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Chapter 6 – Phonological Awareness

Chapter Summary

Phonological awareness, or the awareness of the sounds of spoken language, is an important factor in early reading and writing. It refers to the sound structure of speech and the way the sounds of language operate and are produced. The phonological aspects of a language include intonation, stress and timing as well as words, syllables and phonemes—the units of sound that are represented by the letters of an alphabet. 

Phonemic awareness is a part of phonological awareness, and refers to the awareness that phonemes exist as abstract and manipulable com- ponents of spoken language. It focuses on the small units of sound that affect meaning. Awareness of phonemes is the key to understanding the logic of the alphabetic principle and thus to the learnability of phonics and reading. Measures of pre-schoolers’ level of phonemic awareness strongly predict their future success in learning to read. 

Children develop an increasing awareness of the phonemes in spoken language as they begin to attend to words, syllables, rhyme, alliteration and analysis of phonemes. 

There are several levels of difficulty in phonemic awareness tasks. It is important to use whole texts such as books, poems and rhymes to show how phonemic awareness can be used in a rich language and literacy program.

Study Questions

Main ideas

Define phonological awareness.
What is the progression from easiest to more complex phonemic awareness?

Application to a developmental stage

Phonemic awareness is developmental. Can you tell how many sounds are in these words: chemist, enough, sigh?
Can you change the /s/ to /b/ in the word sigh? Work out another similar complex phonemic awareness test by changing one sound in a word to another.

Diverse learners

Look at the pictures used to identify initial sounds in Figure 6.7. Would culturally diverse children know all the objects? Would you need to modify the chart to suit your future students?


Practise assessing phonemic awareness with a young child or use the videos on the website. What did you learn about the child’s phonemic awareness? What teaching might be the next step for that child?

Teaching plans

How would you use a simple rhyme or a song to teach all the stages of phonemic awareness to a small group of children?
Look at the activity on Elkonin boxes. Try out several words using the boxes. Think about how this could be used with children.