Why Use Phonemic Awareness?
Phonemic awareness, the most advanced level of phonological awareness, is the ability to isolate and manipulate the spoken sounds in words. No letters and no print involved. Just the sounds. Phonemic awareness is the #1 predictor of reading success. Have you ever had a child who struggled with phonics? He most likely has not developed phonemic awareness. So, throw out the letters and focus on strengthening his ability to hear the individual sounds in words. Daily phonemic awareness activities will lay the foundation for your students’ reading success.
What is Involved in Phonemic Awareness?
There are different parts of phonemic awareness that grow in complexity. Instruction of these skills should be taught in a systematic manner…from simple to complex. Within phonemic awareness, the following skills are included (as seen as part of the phonological awareness continuum below):
- Phonemic segmentation
- Phonemic blending
- Phonemic deletion
- Phonemic manipulation
Segmenting phonemes involves breaking words/syllables into individual speech sounds. For example, in the word tap, the sounds are segmented into /t/ /a/ /p/. Or, in the word ship, the sounds are segmented into /sh/ /i/ /p/. Notice that even though there are four letters in the word ship, there are still only three sounds. Students practice this skill without seeing any letters. When practicing phonemic awareness activities, play with the sounds in pictures or words spoken to the students.
Blending phonemes requires the student to blend together the individual sounds in a word. For example, if a teacher dictates the sounds /m/ /u/ /d/, the student would blend the sounds together to say mud. When introducing phonemic blending, start by having your student blend two sounds together (as in the word at). Then, increase the number of sounds as the student progresses. For example, in the video below, the student has progressed to blending four sounds together.
Also, it is easier for the student to blend when the first sound is a continuous sound (one that doesn’t stop with air). Try to use words that start with those continuous sounds. Then weave in words that start with other sounds (stopped sounds such as /b/ or /t/) as the student progresses.
Phoneme deletion requires the student to be able to segment, isolate, and then delete a sound. Since many PA skills are involved, this is considered a higher level phonemic skill. For example, if the teacher dictates the word cheat and asks the student to delete the first sound, the student would reply with “eat.”
It is easier to delete beginning sounds first, then final sounds, and then medial sounds. When introducing this skill, use manipulatives to help the student isolate the sounds. He deletes the sounds as he takes away the manipulative. But you will know the student has mastered the skill when he can perform the phonemic awareness activities with automaticity and without manipulatives.
This is the highest level skill of phonemic awareness. Phoneme manipulation requires the student to segment, isolate, and then manipulate a phoneme in some way. This could involve changing the phoneme to a different phoneme. For example, the teacher could ask the student, “Say hem. Now say it again, but instead of /e/ say /u/.” The student would reply with hum. As in phoneme deletion, it is usually easier for the student to manipulate the beginning sound first. Then progress to manipulating the final sound and then the medial sound.
Remember, Phonemic Awareness:
-Is NOT phonics
-It only involves the individual SOUNDS in WORDS. It is all auditory.
-Is a foundational skill in learning to read. Without phonemic awareness, phonics makes little sense.
-It must be taught in an explicit, systematic manner. Assess your students’ phonemic awareness skills and provide ample practice with the skills throughout the school day.
“The most common source of reading difficulties is poor phonemic awareness.”David Kilpatrick
-You and your students can have FUN with phonemic awareness! Engage with your students in multisensory PA games and activities. They will enjoy it and you will help set the stage for their reading success.