you can do this is by showing students letters while blending or segmenting, circling the rime in rhyming words, or erasing and writing the changing grapheme when doing phoneme substitution. A grapheme is the letter representation for a sound: s, ch, th, ai are graphemes.

3. Students DON’T have to master one skill before practicing the next.

Although there is a hierarchy of phonological awareness skills regarding difficulty, students should practice activities across several skills. They don’t have to master rhyming or sound isolation in order to move to blending and segmenting. 

I like to play games throughout the day to incorporate different types of phonological awareness skills. Working on multiple skills will help students achieve proficiency and mastery faster than spending too much time on just one skill. 

4. Kids need phonemic awareness activities BEYOND first grade.

In fact, it’s recommended that most students continue practicing phonemic awareness activities paired with phonics until 3rd grade to help with reading and spelling! These include more advanced skills, like phoneme manipulation:

  • Addition: add /k/ to the end of /may/ (make)
  • Deletion: say /make/ without the /k/ (may)
  • Substitution: change the /m/ in /make/ to /r/ (rake), the /l/ in /flame/ to /r/ (frame)

I love using picture books to practice phonemic awareness, including The Hungry Thing by Jan Slepian and Runny Babbit by Shel Silverstein!

I love using this book for advanced phonemic awareness activities! It's very challenging to figure out some of the poems, which makes this an excellent task for advanced learners or students in 2nd grade and beyond. Read this post to learn 6 important things about phonemic awareness.

5. Phonics and phonological awareness does not have to take a lot of time.

In fact, you can add practice in about 10 minutes a day during whole-group instruction and just a few minutes in your small group. 

You can also incorporate it throughout your day in your routines.

Call each group of students to your meeting area or line by segmenting the sounds in their table’s name, or call individual students by segmenting the syllables in their names:

  • “If you sit at the /g-r-ee-n/ table, come to the carpet.”
  • “If your name is /A-lex-an-der/, line up.”

I love to start my small-group reading session with a quick phonological awareness warm-up. In just 2-3 minutes, we do auditory activities to practice skills that each group is working on. 

My Phonological Awareness Bundle makes it easy to do, with all you need for small-group P.A. activities and assessments. 

First, assess students. Grab my free phonological awareness kit to help you!

Next, use the warm-ups for auditory activities. Select just a few for each session.

These phonological awareness warm-ups are a fun way for students in kindergarten and first grade to practice phonemic and phonological awareness in guided reading or small-group time. Read this post for 6 important things to know about phonemic awareness!

Then, use the task cards for extra targeted practice with visuals. 

These task cards are a fun way for students in kindergarten and first grade to practice phonemic and phonological awareness in small-group or independently. Read this post for 6 important things to know about phonemic awareness!

Finally, use the practice pages during centers, morning work, or assign as homework. 

These practice pages are a fun way for students in kindergarten and first grade to practice phonemic and phonological awareness independently. Read this post for 6 important things to know about phonemic awareness!
Use the practice pages during centers, homework, or as exit tickets.

6. Lastly, Phonological Awareness can be FUN!

There are so many ways to incorporate games, songs, and movement to make practice fun! 

  • Clapping or cheering syllables
  • Stomping or hopping to segment
  • Using play dough to smash sounds while blending
  • Tongue twisters
  • Silly rhymes and poems

Counters, pointers, mini-erasers, or pretty much anything small you have on hand also make great manipulatives for adding sensory learning. 

And of course, reading books that have rhyming, alliteration, and wordplay is a great way to practice phonological awareness skills. My next post will have a list of books to use to help your students develop these skills. Do you have any I should include? Comment with the titles below!

Click here for the Phonological Awareness Bundle.

2 responses to “6 Important Things about Phonemic Awareness”

    1. Brenda Avatar

      Thanks, Katie!

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