Phonemic awareness is the ability to separate the smallest units of language – phonemes – into different units of sound. For example, a teacher could say: “If you take away /c/ from cat, what word do you make?”
Source for visual
Phonemic awareness falls under the larger umbrella of phonological processing, which encompasses rhyming, alliteration, syllable blending, and segmenting. The greatest difference is that phonemic awareness is focused solely on the smallest unit – phonemes whereas phonological processing can also include larger manipulations of words. This article nicely explains the difference between these two terms.
According to research, phonemic awareness abilities during kindergarten and first grade are one of the best predictors of students’ future reading abilities, and teachers only need to incorporate 15 minutes of phonemic awareness activities a day to have an impact on beginning readers (Vaughn & Linan-Thompson, 2004, p. 9-10). Research also recommends to only focus on one or two of the specific skills of phonemic awareness per week (Vaughn & Linan-Thompson, 2004, p. 10).
Segmenting and Blending
The two most important skills of phonemic awareness are segmenting and blending (Vaughn & Linan-Thompson, 2004, p. 14). Segmenting ensures students can isolate a sound, which is part of the foundation for students developing their inventive spelling skills. On the other hand, Blending allows for students to string together different phonemes to create a word, which will play a critical role in reading fluency.
When teaching segmenting to students without a strong phonemic awareness foundation, prioritize more accessible learning opportunities first:
- Beginning readers first understand segmenting words (foot + ball = football), then are able to understand segmenting syllables (fish + es = fishes), and then finally can understand segmenting phonemes (i+t = it). (Springer, 2013, p. 81).
- When teaching segmenting phonemes, use words with two phonemes before moving onto words with three phonemes and then four phonemes, etc. (Vaughn & Linan-Thompson, 2004, p. 14).
- Start with teaching the initial position before asking students to segment and blend the medial and final position. (Vaughn & Linan-Thompson, 2004, p. 14).
Here are some possible activities:
-Using M&Ms or Legos on Elkonin boxes provide students with a visual representation for each phoneme. Ask students to segment and blend together each of the phonemes in a word. You can also include auditory cues such as stepping or clapping to represent each sound.
-I like to model segmenting syllables with circle magnets on the board with one color representing vowels and another color representing consonants.
-Students can pretend to be at a diner and order food by segmenting a food (p-i-zz-a) and then the “waiter” will have to blend the word (pizza!).
-Play I-spy using segmenting and blending. For example, I spy a m-ar-k-er. Students have to find the object and then blend the word together.
Other Phonemic Awareness Skills
Other phonemic awareness skills (with corresponding activities) include:
–Discriminating – The ability to understand if words begin or end with the same sound.
–Counting Phonemes/Syllables/Words – The ability to segment and then count the number of phonemes, syllables, or words. Students can demonstrate their understanding by clapping to signify the unit of language that is being counted. Here is also a video of a teacher asking students to find the number of phonemes in words using “phoneme fingers.”
–Rhyming – This skill highlights students’ abilities to understand word families that end with the same sound such as cat, bat, and hat.
–Alliteration – Words in a sentence that starts with the same letter such as in poetry or tongue twisters strengthen students’ ability to discriminate beginning sounds.
How to Integrate Phonemic Awareness into the IEP Process
When creating Sample IEP Goals for phonemic awareness, you can collect data from The Yopp Singer, a free test available online to assess this skill. The DIBELS is another assessment, which tests phonemic awareness, phonics, and oral fluency.
Sample IEP Goals:
By annual review, with access to visual aids such as an Elkonin Box, student will be able to segment and blend cvc words with 80% accuracy on ⅘ occasions as measured by teacher records or student work.
By annual review, with access to visual aids, student will be able to identify words that have the same beginning or end sounds with 80% accuracy on ⅘ occasions as measured by teacher records or student work.
Bilingual literacy goal:
By annual review, with access to visual aids, student will be able to segment the Spanish syllable pattern of cvcv in two syllable words and the English syllable pattern of cvc in one syllable words with 80% accuracy on ⅘ occassions as measured by teacher records or student work.
Sample Sample Accommodations:
- Access to visual representations paired with practice
- Tapping boards for inventive spelling
- Increased response time
- Explicit modeling before practice of a skill
Ideas for Centers/Activities
As mentioned above, I am a huge proponent of centers when teaching reading. It turns out research agrees – especially when teaching phonemic awareness. Teaching this skill is more effective in groups of 4 to 6 than whole class instruction or one one one instruction (Vaughn & Linan-Thompson, 2004, p. 13). Therefore, centers are a great way to provide interactive and engaging small group learning opportunities.
-Games from the book Interventions for All: Phonological Awareness K-2, which is brimming with fun activities that spur students practicing phonemic awareness. Games revolve around activities such as deleting the first phoneme of a name students guessing the intended name, ordering food from a restaurant while segmenting each syllable, or playing Simon Says while manipulating the sounds for the parts of the body. There are myriad more games that can be fun warm ups or phoneme awareness exercises. I learned about this book at an Orton Gillingham training, and my students of a wide range of ages loved the games.
–Sorting sounds with visuals – Sorting activities with visuals are great ways for students to begin to discriminate and then notice similarities with beginning, ending, and middle sounds.
–Measured Mom/Elkonin Boxes – Students can isolate each sound when putting a visual on a box, or a teacher can ask where a specific sound would appear in a word.
–The Measured Mom/phonemic awareness board games – Did I mention how amazing the Measured Mom is? If you are an elementary school teacher and have not visited this website rich with resources, please drop everything you are doing and check out this gift to all elementary school teachers!
–Word Ladders – These word games can be used for all grade levels, since there are different activity books for different reading levels.
Sprenger, M. (2013). Wiring the Brain for Reading: Brain-based Teaching Strategies for Teaching Literacy. San Francisco: Wiley & Sons.
Vaughn, S. & Linan-Thompson, S. (2004). Research-Based Methods of Reading Instruction, Grades K-3. Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.