What is Phonemic Awareness?

What is Phonemic Awareness


Recently we were on the hunt for a new preschool for my 4 year old. Being a veteran kindergarten teacher and having a master’s degree in early childhood I felt like a more informed parent than what the preschool directors were used to. Knowing this I tried not to ask a zillion question and instead as select question. One of which is “How do you teach phonemic awareness?” I was then shocked to have all of them look at me like I was speaking greek and then go on to tell me they teach the letters of the alphabet. I am not one for confrontation so I let it go, but on the inside I was screaming “PHONEMIC AWARENESS IS INTEGRAL IN READING DEVELOPMENT AND NOT THE SAME AS TEACHING THE ALPHABET!!!!”

Wow I feel better now. So I felt I would inform the momma of the world about what their child’s preschool is probably not teaching and how they can teach phonemic awareness at home.

According to the National Reading Panel,

Phonemic awareness is the knowledge that words are made up of a combination of individual sounds. For example, the word cat is made up of three sounds (phonemes) /c/ /a/ and /t/. When these three sounds are combined fluidly, they make up the word cat. If a child knows that cat, car, and caboose all have the same sound at the beginning of the word, she has phonemic awareness. In other words, she is aware that the /c/ sound (phoneme) begins each of those three words.

Phonemic awareness is more than recognizing sounds. It also includes the ability to hold on to those sounds, blend them successfully into words, and take them apart again. For example, in addition to the knowledge that the word cat has three separate sounds, phonemic awareness is the ability to blend these three sounds together to form the word cat and, when asked, to identify and separate the sounds within the word. (2006)

The Panel also found that

The results of the meta-analysis were impressive. Overall, the findings showed that teaching children to manipulate phonemes in words was highly effective under a variety of teaching conditions with a variety of learners across a range of grade and age levels and that teaching phonemic awareness to children significantly improves their reading more than instruction that lacks any attention to PA.

Specifically, the results of the experimental studies led the Panel to conclude that PA training was the cause of improvement in students’ phonemic awareness, reading, and spelling following training.(2006)

The good news is even if your preschool is not teaching phonemic awareness. The National Reading Panel suggests just a mere 30 minutes a day for Kindergarteners. And that some phonemic awareness is developed by exposure to print. In that event, you could instruct your own child with little effort and minimal time. (See my post on Driving in my Car) Below is a list of Phonemic awareness skills and activities to practice with your child.



Children identify words that rhyme in a series of activities. For example, “Put your thumbs up if these two words rhyme–pail-tail or cow-pig?” or “Finish this rhyme, red, bed, blue, ______.”

Syllable Segmentation

Children participate in a series of activities that help them realize that words are made up of syllables. For example, “Can you count the syllables or the word parts in football?” Foot-ball is 2 syllables.

Sound Identification 

Children identify the beginning, middle, and ending sounds in words. For example, “What is the ending sound in pig?” What sound do you hear in the middle of cat?” Remember the child should be saying the sound not the name of the letter.

Substitution and Deletion

When a child has mastered identification they can substitute sounds so change the /c/ in cat with /f/, what is the new word? Fat. Similarly they can delete sounds. What is cat without the /c/? AT.


Children combine sounds to make words. For example /c/-/a/-/n/ is can or /p/-/ig/ is pig. Remember sounds not names of letters.

Hopefully these skills will help you understand your child’s education and help you fill the wholes your young child may have in their education as I am.

♥ D