Skip to main content
Preschool girl talking to her mother

Reading 101 for Parents: Phonological and Phonemic Awareness

Phonological and phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and play with the sounds in spoken language — including rhymes, syllables, and the smallest units of sound (phonemes).

Phonological and phonemic awareness is about the sounds in spoken words and a child’s understanding that spoken words are made up of sounds. While phonics focuses on teaching sound-spelling relationships and is associated with print, phonological awareness tasks are oral.

Phonological awareness

Phonological awareness is made up of a group of skills. Examples include being able to identify words that rhyme, counting the number of syllables in a name, recognizing alliteration, segmenting a sentence into words, and identifying the syllables in a word. The most sophisticated — and last to develop — is called phonemic awareness.

Phonemic awareness

Phonemic awareness is the ability to notice, think about, and work with the individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. Manipulating the sounds in words includes blending, stretching, or otherwise changing words. Children can demonstrate 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.”)

  • Identifying 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 (blending) the separate sounds in a word to say the whole word.

    (“/m/, /a/, /p/ – map.”)

  • Breaking (segmenting) a word into its separate sounds.

    (“up – /u/, /p/.”)

  • Changing a sound to make a new word

    (“Change the /t/ for /m/ – top becomes mop”)

Children who cannot hear and work with the phonemes of spoken words will have a difficult time learning how to relate these phonemes to letters when they see them in written words.

What is phonological awareness?

This video was produced by Understood (opens in a new window).