The National Reading Panel identified Phonemic Awareness as one of the five key concepts at the core of every effective foundational reading program. If you are at all familiar with reading instruction, you have most certainly heard the terms “phonological awareness” and “phonemic awareness” used interchangeably. Although similar, these two concepts are not the same (although one is a subset of the other).
Phonological awareness involves noticing and/or manipulating the sound structure of spoken language. This includes identifying individual words in a sentence, recognizing syllables, rhyming, and alliteration. Basic phonological awareness develops from birth throughout kindergarten and is typically mastered by the end of first grade (Kilpatrick, 2015).
A subset of phonological awareness, phonemic awareness is simply noticing and/or manipulating the INDIVIDUAL sounds (also known as phonemes) in spoken language. Phonemic awareness tasks include identifying individual sounds, segmenting sounds, blending sounds, and manipulating individual sounds. Phonemic awareness continues to develop through 3rd or 4th grade as children build a sight vocabulary through the process of orthographic mapping.
This image is not exhaustive. Onset/rime, adding, substituting, and deleting sounds are also other PA tasks that could have been included if not for the sake of space and simplicity.
What are phonemes?
Phonemes are the smallest units of sound in a spoken language. Even though there are only 26 letters in the English language, there are 44 phonemes. These include all the consonant sounds, digraphs, short vowel sounds, long vowel sounds, diphthongs, and r-controlled vowels.
What about phonics?
Phonological awareness and phonemic awareness both operate in the world of sound. Once we introduce the letter(s) associated with each sound, we have now crossed over into phonics. Phonics explores the connection between spoken words and written words.
Importance of Phonemic Awareness
Phonological and phonemic awareness have been shown to be an integral part of the process of learning to read. Specifically, advanced phonemic awareness has a profound impact on orthographic mapping, the process our brains use to permanently store words for long-term use. This “sight vocabulary” is what allows children to become fluent readers and also allows them to focus on the meaning of the text rather than having to decode every word.
You can rest assured that phonological awareness and phonemic awareness play a central role in Pathways to Reading Homeschool curriculum. Each of our curriculum kits incorporate phonemic awareness instruction to aide our children in orthographic mapping and the development of a strong sight vocabulary!