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Concepts and Research
Phonemic Awareness (PA) is:
- 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).
- essential to learning to read in an alphabetic writing system, because letters represent sounds or phonemes. Without phonemic awareness, phonics makes little sense.
- 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.
- essential to learning to read in an alphabetic writing system.
- a strong predictor of children who experience early reading success.
An important distinction:
- Phonemic awareness is NOT phonics.
- Phonemic awareness is AUDITORY and does not involve words in print.
Phonemic Awareness is important ...
- It requires readers to notice how letters represent sounds. It primes readers for print.
- It gives readers a way to approach sounding out and reading new words.
- It helps readers understand the alphabetic principle (that the letters in words are systematically represented by sounds).
- Although there are 26 letters in the English language, there are approximately 40 phonemes, or sound units, in the English language. (NOTE: the number of phonemes varies across sources.)
- Sounds are represented in 250 different spellings (e.g., /f/ as in ph, f, gh, ff).
- The sound units (phonemes) are not inherently obvious and must be taught. The sounds that make up words are "coarticulated;" that is, they are not distinctly separate from each other.
Definitions of key PA terminology:
- Phoneme: A phoneme is a speech sound. It is the smallest unit of language and has no inherent meaning.
- Phonemic Awareness: 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). Phonemic awareness involves hearing language at the phoneme level.
- Phonics: use of the code (sound-symbol relationships to recognize words.
- Phonological Awareness: The ability to hear and manipulate the sound structure of language. This is an encompassing term that involves working with the sounds of language at the word, syllable, and phoneme level.
- Continuous Sound: A sound that can be prolonged (stretched out) without distortion (e.g., r, s, a, m).
- Onset-Rime: The onset is the part of the word before the vowel; not all words have onsets. The rime is the part of the word including the vowel and what follows it.
- Segmentation: The separation of words into phonemes.
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.|
|Syllable||sun, sun-shine, sun-ny|
|Onset-Rime||s-un, s-unshine, s-unny|
The word "shut" also has three phonemes: /sh/ /u/ /t/.
Examples of Phonemic Awareness Skills
- Blending: What word am I trying to say? Mmmmm...oooooo...p.
- Segmentation (first sound isolation): What is the first sound in mop? /m/
- Segmentation (last sound isolation): What is the last sound in mop? /p/
- Segmentation (complete): What are all the sounds you hear in mop? /m/ /o/ /p/
|What Teachers Should Know||What Teachers Should Be Able to Do|
|(modified from Moats, 1999; see References)|
What Does the Lack of Phonemic Awareness Look Like?
Children lacking phonemic awareness skills cannot:
- group words with similar and dissimilar sounds (mat, mug, sun)
- blend and split syllables (f oot)
- blend sounds into words (m_a_n)
- segment a word as a sequence of sounds (e.g., fish is made up of three phonemes, /f/ , /i/, /sh/)
- detect and manipulate sounds within words (change r in run to s).
(Kame'enui, et. al., 1997; see References)
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).