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Phonemic Awareness: An Introduction

By: Partnership for Reading
Phonemic awareness is the ability to identify, hear, and manipulate the individual sounds in spoken words. Manipulating the sounds in words includes blending, stretching, or otherwise changing words.

Before children learn to read print, they need to become aware of how the sounds in words work. They must understand that words are made up of speech sounds, or phonemes.

Phonemes are the smallest parts of sound in a spoken word that make a difference in the word's meaning. For example, changing the first phoneme in the word hat from /h/ to /p/ changes the word from hat to pat, and so changes the meaning. (A letter between slash marks shows the phoneme, or sound, that the letter represents, and not the name of the letter. For example, the letter h represents the sound /h/.)

Children can show us that they have phonemic awareness in several ways, including:

  • recognizing which words in a set of words begin with the same sound

    ("Bell, bike, and boy all have /b/ at the beginning.")

  • isolating and saying the first or last sound in a word

    ("The beginning sound of dog is /d/." "The ending sound of sit is /t/.")

  • combining, or blending the separate sounds in a word to say the word

    ("/m/, /a/, /p/ – map.")

  • breaking, or segmenting a word into its separate sounds

    ("up – /u/, /p/.")

Adapted from: Put Reading First: The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read.

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