Phonemic Awareness

Hello out there in Literacy Land!  This is Wendy from Read With Me ABC here to talk with you about Phonemic Awareness.  

Phonemic awareness, phonological awareness, and phonics are closely related and often misunderstood.  Let's sort it all out...

Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate individual sounds, or phonemes, in spoken words.  Phonemic awareness is a subcategory of phonological awareness.

Phonological awareness has a broader focus.  It is the ability to identify and manipulate larger units of spoken language, such as words, syllables, and rhymes as well as phonemes.

Phonemic awareness is not phonics.  Phonemic awareness is the ability to understand that the sounds of spoken language work together to make words.  Phonics is the ability to understand the relationship between letters (graphemes) of written language and the sounds of spoken language.

According to the National Reading Panel, phonemic awareness is an important component of effective reading instruction.

Children who have phonemic awareness skills are likely to have an easier time learning to read, comprehend, and spell than students who lack phonemic awareness skills.
Most children develop phonemic awareness naturally through experiences with poems and nursery rhymes.  Phonemic awareness can also be taught.  Children can learn to notice, think about, and work with sounds in spoken language.  

The most effective instruction occurs in a small group setting and takes just a few minutes each day.  Teachers use a variety of activities to build phonemic awareness skills.

  • Identifying phonemes - What sound is the same in all three words: bat, ball, bun? /b/
  • Categorizing phonemes - Which word does not belong: map, mat, bag?  bag
  • Blending phonemes to form words - What word is /b/ /u/ /s/?  bus
  • Segmenting words into phonemes - Say each sound in frog.  /f/ /r/ /o/ /g/ 
  • Deleting or adding phonemes to form new words - What word is star without the /s/? tar  What word do you have if you add  /b/ to the beginning of lock?  block
  • Substituting phonemes to make new words - The word is bun.  Change the /b/ to /s/.  What word do you have? sun

Teaching students one or two types of phoneme manipulation - specifically blending and segmenting words - is likely to have greater impact on students' reading.

Sometimes my students and I play oral word games like the examples above.  Other times we manipulate pictures or tokens when working with a particular skill.

In this photo, I scattered picture cards out on the table.  Students sort the pictures into two groups by their beginning blends /cr/ and /fr/.  

The student in this picture is sliding a bear into a box for each sound he hears in a word.  We use a variety of themed sorting mats and buttons, glass beads, legos, etc. as the tokens.  

Pictured above are two of my favorite books for teaching phonemic awareness with engaging, meaningful activities.

These are just two of the many great CDs from Jack Hartmann and Heidi Songs to reinforce phonemic awareness skills.

Do you have a favorite activity for teaching phonemic awareness? Please leave a comment below and share your idea with the Literacy Land followers.  We love reading your comments!

Stop back tomorrow for Five for a follow-up to today's post, I'll be featuring five freebies for you to use as part of your phonemic awareness instruction.

Special thanks to EduClipsLovin' LitAshley Hughes and KG Fonts for the graphics used in this post.


  1. You did an excellent job explaining and demonstrating how to address phonemic awareness in this post. When working with kinders, I do a lot of tapping and clapping to count sounds. I also suggest to my students the stretch out the sounds to "feel them in their mouths". For PA, it's done orally, but that translates to spelling when we attach letters to the sounds formed for writing. Without PA, learning phonics/decoding skills is very difficult.

    1. Carla, my students tap out sounds as well. For sound stretching, have you ever tried the song "Do the Word Stretch" by Jack Hartmann? It's on the CD shown above and there is an open version that you can add your own words to stretch. My kiddos love singing that song and do it on their own when stretching words to write.

      I agree that phonemic awareness translates into spelling and phonics skills. So it is important to connect PA to spelling in lessons. I'm going to talk about in tomorrow's follow-up post. Thanks for taking time to share your ideas! :) Wendy

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you, Shannon. I'm so glad you stopped by! :) Wendy

  3. I am going to have to get those books and CD's! I really have a hard time teaching little ones, and this post reminded me of the importance of phonemic and phonological awareness! The kindergarten teachers always want me to just work with real letters and words, even when the kids need these important skills. Thanks so much!

    Reading Toward the Stars

    1. Research suggests that the two go hand in had. As we teach phonemic awareness like stretching and segmenting words, it is good to show students what the word would look like in print as well. I keep a dry erase board handy just for this purpose. Thanks for commenting. :)

  4. We use the blue Heggerty Phonemic Awareness book. As a whole, we have seen great success with it in kindergarten. At the beginning of the year it takes a little longer until they get in a routine, but we do this full group daily, and it takes about 10-12 minutes.

    A Very Curious Class

    1. Hi Amanda,
      I actually hadn't heard of HPA, but I checked out the link you provided and liked what I saw. Do you find that the activities are engaging and that children look forward to the program? Thanks fro stopping by and taking time to share your ideas with us.
      :) Wendy