Phonological Awareness

What do you hear?

Phonological awareness is the ability to hear the sound structure of spoken words, and is the second best predictor of reading success after alphabet knowledge.

Children who are able to recognize letters and know the sounds they represent — crucial skills for learning to read — will still struggle with learning to read if they cannot distinguish between the sounds they hear within words in order to map those sounds to specific letters.

To assess whether a student has mastered a particular phonological awareness skill, teachers use only spoken words, pictures or concrete items rather than written words.  Otherwise, the teacher would not know whether the child was demonstrating the ability to isolate a particular sound, or just demonstrating knowledge of letter-sound associations:

What are we talking about here?

Phonological awareness is a broad term that encompasses many listening skills, including being able to distinguish between separate words in a sentence, syllables within a word,  beginning sounds (onsets) and ending “chunks” (rimes) within syllables, and each isolated sound within a word (phonemes).

Phonemic awareness is a type of phonological awareness that involves specifically the ability to hear the smallest units of sound within spoken words, referred to as “phonemes.”  For example, the word “read” has four letters, but only three phonemes:  /r/ + /ē/ + /d/.

Students who are learning to read need to master phonological awareness skills to the point of automaticity.  They will benefit from explicit, systematic, data-informed instruction in such skills, including:

Rhyme awareness

Example:  “Bat” rhymes with “sat.”

Activities for teaching and practicing rhyme awareness:

Beginning (onset) sound awareness

Example:  “Bat” and “ball” both start with the /b/ sound.

Activities for teaching and practicing beginning sound awareness:

Blending phonemes (sounds) or syllables into words

Example:  If I give you the sound /k/, then the long /ā/ sound, and then the /p/ sound, you can blend these sounds together to say the word, “cape.”

Activities for teaching and practicing blending phonemes or syllables together into words:

Segmenting words into syllables or sounds (phonemes)

Example:  I can stomp once for each word in the sentence, “I like baseball,” which will be three stomps.  I can clap for each syllable in the same sentence, which will be four claps.

Example:  To spell “bat,” I’ll need to isolate the beginning, middle, and ending sounds in the word:  /b/ + /a/ + /t/.  (Matching those sounds to letters will require an additional skill, letter sound knowledge.)

Activities for teaching and practicing word segmentation into syllables or phonemes:

Is this all that’s needed to learn how to read?

Nope!  Children also need to develop alphabet knowledge and oral language skills, as well as a knowledge of how printed language works, so they know what they’re building when they put those alphabet “building blocks” to use.