Phonemic awareness is the awareness that words are composed of sounds, and those sounds have distinct articulatory features. People with dyslexia lack the basic phonemic awareness that most individuals have, and they may have a hard time with reading comprehension, spelling, writing, vocabulary, and fluency.
What Are Phonemes?
Phonemes are the smallest units in our spoken language that distinguish one word from another. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate phonemes in a spoken word. Structured Literacy is deeply rooted in phonemes and systematically introduces the letters or graphemes corresponding to each phoneme. Once students exhibit phonemic awareness, Orton-Gillingham based programs address which letters or groups of letters represent different phonemes and how those letters blend together to make simple words.
For example, a child can identify the phonemes in mad when he understands that there is a phoneme at the beginning, middle, and ending of the word that makes up the whole word and that each of these sounds can be manipulated individually. To support young readers, teachers should have a good understanding of the sequence of specific phonemic awareness tasks that will prepare students for success in reading.
Here are some basic examples of phonemes in a word:
- The word ‘cat’ has three phonemes: k/a/t
- The word ‘boat’’ has three phonemes: b/ō/t
- The word ‘dough’ has only two phonemes: d/ō
Understanding that these phonemes exist and that the articulators (mouth, tongue, teeth, etc.) are all doing something different to form these sounds is vital in allowing a student to connect these different sounds to the letters that represent them. Since the emphasis is on oral language, students do not need to know the alphabet before developing their phonemic awareness.
Phonemes combine to form syllables and words. In all, English has anywhere from 41 to 44 phonemes (the number depends on which classification system is used) and 250 ways to spell these phonemes. Phoneme manipulation tasks as superior to all other phonemic awareness tasks, as they require students to utilize other skills such as isolation, deletion, segmentation, and blending.
Be sure to check out the rest of our blog series on How to Teach Phonemic Awareness:
- What Is Phonemic Awareness?: Part 1 of How to Teach Phonemic Awareness
- Classroom Activities to Facilitate Phonemic Awareness: Part 3 of How to Teach Phonemic Awareness
- The Importance of Phonological Awareness Assessment: Part 4 of How to Teach Phonemic Awareness
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