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Phonemic awareness is a subset of phonological awareness in which listeners are able to hear, identify and manipulate phonemes, the smallest units of sound that can differentiate meaning. Separating the spoken word "cat" into three distinct phonemes, /k/, /æ/, and /t/, requires phonemic awareness skill.
The National Reading Panel has found that phonemic awareness improves children's word reading and reading comprehension, as well as helping children learn to spell. Phonemic awareness is the basis for learning phonics. This relationship is explained in the What Works Reports and illustrated in the Reading Skills Pyramid.
Phonemic awareness and phonological awareness are often confused since they are interdependent. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate individual phonemes. Phonological awareness includes this ability, but it also includes the ability to hear and manipulate larger units of sound, such as onsets and rimes and syllables.
Phonemic awareness relates to the ability to distinguish and manipulate individual sounds, /f/, /ʊ/, and /t/ in the case of foot. The following are common phonemic awareness skills practiced with students:
- Phoneme isolation: which requires recognizing the individual sounds in words, example, "Tell me the first sound you hear in the word paste" (/p/).
- Phoneme identity: which requires recognizing the common sound in different words, for example, "Tell me the sound that is the same in bike, boy and bell" (/b/).
- Oral segmenting: The teacher says a word, for example, "ball," and students say the individual sounds, /b/, /ɑ/, and /l/.
- Oral blending: The teacher says each sound, for example, "/b/, /ɑ/, /l/" and students respond with the word, "ball."
- Sound deletion: The teacher says word, for example, "bill," has students repeat it, and then instructs students to repeat the word without a sound.
- Onset-rime manipulation: which requires isolation, identification, segmentation, blending, or deletion of onsets (the single consonant or blend that precedes the vowel and following consonants), for example, j-ump, st-op, str-ong.
For example, the teacher might say, now say bill without the /b/." Students should respond with /ɪl/. There are other phonemic awareness activities, such as sound substitution, where students are instructed to replace one sound with another, sound addition, where students add sounds to words, and sound switching, where students manipulate the order of the phonemes. These are more complex but research supports the use of the three listed above, particularly oral segmenting and oral blending.
Adams, M. J, Foorman, B., R.,Lundberg, I., & Beeler, T. (1998). Phonemic awareness in young children: A classroom curriculum. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.
McCardle, P., Chhabra, V. (2004). The Voice of Evidence in Reading Research. Baltimore, MD
- WikEd Phonemic Awareness Page
- Phonemic Awareness: An Important Early Step in Learning To Read - From the ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading English and Communication.
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