Phonological and Phonemic Awareness

Skills to Progress on Your Literacy Journey

phonological and phonemic awareness

As you and your students embark on the journey to literacy proficiency, it will become increasingly important for students to acquire the right skills to experience ongoing reading success. Of these components is phonics, which involves connecting words to their individual sounds and understanding the interactions between letters or groups of letters to form the correct pronunciation. Research-based instruction indicates that critical foundational skills should not be taught in isolation but practiced simultaneously to accelerate proficiency. As students are learning to make connections to letters based on the sounds they represent, they can also begin to master other skills such as phonological awareness.

What is Phonological Awareness?

Phonological awareness refers to the ability to recognize the sounds of spoken language. When practicing this skill, students learn to recognize the number of words that make up a spoken sentence, as well as the ability to break up words into smaller chunks like syllables. For example, the word “pencil” can be broken up into two syllables, /pen/ and /cil/.

What is Phonemic Awareness?

Phonemic awareness is a sub-skill of phonological awareness at the most complex level. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate the individual sounds in spoken words, and the understanding that spoken words and syllables are made up of sequences of speech sounds (Yopp, 1992). Phonemic awareness involves hearing language at the phoneme level. Phonemes are the smallest unit of sound students will hear when pronouncing a word. The word “plan”, for example, has four sounds, /p//l//a//n/. By building phonemic awareness, students start to understand that the words they speak are made up of smaller parts, or individual sounds that are blended together. This allows them to blend, segment, and manipulate sounds in words.

What is the Difference Between Phonological Awareness and Phonemic Awareness?

Both are critical for students to understand. Phonological awareness requires students to focus on sentence and word-level skills, such as word awareness, syllables, onset and rime, and rhyme. Phonemic awareness requires students to attend to individual sounds, or phonemes, in spoken words.

Why Are Phonological and Phonemic Awareness Important?

Phonological awareness and phonemic awareness work hand-in-hand to help students:

  • Detection: identifying similar sounds¹
  • Synthesis: blending smaller linguistic units into syllables or words
  • Analysis: manipulating linguistic units or producing examples

When students are able to do these things, they continue on the path to reading success.

How Do These Concepts Help Children in the Future?

By building these and other important foundational skills, students will gain the ability to read text aloud and experience the joy of reading. These skills will allow students to manipulate, segment, and blend sounds. When taught in conjunction with letters, students are able to decode and encode new words with accuracy and automaticity.

What Are Some Strategies for Teaching Phonological and Phonemic Awareness?

As you begin to reinforce foundational skills such as phonemic awareness in your classroom, we wanted to provide you with a few multimodal and engaging activities. Consider the following strategies to build phonemic awareness and progress monitor as needed:

  • Tapping Syllables - Provide students with items that make varying sounds to give them a fun way to represent each syllable in a given word. For each syllable, have them tap the item such as a drum, or shake a tambourine to indicate how many syllables are present in a word. For example, the word “water” has two syllables.
  • Classroom Syllable Search - Encourage your students to find items in the classroom and have them sort them by syllables in numerical order.
  • Syllable Tally - Write the names of each student in your class. Say the name of each student and have them write out how many syllables they heard during pronunciation.
  • Blend Phonemes - Say the sounds in a word. Invite students to blend the sounds and say the word. For example, say “/b/ /a/ /t/”. Students will say the word “bat”. As students blend with more proficiency, choose words with more sounds.
  • Segment Phonemes - Say a word and invite students to segment the sounds in the word. For example, say “pig”. Students will say the sounds “/p/ /i/ /g/”. Incorporate movement by having students point to their wrist as they say the first sound, point to their elbow as they say the second sound, and point to their shoulder as they say the final sound.
  • Manipulate Phonemes - Ask students to build new words by adding, deleting, and substituting sounds. For example, say the word “cup”. Ask students to change the /p/ to a /t/, and have them say the new word: “cut”. Repeat with additional words.

Which Learning A-Z Products Support Phonological and Phonemic Awareness?

Learning A-Z offers solutions to address key foundational skills such as phonological and phonemic awareness. Our new, comprehensive foundational skills solution, Foundations A-Z, reinforces the knowledge of foundational skills such as phonological and phonemic awareness, with research-based instruction and best practices. Offering clearly modeled lesson plans, expert-led professional development, and engaging practice, this solution is one of many that can help you ensure your students have mastered the components of both phonological and phonemic awareness.

Build Phonological & Phonemic Awareness With Learning A-Z

Explore the variety of solutions we offer to address key foundational skills development.


1. International Literacy Association. (2019). Phonological awareness in early childhood literacy development [Position statement and research brief]. Newark, DE: Author.

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