What Is Phonemic Awareness?

Published:  March 28, 2019 Updated: March 18, 2020

By  Cheryl Jerabek

The subject of phonemic awareness is getting a lot of attention lately. It's a very useful tool for teaching children to read, but many parents are a little confused as to what phonemic awareness is - and what it isn't.

What IS Phonemic Awareness?

Phonemic awareness, by definition, is being able to hear, identify, and work with minimal units of sound called phonemes, which are manipulated to make words. It's often confused with phonological awareness. It is a sub-category of it but isn't the same thing. Phonemic awareness has to do with small sounds, while phonological awareness deals with large units of sounds.

According to a study, Griffith et al. (1992), children who had high phonemic awareness were compared to those in the ERIC Resource Center (Educational Resources Information Center) who used phonemic awareness. The research concluded that those children who utilized phonemic awareness excelled over the others.

Because phonemic awareness is a technique that can be taught at a very young age, it can play a huge role when it comes to teaching children to read and to spell too. It's even been shown to be effective in helping children as young as two years of age learn to read well.

Skills to Build On

There are a number of phonemic awareness skills. Some of the most practiced are:


This skill entails the ability to recognize and pick up on the more common sounds in different words like "b" is the common sound for "bat" and "ball."


This skill is when individual sounds in words are recognized, such as beginning and ending sounds.


This technique is used to change a word into another word by changing a single phoneme, such as changing the "b" in "bat" to "c" to make "cat".

Segmenting of Words

This happens when you say the full word, like "bat", and your child repeats the segmented sounds like "b", "a", and "t".

Blending Out Loud

For this skill, you will say the segmented sounds, and your child will form the word using the sounds.

According to the experts, like the highly acclaimed National Reading Panel, all of these skills, such as orally blending words, segmenting words, and sounding out words, and help words make sense to children, especially unfamiliar words. Associating letters with verbal sounds that form actual words is a very effective way to learn to read.

Setting Your Child Up for Success

It has been proven phonemic awareness is one of the best catalysts from which to launch young readers. There appears to be a correlation between high phonemic awareness and excellent spelling and reading attainments. There also seems to be a connection between youngsters who struggle with reading and spelling and have low phonemic awareness. Teaching your child phonemic awareness is one of the strongest early-age boosts you can give your child.

When your child begins their journey with reading, a whole new world opens up for them. They discover amazing things through books like silly rhymes and exciting characters. Through the printed word, they can embark on tons of fun adventures.

Phonemic awareness isn't limited to reading, though. It helps children learn how to write too. They can create stories of their own or even journal their feelings down. They will also have an upper-edge when they are old enough to be asked to do creative writing in class.

The Perks of Phonemic Skills

Helping your child learn and practice phonemic skills can be a way to develop a unique bond between the two of you. Have a blast with it. Make up silly words and crazy rhymes. You can take fun outside the classroom too. Play with sounds and words while taking a trip in the car or while grocery shopping.

The sky is the limit to where phonemic awareness can take your child. It's an entertaining, easy, and educational skill that is priceless.

Reading Program Review

If you want a proven program to teach your child how to read, take look at our children learning reading review.

Cheryl Jerabek

Cheryl Jerabek lives in a tiny remote town in Southwestern Colorado. She writes full-time from her cabin nestled in the mountains. She often expresses how lucky she feels to be able to do what she loves from a setting that looks like a postcard. When she’s not writing, Cheryl loves hanging out with her husband and two grown children, her dog, Joe, and adores spending time with her three grandchildren.

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