Phonological Awareness

Understanding the Reading Process – The Big Six

I am really impressed with Konza’s Research into practice papers on Understanding the Reading Process.  They are easy to read, bring attention to students who don’t come from print-rich and language-rich backgrounds and give some great ideas to focus on in the classroom. Konza identified the Big 6 for the teaching of reading. My last blog explored her take on oral language. This one is a brief summary of phonological awareness, taken from her first paper and supporting paper.

Phonological awareness

phonological awareness umbrella

Phonological awareness is an umbrella term that focuses on the sounds of speech. There are many components to phonological awareness with the most significant being phonemic awareness (the ability to focus on the separate, individual sounds in words – the phonemes). Many researchers have written that phonemic awareness of preschool children is the single best predictor of their future reading ability (Stanovich and Stanovich, 2003).

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Being able to blend and segment phonemes are crucial phonemic skills for reading and spelling. Separating phonemes can be difficult for children because sounds are compressed and tend to overlap in speech (coarticulation).  This is easy for the listener but disguises the segments. If children cannot hear the separate sounds, they cannot relate them to letters which will make learning to read and spell an alphabetic language very difficult.

Early oral language and literacy experiences tune children into the sounds of language and prepares them to read.


This is a broad hierarchy of how phonological skills develop.phonological skills

Rhythm – In English, syllables provide the rhythm. Clapping beats in their names or in multi-syllabic words helps students tune in to rhythm. This is also important long-term as chunking words into syllables is an important strategy for both reading and spelling.

Rhyme – Students need to understand which part of the word is rhyming so teachers need to model recognition and production of rhyme. An early sign of developing phonemic awareness is recognising and creating rhyme as children are deleting the first phoneme and replacing it – dog, log, hog.  Word play and rhyming activities are important for any student who hasn’t had a background rich in rhyming.

Onset and rime – These are divisions within syllables. Many students will acquire this naturally but it is an important step for some before developing phonemic awareness. All syllables have a rime, but not necessarily an onset eg at ( – at), mat (m – at), dog (d- og). Oral rhyming activities build this understanding.  I have found using magnetic letters on a whiteboard also very successful – this kind of activity has also builds in movement.

Phonemic awareness – ability to tune into separate single sounds, to play with them, segment them, swap them around. For students who struggle with phonemic skills, tt is important to teach this in a logical sequence.

  • phoneme isolation – the first phoneme is the easiest, then the final and then the middle phoneme. What is the first sound in man? /m/ Last sound in duck? /k/ Middle sound in cup? /u/.
  • phoneme blending – one of the most important and requires careful attention. To begin with, use continuous sounds and do not stop between the phonemes – /mmmmaaaaaannnnn/ man When children can do this, then the phonemes can be separated /m/ /a/ /n/  Then the ‘stop’ consonants like /p/, /b/, /g/, /d/, and /t/ can be introduced. It is really important not to distort the phonemes eg pat should be said ‘paaat’ not ‘paaatuh’. After blending cvc words, help children blend ccvc and cvcc words and words with long vowel sounds.
  • phoneme segmentation – this requires children to count out separate phonemes in a word, saying them as they tap or count it. It is important to model  multiple examples of vc and cvc words before moving to ccvc and cvcc words.  eg at – /a/ / t/   2
  • phoneme manipulation – this is most sophisticated phonemic skill.  Phoneme deletion, addition and a combination of both are included in this. eg listen to train without the /t/. rain

An example of this developing phonological awareness is using the word dog. Most children could relate the to word and understand its meaning – a furry pet.IMG_0497 (480x640) (2) Rhyming words would be log, hog, bog. The word dog could then be separated into onset and rime (d – og) and then finally into all its phonemes (d – o – g). Without these experiences, children will have greater difficulty identifying the separate sounds in words and then translating the sounds into alphabetic script.

When should phonics skills be introduced? Once children can discriminate separate phonemes eg answer the questions in the phoneme isolation section.

How much time should be spent on phonemic awareness instruction? For most children, this would be about 20 hours in total which would be about 10-15 minutes a day for the first two terms of prep. After this, phonics instruction would continue.  Readiness will depend greatly on their preschool experiences and whether they have underlying phonological processing difficulties.  For some children, phonemic skill instruction may still be developing after two or more years in school but the oral will need to referenced to letters (as long as the child can detect single phonemes).

It is usually best to teach phonemic awareness in small groups and early screening such as Queensland’s Early Start On Entry to Prep will assist with this.

Principles of teaching phonemic awareness

  1. Everyone working with phonemic awareness can articulate sounds being taught accurately and clearly (teachers, aides, volunteers)
  2. When first introducing letters, refer to their sound, not the letter name
  3. Work in small groups of 4-6
  4. For children with difficulties, work in groups of 1-3
  5. Concentrate on blending and segmenting
  6. Build from easy to hard when constructing practice items (vc, cvc, ccvc, cvcc, long vowel words)
  7. Give children multiple opportunities to practice (complete three successful practice items three day is a row before you can be confident they have achieved the skill – review skill a week or two later)

Konza (2011) concluded by writing that phonemic awareness is not a complete reading program and will not guarantee reading and writing success for all students. It provides the foundation upon which independent reading, writing and spelling can be built.



One thought on “Phonological Awareness

  1. I love the way that you explained phonological awareness. I am working on my dissertation for my Ed.D and I really needed this simple yet complex explanation. I will be citing your work in my dissertation. Thank You!

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