Step One, Phenomic Awareness

This summary is part of a series explaining the Federal educational approach
to improving the nation’s teaching of literacy. It is quoted and paraphrased primarily from two sources:

A Child Becomes a Reader – Birth Through Preschool.  2nd Edition, Spring 2003

Published by the National Institute for Literacy

National Learning to Read Panel, Reading First. The Research Building Blocks of Reading Instruction. Second Edition June 2003.

Research shows that how easily children learn to read can depend on how much phonological and phonemic awareness they have. So what is it? As we know, some words rhyme. Sentences are made up of separate words. Words have parts called syllables. The words bag, ball, and bug all begin with the same sound. When a
child begins to notice and understand these things about spoken language, he is developing phonological awareness-the ability to hear and work with the sounds of spoken language.  When a child also begins to understand that spoken words are made up of separate, small sounds, he is developing phonemicawareness.  Children who have phonemic awareness can take spoken words apart sound by sound (“segmentation”) and put together sounds to make words (“blending”).

The National Reading Panel issued a report in 2000 to determine “what works” for teaching reading. The Panel reviewed more than 100,000 studies.  By operating on a “what works” basis, scientific evidence was collected to guide instructional practice. The Panel discussed the teaching of the five critical reading skills:
phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

Phonemic awareness is the ability to notice, think about, and work with the individual sounds in spoken words. Before children learn to read, they need to become aware of how the sounds in words work. They must understand that spoken words are made up of sounds, or phonemes.

Phonemic awareness is not phonics. Phonemic awareness is the understanding that spoken words are made up of sounds. Phonics is the link between specific sounds and their written form.  Before trying to teach phonics, a student needs an understanding
that the words that they hear are constructed of sounds— phonemic awareness.

Phonemic awareness can be taught and learned. Effective phonemic awareness instruction teaches children to notice, think about, and work with (manipulate) sounds in spoken language. Typical activities to build phonemic awareness:

Phoneme isolation Children recognize individual sounds in a word.

Example: What is the first sound in van?

Phoneme identification Children recognize the same sounds in different words.

Example: What sound is the same in fix, fall, and fun?

Phoneme categorization Children recognize the word in a set of words that has the “odd” sound.

Example: Which word doesn’t belong? bus, bun, rug.

Phoneme blending Children listen to a sequence of separately spoken phonemes, and then combine them to form a word.

Example: What word is /b/ /i/ /g/?

Phoneme segmentation. Children break a word into its separate sounds, saying each sound as they tap out or count it.

Example: How many sounds are in grab?

Children: /g/ /r/ /a/ /b/. Four sounds.

PHONEME/Sound MANIPULATION – When children work with phonemes in words, they are manipulating the phonemes. Types of phoneme manipulation include blending sounds (phonemes) to make words, segmenting words into phonemes, deleting phonemes from words, adding phonemes to words, or substituting one phoneme for another
to make a new word.

The first major step in teaching children to read is developing phonemic awareness. Research shows that phonemic instruction helps children learn to read and later on, helps children learn to spell, build vocabulary, and to build comprehension and fluency.  There are many way for children to develop phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness instruction starts with nursery rhymes and games which make apparent
the rhymes and sounds of words. Then children can be taught to directly manipulate phonemes and to start to relate the sounds to the letters of the alphabet. This is important as a concept because it helps children see how phonemic awareness relates to their reading and writing. And gets them ready to start mastering phonics.

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