6 Tips for Teaching Phonemic Awareness

In this post, I explain the difference between phonological awareness and phonemic awareness skills and offer 6 research-based tips for how to teach phonemic awareness. I share details about my science of reading-aligned phonemic awareness lesson plans for kindergarten and first-grade students and leave you with FREE phonemic awareness lesson plans that you can begin using with your small groups right away! 

As teachers, there are many skills we teach our students to help them become accurate and automatic readers.  But can you guess which one is the most foundational?  The answer is Phonemic Awareness.  

Get 6 tips for teaching phonemic awareness and free downloads!

 In an earlier post, I answered the question “What is phonemic awareness?” and explained how is it different from phonics instruction.  But because phonemic awareness is so critical for our young students, I want to share more about what the research says about how to best teach phonemic awareness.

Today I will explain the difference between phonological awareness and phonemic awareness skills.  I will share what research tells us we can do to make our phonemic awareness instruction more effective. Finally, I’ll leave you with details about my year-long Phonemic Awareness Curriculum for kindergarten and 1st-grade students. 

Phonological Awareness vs. Phonemic Awareness

Phonological awareness is the ability to recognize and manipulate the spoken parts of sentences and words. It is an umbrella term that involves a continuum of skills that students develop over time.  These skills include being able to identify words that rhyme, recognizing alliteration, segmenting a sentence into words, identifying the syllables in a word, and blending and segmenting onset rimes. The most sophisticated — and last to develop — is called phonemic awareness.

While all phonological awareness skills are central to learning how to decode and spell, phonemic awareness is the most important level of phonological awareness. Phonemic Awareness is the ability to notice, think about, and work with the individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. This includes isolating sounds, blending, segmenting, deleting, adding, and substituting sounds in words. 

Examples of phonemic awareness include:

  • recognizing words that begin with the same sound
    (“Run, Rake, and Risk all have /r/ at the beginning.”)
  • isolating and saying the first or last sound in a word
    (“The beginning sound of bat is /b/.” “The ending sound of cat is /t/.”)
  • combining, or blending the separate sounds in a word to say the word
    (“/t/, /a/, /g/ – tag.”)
  • breaking, or segmenting a word into its separate sounds
    (“up – /u/, /p/.”)

6 Tips for Teaching Phonemic Awareness Effectively

I know your instructional minutes are so valuable. It is imperative you make the most of each of them, especially when it comes to teaching phonemic awareness. To help you, here are 6 things research tells us we should to do ensure your phonemic awareness is most effective.

1.  Integrate Phonics into your Phonemic Awareness Instruction

Phonics and Phonemic Awareness are two terms that are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing.  Phonemic awareness is oral and auditory. It focuses on the sounds in words.  Phonics instruction is visual AND auditory.

The focus of phonics instruction is letter-sound relationships. Phonics is the ability to recognize a sound and associate it with a written symbol (or letter) that represents the sound.  This is also known as phoneme-grapheme correspondence. 

When you add graphemes to phonemic awareness lessons, it becomes a phonemic awareness lesson AND a phonics lesson at the same time. Studies have found that lessons that integrate letters (graphemes) into phonemic awareness instruction have a greater effect on decoding and spelling than lessons that did not include graphemes.   It allows students to apply their phonemic awareness skills to reading and writing.   For this reason, you’ll want to be sure to integrate letters into your phoneme instruction. 

2.  Focus on Phoneme Level Skills: Blending and Segmenting 

There are a number of subskills of phonemic awareness.  They include segmenting, blending, deleting, substituting, and adding phonemes. The National Reading Panel tells us that blending and segmenting are the two most important phonemic awareness tasks.  

Phoneme blending requires students to put the sounds together to form words.  Blending supports decoding. Phoneme segmentation activities require students to break apart individual sounds.  Segmenting supports encoding or writing.

3. Start Phonemic Instruction Early!

Young students benefit greatly from phonemic awareness instruction!  Studies have found that Pre-K, K, and 1st grade students show larger effect sizes of acquiring phonemic awareness than kids in higher grades.  Students in higher grades do still benefit from developing their phonemic awareness, but not at the same rate as younger students. 

If your curriculum does not already include phonemic awareness skills- add them in! It doesn’t have to take a lot of time each day.  In fact, studies have found that teaching phonemic awareness skills for just 6 minutes a day is all students need! 

4. Teach 1 or 2 Phoneme Level Tasks in Each Lesson

Studies with one or two phonemic-level tasks improved phonemic awareness outcomes at a larger rate than studies that included many phoneme level tasks.  

If you have a program that requires you to teach more than two tasks a day, I encourage you to set a timer.  Decide how much time you can dedicate to phonological skills.  (Remember, studies have found that 6 minutes is the ideal amount of time to spend on PA instruction)  Focus that time on blending and segmenting.  This is where you’ll get the most bang for your buck!  

5.  Align your Phonemic Awareness Instruction to a Phonics Scope and Sequence

We know that systematic and explicit instruction in phonemic awareness directly impacts children’s reading and spelling skills.

To ensure your phonemic awareness instruction is systematic, follow a research-based phonics scope and sequence.  By connecting phonemic awareness work to a phonics scope and sequence, you are helping students connect the graphemes and phonemes.  

If your school does not provide you with a systematic phonics scope and sequence, download one here.  

6. Teach Phonemic Awareness in Small Groups

When you teach phonemic awareness, it is best to do so in small groups. It allows you to closely monitor student responses, provide corrective feedback, and scaffold instruction as necessary.  Whole group or one-on-one instruction was also found to be effective, just not as effective as small group instruction.  

Kindergarten & 1st Grade Phonemic Awareness Yearlong Curriculum

If you are ready to being implementing more phonemic awareness lessons into your classroom but don’t have a curriculum, I have one to offer you!  My Science of Reading-aligned Phonemic Awareness Lesson Plans for Kindergarten and First Grade include research-based lesson plans and EVERYTHING you need to bring effective, data-driven phonemic awareness instruction to your small groups!   With this resource, you’ll get…

-A Years Worth of Lesson Plans laid out in a Weekly Format

-Picture Word Mats for Word Mapping

-Screener Assessments 

Class Data Trackers

Read more about my Phonemic Lesson Plans for Kindergarten and First Grade students in this post

To help you get started I am excited to share 5 weeks of FREE phonemic awareness lesson plans! This FREE download includes 5 weekly lesson plans and word cards for ALL of the short vowels. Grab them here.

Phonemic awareness is the most foundational skill students need in order to learn to read.  I hope the tips and resources I have shared today will help you provide more effective phonemic awareness instruction to your students!

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