Phonemic awareness is the ability to notice, think about, and work with the individual sounds in spoken
words. Before children learn to read print, they need to become more aware of how the sounds in words work.
They must understand that words are made up of speech sounds, or phonemes. Phonemes are the smallest parts of
sound in a spoken word that make a difference in a word's meaning. Early readers can show they have phonemic
awareness in several ways, including recognizing which words in a set of words begin with the same sound,
isolating and saying the first or last sound in a word, combining or blending the separate sounds in a word
to say the word, and breaking or segmenting a word into its separate sounds.
Although phonemic awareness is a widely used term in reading, it is often misunderstood. For example,
phonemic awareness and phonics are not the same thing. Phonemic awareness is the understanding that the sounds
of spoken language work together to make words. Phonics is the understanding that there is a predictable relationship between phonemes (sounds) and graphemes ( letters) that represent those sounds in written language.
Children who cannot hear and work with the phonemes of spoken words will have a difficult time learning
how to relate these phonemes to graphemes when they see them in written words.
Here are some of the highlights from the evidence-based research on phonemic awareness instruction:
Phonemic awareness can be taught and learned. Effective phonemic awareness instruction
teaches children to notice, think about, and work with (manipulate) sounds in spoken language.
Phonemic awareness instruction helps children learn to read. It improves the ability to read
words and comprehend what is read.
Phonemic awareness instruction helps children learn to spell. Direct instruction in phonemic
awareness, especially in how to segment words into phonemes, helps children relate the sounds to letters as
they spell words.
Phonemic awareness instruction is most effective when children are taught to manipulate phonemes by
using the letters of the alphabet. Such instruction makes a stronger contribution to the improvement of
reading and spelling when children are taught to use letters as they manipulate phonemes rather than when
instruction is limited to phonemes alone.
Phonemic awareness instruction is most effective when it focuses on only one or two types of phoneme
manipulation, rather than several types. A focus on teaching children to blend and segment phonemes in
words, especially, is likely to produce greater benefits to reading ability than teaching several types of
- Phonemic awareness instruction can help all types of students learn to read, including preschoolers,
kindergartners, first graders who are just starting to read, and older, less able readers.
- Approximately 20 hours of class time over the school year should suffice for phonemic awareness
- In general, small group instruction is more effective when helping students acquire phonemic awareness
and learn to read, compared to individual or whole class instruction.