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Phonemic awareness is a term that includes different levels and is the understanding that words spoken out can also be broken down into individual phonemes. Many people mix phonemic awareness with phonics, but phonemic awareness focuses more on the sounds that derive from spoken languages. When students transition to phonics, they understand and learn the pattern between the letters and a phoneme, which is the sound, and how these represent different individual sounds in written language.

Phonological awareness consists of four developmental levels, syllable awareness, word awareness, phonemic awareness, and onset-rime awareness. The best way to develop these types of awareness in students is to develop an understanding of sounds, spoken words, and syllables. Read further below and learn everything about Phonemic awareness.

The Importance of Phonemic Awareness

It’s important to help kindergarten and first-grader develop phonemic awareness because of how it can lead to grammatical development. According to Blachman (2000), students that have robust phonological awareness are likely to become better readers. Similarly, students with weak phonological awareness are likely to have poor reading skills.

One of the main reasons one must attain proper phonemic awareness is to improve their reading. With good reading skills comes good grammar.

Other than good reading skills, a student’s literacy performance can also depend on phonemic awareness. According to Gillon (2004), phonemic awareness can predict one’s literacy performance more accurately than other variables, such as socioeconomic status, intelligence, and vocabulary knowledge. Fortunately, teachers can use phonemic awareness in their teaching, which is highly beneficial for students.

Another reason phonemic awareness is important is that kindergarten schools require that the child have proficient phonemic awareness.

Students who lack such skills are usually from low-income households and thus require explicit instruction. When teachers engage their students in class to help them learn about the different sounds, they gradually develop phonemic awareness.

Applying Phonological Awareness into the Four Development Levels

As mentioned earlier, phonological awareness is an umbrella term that consists of four developmental levels. The levels include:

  • Word Awareness
  • Syllable Awareness
  • Onset-Rime Awareness
  • Phoneme Awareness

Each level starts with easy bits, and as you go further, it starts to get a bit more complex. For each level, the instructor starts with sentence segmentation, blending, rhyme recognition and isolation, in order. Each level takes the categories differently, and they increase in difficulty to improve a student’s phonemic awareness.

One of the most challenging parts of the phonemic awareness levels is deleting, adding, and substituting awareness. Blending phonemes into words and segmenting them into phonemes automatically directs to a person’s spelling and reading skills. It is important to plan the instruction and go systematically to develop appropriate phonemic awareness.

Teaching Phonemic Awareness

Teaching phonemic awareness to a student can get a bit complicated, but once you have the right strategies, you can easily get through. Every student will grasp phonemic awareness at different times. Some may pick it instantly, while others need more emphasis and guidance.

Most of it is taught through listening games and activities, but instructors may have to teach it explicitly, depending on the student. Some students may be more comfortable with oral segmenting and oral blending as these are quite interesting and involve different activities.

Here are a few strategies you must remember and use when building a student’s phonemic awareness:

  • CVC words (consonant vowel consonant) are something you should stick by in the beginning. Remember that these words don’t just include single sound words like hat or cat, but others like jeep and chick as well.
  • Start off with how to orally blend words before you can move on to oral segmentation. Most children learn how to orally blend words fairly quickly. So not starting with this can confuse children, and they won’t hear or be able to say the entire phoneme in a word.
  • As an instructor, you need to think of fun and engaging activities that don’t bore students and encourage children to practice those learning activities again. A good way to start off these activities is by creating a positive attitude towards writing and reading as you help them build their phonemic skills.
  • While teaching phonics is crucial, you also need to work on phonological activities and phonemic awareness.
  • Before you begin with grapheme-phoneme correspondences (GPCs), a student must already grasp the phonemic awareness concept or show some undertaking they have of it. This will give you an idea as to where they stand with regard to phonemic awareness.
  • You must fully train the kids to model these skills before asking them to do it themselves. They must have a firm understanding as this will also give them the confidence to do it on their own. Otherwise, it can feel a little intimidating for children to try new things on their own.
  • Children don’t learn phonemic awareness only through written words. So you have to think of more engaging ways to teach them. You can develop different multi-sensory activities and also try something practical. This is very important to start off in younger children. It develops a firmer understanding of phonemic awareness.

Phonemic Awareness Games and Activity Ideas

As mentioned earlier, you have to make phonemic awareness more engaging and fun for younger children when teaching them. Children always like being involved in fun activities, and there are many you can initiate when it comes to phonemic awareness. Mentioned below are a few ideas for games and activities that support phonemic awareness:

1. Shoulder Tapping

In this game, you ask the student to tap their shoulder if they hear a particular sound. You can give them a sound such as ‘a,’ and whenever they hear words like ant, apple, etc., they have to tap their shoulders.

2. I Spy

The game “I Spy” can never get old –children love playing the game because it requires alertness and focus. You can ask students to look for specific items in the room and then segment a whole word instead of using just the initial phoneme. An example of this would be “I spy with my little eye an apple” and then let the student find a picture of an apple. As they look for the item, they understand the sound, repeating the word in their mind over and over.

3. Sound Jump

Ask your students to jump one step forward for each phoneme in a word. Make your students stand in a line or alone and say a word, and see if they are aware of all the phonemes.

4. Classroom Instructions

When instructing children, make sure to emphasize recognizing phonemes. One example is to say, “Can you find your c-oa-t?”

5. Full Circle

Give a jumbled set of letters to your student and keep changing one letter every time they make a new word. Keep repeating until they complete a full circle.

Things That Can Affect a Child’s Phonemic Awareness

Certain factors can get in the way of a child’s phonemic awareness. There are different ways to see if they need extra help or may struggle with grasping simple learning stages of phonemic awareness. Mentioned below are a few factors that can affect a child’s phonemic awareness:


Autism is a mental spectrum in which children have sound and speech difficulties and may also struggle with auditory processing disorders. Autistic children are more likely to be visual thinkers. Consequently, they may find abstract concepts like segmenting and oral blending difficult. Children with autism are more comfortable with magnetic letters and concrete objects, so use these techniques to help them.


Dyslexia is a learning disorder that affects children’s ability to recognize letters. Consequently, it’s difficult for them to grasp reading and spelling. Dyslexic children also have phonemic awareness, so they need extra help and support when it comes to phonemic awareness.

Working Memory

Some children have a working memory in which they have the ability to manipulate the information in their minds for a certain period of time. Verbal working memory can affect one’s performance in phonological awareness tasks, and they may not be able to engage in certain activities like retelling stories, rote learning, singing songs, or recalling instructions.

Hearing Difficulties

Children with hearing difficulties may also have a tough time when exposed to phonemic awareness. Hearing difficulties may make it difficult for the student to take part in auditory activities that support phonemic awareness. To find a solution in the early stages, it’s important to detect the issue as soon as possible. This explains why children should take a hearing test in their first year of school.

The Bottom-Line

Hopefully, with the help of this article, you are able to help students with phonemic awareness and engage them in different activities. As you can see, phonemic awareness is essential when it comes to a student’s grammatical development, and it’s important to emphasize it.

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