Phonemic Awareness: What is it? Why do my kids need to know it? How do I Teach it?

Phonemic awareness, it’s kind of a buzzword right now. In fact, there is a lot of new research pertaining directly to the importance of phonemic awareness paired with phonics. Let’s dive into some of this research and learn how to teach it effectively. 


In fact, just recently I was learning again, that the research continues to come out supporting the need for phonemic awareness in our kids. 


What is phonemic awareness and how to teach it?


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What is Phonemic Awareness?


Phonemic awareness is a person’s ability to hear, manipulate, and identify sounds of the language. Phonemic awareness is part of a bigger umbrella called “phonological awareness”. Phonological awareness includes rhyming, identifying syllables, how many words are in a sentence, onset-rime (beginning sound and the rest of the word), and phonemic awareness.


Phonemic awareness is the ability to isolate sounds within the word (segmenting sounds), blend sounds, isolation of sounds, and add or delete sounds to create new words. 

For example, can a child identify that “dog” has 3 distinct sounds (phonemes) to make up the word /d/ o /g/. To segment the sounds in ship, they would say /sh/ /i/ /p/. This is called segmenting words. 

The opposite is blending individual sounds into words.

For example, when a child is given the sound /n/ o /t/ they are able to identify the whole word “not”. 

The isolation of sounds is a child’s ability to identify the beginning, middle (vowel), or ending sound of a word.

For example, when a child is given the word “not” they are able to identify the beginning “/n/” as the first sound in the word. 

Adding and/or deleting sounds from words would be giving a child a word and asking them to change a sound to create a new word.

For example, when a child is given the word “not” they are able to change the beginning sound from “/n/” to “/d/” and the child can identify the new word as “dot”. 

Why is phonemic awareness important? 


Phonemic awareness is the first step in becoming a reader and speller. 


A young child reading with a caregiver


When children are able to isolate different sounds within spoken words. Then later they can attach those sounds to symbols (letters). This is the beginning of learning to read and spell words. 


Phonemic Awareness is so important that by the end of kindergarten, your child will be expected to isolate and pronounce the initial, medial vowel, and final phonemes (sounds) in three-phoneme (consonant-vowel-consonant, or CVC) words. They also will need to be able to add or substitute individual phonemes (sounds) in simple, one-syllable words to make new words. 


Here Are Some Examples of These Standards …


  • Car, far, and star are rhyming words. Phonemic awareness is the ability of the child to identify that these words sound similar at the end of the word. 
  • Syllables are broken up by how many vowels sound the words are broken up to create a word, such as Lucas, Lu/Cas, 2 syllables.
  • The last standard given is taking the word “bat” and changing it by changing 1 sound. You might say to your child “What if we change the word bat by replacing the /b/ sound with a /c/ sound. What is the new word?” Phonemic Awareness is your child’s ability to come up with the word “cat”.


How do I Teach Phonemic Awareness?


Teacher and Child reading together


I was in a reading training last fall and the instructor said “You’ll know it’s a phonemic awareness exercise if you can do it in the dark”. This is because phonemic awareness is only about hearing the sounds. But the newest research questions that just because it can be done in the dark, should it? 


Research shows that the sooner we can begin incorporating letters within phonemic awareness helps support children and their ability to learn to read and spell. There are a lot of ways to practice phonemic awareness with and without letters. Just keep in mind that adding letters does make the activity a phonics activity as well. 


With that idea in mind let’s look at some examples to practice phonemic awareness with children. 


What sound starts the word ____? 


This is a “game” I play with my 3-year-old. It’s easy because we can do it anywhere including on walks, in the car, or at home. It sounds like this, “Oh look, there is a dog! What sound do you hear at the beginning of the word dog?”


I’m hoping he’ll say the sound for the letter d “/d/”. Then as you work more with letters and sounds you’ll work up to identifying that “dog” starts with the letter d.


Depending on the age of the child you could ask them to identify the sound at the end of the word. They can also practice the middle of the word. 


Check Out my Ideas on How to Teach Your Child with Any Book They Pick


What’s The Word?


Tell your child you are going to play a game. Give them the word “not” and tell them you’re going to change the word and they get to guess the new word. Some examples might be like this: 

The word is “not”, change the beginning sound from /n/ to /d/, and guess the word. 

Give them the word “ship” and see if they can change the middle short I sound to the short o sound and guess the new word “shop”. 

You can even try the game using the last sound of the word. Give them the word “put” and see if they can guess the new word if you change the ending sound to “/p/”. Making the new word, “pup”. 


Old McDonald …


You know the song “Old McDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O and on that farm, he had a _____! E-I-E-I-O” When you get the animal’s name you could give the children the animal’s name in each sound. It might sound like this …


Old McDonald had a farm E-I-E-I-O, and on that farm, he had a /d/-o-/g/ E-I-E-I-O. With a bark-bark here and a bark-bark there, here a bark there a bark everywhere a bark-bark. Old McDonald had a farm E-I-E-I-O.


Then it is the child’s job to figure out that you were talking about a dog when you said the word in individual sounds. You could also say /c/-/a/-/t/ or /p/-/i/-/g/. 


Remember phonemic awareness is being able to hear the sounds letters make when they stand alone or are blended with another letter. This ability will help your child better understand different words as they grow. If you are concerned about your child’s ability to do this always talk with their teacher or pediatrician.


Phonemic Awareness Kindergarten Worksheets


Phonemic Awareness for Kindergarten Worksheets with 2 pictures of the worksheets offered including a rhyming cut and paste page and a syllable count
Children can practice rhyming using cut and paste pages and syllable count with pictures!


Check out these great sets of kindergarten worksheets for phonemic awareness if you need more support on teaching phonemic awareness. With these worksheets your students will have what they need to practice identifying rhyming words, counting syllables, and identifying beginning and ending sounds in words.

What is Phonemic Awareness and How to Teach it?

I hope this gives you a better understanding of what Phonemic Awareness is and why it is important.


If you learned something or try something today please let me know in the comments!


Remember to share this with someone you think might help better understand Phonemic Awareness.


Love, Ashley E


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Hi, I'm Ashley E!

I teach moms and teachers how to inspire a love of reading in the early years. I live in Ohio with my husband & two boys. Our favorite places to be are at the beach & Disney World. But most of the time you’ll find me at school teaching, working out in our basement, or blogging at home. So grab your favorite cup of coffee, tea, or (if you’re at all like me) water & let’s go through this thing called life together.