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  • L.R. Ogden

Phonological and Phonemic Awareness

Hello again ReadEasy friends and neighbors. I am writing the first in a series of blogposts about the components of reading, and of course am starting with the two pieces that are most commonly misunderstood. You may have heard your child's teacher mention "poor phonemic awareness," and further explain this is indicative of reading difficulties. She is 100% correct, as there are many studies and research articles to back her (or him) up. In fact, poor phonological and phonemic awareness are the two most common signs that your child might have dyslexia. But what are they exactly? And how can you practice these skills with your child?

First of all, phonological and phonemic awareness, though close, are not the same thing. Think of phonological awareness as a large umbrella that encompasses phonemic awareness. To put it simply, phonological awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate parts of words. For example, ask your child to say "sandwich," then ask them to say "sandwich" without "wich." Phonological awareness pays attention chunks of words, called onsets (beginnings such as na-) and rimes (endings such as -tion).

Phonemic awareness is a similar skill, but is focused on the smallest pieces of words - phonemes*. This is the ability to identify that in the word "sits," that there are four sounds, and that the last sound is the same as the first sound. Or, for another example, the ability to recognize that the word "shush" is made up of three different sounds, or phonemes (sh/u/sh). The word "through" is also composed of three phonemes (th/r/oo). Children who struggle with phonemic awareness will have trouble identifying words that have the same last sound, determining how many sounds there are in a word, and rhyming.

Second of all, phonological and phonemic awareness are both purely auditory skills. Neither "awareness" has anything to do with graphemes, or letters. That is what separates these skills from phonics, which brings in the famous sound-to-symbol correspondence and is more reminiscent of the reading you probably remember from grade school.

The good news about these skills is that in order to practice them, your child doesn't have to do anything but talk with you. You can play games like "mystery word," where you say "cup" and then pause before saying, "cake," and ask them for the full word. (Feel free to also make up words for this activity, like "flurg" and "blurg" to make "flurgburg," because why not?) Or give your child a word like "fish" and ask them to find a word that ends the same way ("wash" or "wish" would work). Or, my all time favorite, give your child a word like "dart," and ask them to change the first sound to a "/f/" sound.

There are also games available online. Many of them incorporate letters as well, which is okay. While phonological awareness is an auditory skill, the ultimate goal of reading is to be able to map those sounds onto letters and words. So my advice: play as many games as possible, and reach out to your school (or to me) if you feel your child is having difficulty!

A customer survey will soon be available to those interested. Stay tuned for the next blogpost, and as always, let me know if you have questions!


Liza Raino-Ogden

*Quick vocabulary lesson:

Phonemes: individual sounds, such as "/k/, /sh/, /wh/." To break the word "cat" into it's individual phonemes, say, "/k/ - /a/ - /t/." (When a letter is in brackets, it implies you should make the sound, not say the letter.)

Graphemes: letters themselves.

Onsets: the beginning chunks of single or multisyllabic words. Ex: na in nature, br in bring, or c in cat.

Rimes: the ending chunks of single or multisyllabic words. Ex: ture in nature, ing in bring, or at in cat.

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