Reading Strategies: Phonemic Awareness

A Critical Foundation for Reading Success

Phonemic Awareness

People are not born with an innate ability to read. Unlike speech, which is hard-wired in us from birth, reading must be learned. 

The first step in learning to read is to become aware of the sounds in spoken language—a concept known as phonemic awareness. Phonemes are the smallest units of sound or speech. Students who have mastered this concept are able to identify, manipulate, and substitute individual sounds at the beginning, middle, or end of spoken words.

To learn more about decoding, teaching, and reading strategies check out our various resources available on the Reading Horizons Reading Strategies Homepage.

If you're interested in learning more about phonemic awareness in young children, check out our free early reading skills resources. We also have resources for teaching phonemic awareness to older students.

Teaching phonemic awareness in a classroom.

Strategies to Develop Phonemic Awareness

Reading Horizons begins phonemic awareness instruction by introducing concepts systematically and in the right sequence, from simple to more complex. As students move through instruction, each step provides constant positive reinforcement of previously learned skills.

Teach Individual Phonemes

Teachers provide instruction on individual phonemes through an interactive, multisensory technique that engages every student simultaneously in learning to hear, say, identify, and manipulate individual sounds. Nothing is presumed about students’ prior knowledge; instruction starts at the very beginning to make sure that there are no gaps in understanding for any student.

Phonemes work together like gears.

Join Phonemes

Next, students learn to join these phonemes to form “slides”— letter combinations containing a beginning consonant and an ending vowel. Slides are important for teaching students to “blend” from one sound to the next without inserting pauses or extra sounds between spoken phonemes. Developing this “blending” habit will prove valuable for preventing the insertion of extra letters during phonics instruction.

Build Words

Finally, students learn to add ending sounds onto slides to build real words using any phonemes taught up through the current point of instruction. Students can then practice identifying and exchanging the individual phonemes in words, recognizing rhymes, and counting the syllables of words.

Building blocks for words.

Essential strategies like those above help students recognize that even though each sound exists by itself, it is the joining of sounds that creates words, the building blocks of spoken—and written—language. Once students have mastered phonemic awareness, they are ready to learn the associations between sounds and letters—an instructional method known as phonics.

Learn more about phonics instruction ›

Download our free Phonemic Awareness Resource Kit

Learn how phonemic awareness can help your student succeed:

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