Many skills are necessary for a child to have when learning to read, but the one most often overlooked and often neglected is phonemic awareness.
In my opinion, phonemic awareness is one of the single most important skills a child needs to read. Difficulty with phonemic awareness can be an early indicator of reading problems later on.
What is Phonemic Awareness and Why is it Important?
What is Phonemic Awareness?
The word phoneme means “sound.” So phonemic awareness technically means “awareness of sounds.” Phonemic awareness is the ability to segment, blend, and manipulate sounds in spoken words.
This critical skill is taught entirely orally–no reading at all at this stage!
Students need to be giving enough time to play with sounds orally. If they are not, they will have difficulty learning phonics when letters and words are introduced.
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How is Phonemic Awareness Taught?
#1 Word Awareness:
First of all, we want to make sure that children can segment or break apart a sentence into words. You can do this with a fun game of counting the words in a spoken sentence or having children point to words in a book while it is read aloud to them.
#2 Syllable Awareness:
When children have mastered this, we want them next to be able to break words into syllables. This can be done by teaching children to clap out syllables. Another way is by having them place their hand under their chin and counting each time their chin touches their hand when saying a word.
Children then need to learn how to break a word into individual sounds. For example, the word cat would be segmented or split apart, as c/a/t.
Remember, we are doing this only with spoken words. Children should focus on the sounds, not the spelling of words.
For example: “box” is segmented into b/o/k/s.
Next, we want to teach how to blend words. This is the opposite of segmenting. For this skill, you would want to give children words that have been broken apart and teach them how to blend them together.
This can be made into a fun activity, by having children use a robot voice to blend words, or by putting words into a fun song.
I often teach students that blending should sound a little bit like “singing words,” because you don’t want a break in between sounds.
The word m/a/t, children would be taught to blend it slowly, like mmmaaaat, then to say the whole word fast.
This the most advanced stage of phonemic awareness, but also very important! Please don’t skip it!
Even older children still need to practice this skill. Manipulating involves many things, such as deletion, or taking one sound away.
- You would ask a child to repeat a word, such as mat.
- Then ask them to say the word without the “m” sound.
- They would need to respond with “at” to be correct.
We would also want children to be able to substitute in this stage. So, for the word mat, we might ask children to replace “p” for the “t,” and they would respond with “map.”
The last and most difficult step would be for children to be able to reverse the sounds. For the word “mat,” children would need to respond with “tam.”
Additional Resources for Phonemic Awareness
Phonemic awareness is such an essential skill for children to learn before reading. Often-times, teachers do not spend enough time on this skill, resulting in reading and spelling problems later on.
The skills children learn when doing oral activities, such as segmenting and blending, will help them when they encounter unknown words in reading and spelling later.
They will be able to look at the letters and know how to blend them better together when they have had lots of practice.
I would encourage you to spend a few minutes each day practicing this skill! It will help your child become a better reader!
Check out the below resources for added phonemic awareness strategies:
- Expert Phonics Strategies
- 8 Great Ideas for Teaching Segmenting and Blending
- Assistive Reading Tools
- Importance of Syllable Types in Reading Success
- Blending Syllables Printable Worksheets
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We’d love to hear activities you’ve found to make phonics fun and easy! Share them below in the comments.