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Phonological Awareness: What It Is & Why It's Important

In a previous post, I wrote about the importance of phonemic awareness in classroom reading instruction. If you missed that post, you can easily visit it here.

Today, I want to extend my topic a bit to share information about phonological awareness. If you fall among the majority of teachers (myself included, at one point in time) you may be surprised to learn that there is, in fact, a difference between those two topics.

Before we proceed, let's clear up a common misunderstanding: phonemic awareness and phonological awareness ARE NOT the same thing. Phonemic awareness is defined as the ability to hear, recognize, and manipulate individual sounds within words. These sounds are known as phonemes. Hence, the term "phonemic awareness." This may sound confusing, but don't miss it: Phonemic awareness actually falls under the overarching category of phonological awareness. It's one component of phonological awareness.

Phonological awareness revers to the ability to hear and manipulate sounds. It may refer to phonemes (as in phonemic awareness), syllables, words, and sentences. If this is confusing to you, Dyslexia Help provides an example of what phonological awareness looks like at each level: phoneme, syllable, word, and sentence. As you can tell when working with phonological awareness skills, activities are not restricted to sounds (phonemes) only, which is what distinguishes it from phonemic awareness.  

Again, don't miss that our skill here is auditory; it's focused on hearing. Phonological awareness has nothing to do with print or associating those sounds with letters.

Phonological awareness begins long before a student picks up a book to read. In fact, phonological awareness development is a great predictor of future reading success. It helps students gain an understanding of how sounds work together within all levels of the structure of print. As they develop as readers, they will associate those sounds with letters, which directly impacts the way they blend sounds together to read or to communicate ideas through their own writing.

So you've got this. Now, what can you do?

This answer depends largely on the age of the students you teach. Younger students, or those who are still developing foundational skills for reading, should be exposed to phonological awareness exercises on a daily basis in the form of phonemic awareness skills. Students who have established a reading foundation, but are extending and building those skills (typically 3rd grade and older) need phonological awareness exercises 2 or 3 times per week. For all students, phonological awareness activities are most effective in small group instruction.

The following are some basic phonological awareness exercises that are appropriate and fun for young learners, who typically enjoy playing with words and sounds. You may notice that some of these activities are similar to those identified as phonemic awareness activities. That is common; remember, phonemic awareness is one component of phonological awareness. The structure of the activities may be similar; you just want to make sure the words you use to practice those skills are developmentally appropriate for your students.

I have also provided an example or two to better explain each activity. In a future post, (coming soon!) I will share some phonological awareness resources that I created to use with my students. 


Example: Do these words rhyme? knight, write (yes) Can you think of a word that rhymes with repair? (unfair)

Counting Words*

Example: Listen to my sentence: The wild monkeys danced and swayed in the jungle trees. How many words are in my sentence? (10)

* This is a great exercise for helping build memory and stamina as well!

Counting Syllables

Examples: Say mountain. How many syllables do you hear in mountain? (2)

Say explorer. How many syllables do you hear in explorer? (3)

                Say magnificent. How many syllables do you hear in magnificent? (4)

                Say parallelogram. How many syllables do you hear in parallelogram? (5)

Note: If your students need extra support with this, they may repeat each word while tapping syllables on a table or fingers. They may also clap each syllable or do a "chin-check" (hand placed under the chin to "feel" each syllable as the chin drops in the pronunciation of the word). These strategies are supportive and should be encouraged!

Tapping Syllables: Head, Shoulders, Knees, & Toes

For this activity, the teacher says a word, such as locomotion. Student repeats the word, syllable-by-syllable, while tapping the head, shoulders, knees, and toes. For this word, students would tap their heads and say "lo," shoulders "co," knees "mo," toes "tion." Be careful to only use words with four syllables or less for this activity! 

Syllable Manipulation

Examples: Say friendly. Instead of ly say ship. What is the new word? (friendship)

Say locker. Instead of lock say mark. What is the new word? (marker)

And if you want to know more...

If you want to learn more about phonological awareness and activities you can use, the following list includes what I consider to be some useful, practical sources of information. Start clicking! :)


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