The Facts About Phonemic Awareness That May Surprise You

Phonemic Awareness

This is a topic that is near and dear to our hearts because it is so very important for our beginning and impacted readers.

Phonemic Awareness refers to the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate the sounds (or phonemes) in words.

A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound. For example, the spoken word “dog” can be broken down into three separate and distinct phonemes or sounds; /d/ /o/ /g/.

Developing phonemic awareness is important because it helps create the building blocks for spelling and word recognition skills.

Phonemic awareness is one of the best predictors of how well children will learn to read during the first two years of school. Students at risk for reading difficulty often have lower levels of phonemic awareness than their peers.

The facts about Phonemic Awareness that may surprise you

Unfortunatly, it is often assumed due to a child’s age, that these skills are intact. The majority of struggling readers have weaknesses in this area and it is one of the major reasons they haven’t been able to gain ground in their reading abilities. This is not a skill set that should be overlooked and it's not something that we can assume a child knows based on their age.

However, a number of assessments (such as the iReady) don’t even test a student on phonemic awareness skills past grade 3 because it is assumed that these skills are already in tact due to the students’ grade level or age. This can be detrimental for a student who may have an underlying disability or undiagnosed issue such as dyslexia. Click here to read more about how a lack of phonemic awareness can drastically impact older readers.

Difficulties with phonemic awareness skills include:

  • Having a hard time hearing or making rhymes

  • Challenges substituting the first letter in a word with another letter

  • Not being able to break a word into syllables

These difficulities can all be indicators of an underlying disability such as dyslexia.

How can I support my child's Phonemic Awareness skills?

An easy “spot-check” that you can do with a child who is older is to ask them to rhyme with you. Give them a word that is age appropriate (don’t use words like cat, pig, house, etc. as many students have these rhymes memorized). Use unique words and ask the student to produce rhymes for that word. Click here for things you can do if your child can’t hear the rhyme.

You can also ask them to manipulate the sounds within a word, such as, “Think of the word 'pitch.' Now replace the /p/ in 'pitch' with a /h/. What word do you have?” The new word is 'hitch.'

Difficulty with either one of these tasks is a sure sign that you need to devote some time to helping your child strengthen their phonemic awareness skills. This skill set is one of the building blocks of decoding and may need specific and clear instruction in order to be successful.

For more ways you can support phonological awareness at home, click here!