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Phonemic Awareness

Concepts and Research

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Phonemic Awareness (PA) is:

  1. the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds in spoken words and the understanding that spoken words and syllables are made up of sequences of speech sounds (Yopp, 1992; see References).
  2. essential to learning to read in an alphabetic writing system, because letters represent sounds or phonemes. Without phonemic awareness, phonics makes little sense.
  3. fundamental to mapping speech to print. If a child cannot hear that "man" and "moon" begin with the same sound or cannot blend the sounds /rrrrrruuuuuunnnnn/ into the word "run", he or she may have great difficulty connecting sounds with their written symbols or blending sounds to make a word.
  4. essential to learning to read in an alphabetic writing system.
  5. a strong predictor of children who experience early reading success.

An important distinction:

Phonemic Awareness is important ...

...but difficult:

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Definitions of key PA terminology:

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Examples of Phonemes

The word "sun" has three phonemes: /s/ /u/ /n/. The table below shows different linguistic units from largest (sentence) to smallest (phoneme).

Sentence The sun shone brightly.
Word sun
Syllable sun, sun-shine, sun-ny
Onset-Rime s-un, s-unshine, s-unny
Phoneme s-u-n

The word "shut" also has three phonemes: /sh/ /u/ /t/.

Examples of Phonemic Awareness Skills

What Teachers Should Know What Teachers Should Be Able to Do
  • Definition of phonemic awareness (PA).
  • The relation of phonemic awareness to early reading skills.
  • The developmental continuum of phonemic awareness skills.
  • Which phonemic awareness skills are more important and when they should be taught.
  • Features of phonemes and tasks that influence task difficulty.
  • Terminology (phoneme, PA, continuous sound, onset-rime, segmentation).
  • Assess PA and diagnose difficulties.
  • Produce speech sounds accurately.
  • Use a developmental continuum to select/design PA instruction.
  • Select examples according to complexity of skills, phonemes, word types, and learner experience.
  • Model and deliver PA lessons.
  • Link PA to reading and spelling.
  • Evaluate the design of instructional materials.
(modified from Moats, 1999; see References)

What Does the Lack of Phonemic Awareness Look Like?

Children lacking phonemic awareness skills cannot:

(Kame'enui, et. al., 1997; see References)

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Phonemic Awareness Research Says:

"The best predictor of reading difficulty in kindergarten or first grade is the inability to segment words and syllables into constituent sound units (phonemic awareness)" (Lyon, 1995; see References).

The ability to hear and manipulate phonemes plays a causal role in the acquisition of beginning reading skills (Smith, Simmons, & Kame'enui, 1998; see References).

There is considerable evidence that the primary difference between good and poor readers lies in the good reader's phonological processing ability.

The effects of training phonological awareness and learning to read are mutually supportive. "Reading and phonemic awareness are mutually reinforcing: Phonemic awareness is necessary for reading, and reading, in turn, improves phonemic awareness still further." (Shaywitz, 2003, see References)

Phonological awareness is teachable and promoted by attention to instructional variables (Smith, Simmons, & Kame'enui, 1998; see References).

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