A phoneme is a speech sound. It is the smallest unit of language and has no inherent meaning. The word "sun" has three phonemes: /s/ /u/ /n/.
- Although there are 26 letters in the English language, there are approximately 40 phonemes, or sound units, in the English language. (NOTE: the number of phonemes varies across sources.)
- Sounds are represented in 250 different spellings. For example, the phoneme, or sound, /f/ can be spelled in several ways: ph, f, gh, ff.
- The sound units (phonemes) are not inherently obvious and must be taught. The sounds that make up words are "coarticulated;" that is, they are not distinctly separate from each other.
Phonemic Awareness (PA) is:
- the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds in spoken words and the understanding that spoken words and syllables are made up of sequences of speech sounds (Yopp, 1992; see References).
- essential to learning to read in an alphabetic writing system, because letters represent sounds or phonemes. Without phonemic awareness, phonics makes little sense.
- fundamental to mapping speech to print. If a child cannot hear that "man" and "moon" begin with the same sound or cannot blend the sounds /rrrrrruuuuuunnnnn/ into the word "run", he or she may have great difficulty connecting sounds with their written symbols or blending sounds to make a word.
- essential to learning to read in an alphabetic writing system.
- a strong predictor of children who experience early reading success.
Phonemic Awareness Development Continuum
Examples of Phonemic Awareness Skills
- Sound and Word discrimination: What word doesn't belong with the others: "cat", "mat", "bat", "ran"? "ran"
- Rhyming: What word rhymes with "cat"? bat
- Syllable splitting: The onset of "cat" is /k/, the rime is /at/
- Blending: What word is made up of the sounds /k/ /a/ /t/? "cat"
- Phonemic segmentation: What are the sounds in "cat"? /k/ /a/ /t/
- Phoneme deletion: What is "cat" without the /k/? "at"
- Phoneme manipulation: What word would you have if you changed the /t/ in cat to an /n/? "can"
Teaching Tips: Blending
- When children are first learning to blend, use examples with continuous sounds, because the sounds can be stretched and held.
Example: "Listen, my lion puppet likes to talk in a broken way. When he says /mmm/ - /ooo/ - /mmm/ he means mom."
Non-example: "Listen, my lion puppet likes to talk in a broken way. When he says /b/ - /e/ - /d/ he means bed."
- When children are first learning the task, use short words in teaching and practice examples. Use pictures when possible.
Example: Put down 3 pictures of CVC words and say: "My lion puppet wants one of these pictures. Listen to hear which picture he wants, /sss/ - /uuu/ - /nnn/. Which picture?"
Non-example: ".../p/ - /e/ - /n/ - /c/ - /i/ - /l/. Which picture?" (This is a more advanced model that should be used later.)
- When children are first learning the task, use materials that reduce memory load and to represent sounds.
Example: Use pictures to help children remember the words and to focus their attention. Use a 3-square strip or blocks to represent sounds in a word.
Non-example: Provide only verbal activities.
- As children become successful during initial learning, remove scaffolds by using progressively more difficult examples. As children become successful with more difficult examples, use fewer scaffolds, such as pictures.
Example: Move from syllable or onset-rime blending to blending with all sounds in a word (phoneme blending). Remove scaffolds, such as pictures.
"Listen, /s/ - /t/ - /o/ - /p/. Which picture?"
"Listen, /s/ - /t/ - /o/ - /p/. What word?"
Non-example: Provide instruction and practice at only the easiest levels with all the scaffolds.
- Phonemic awareness should be assessed from the beginning of kindergarten through the spring of first grade.
- All students should be assessed a minimum of three times per year to be sure adequate progress toward end of year goals is made.
- Students who are identified as at risk of reading difficulty should be monitored 1 or 2 times per month to ensure effectiveness of intervention and to allow timely instructional changes.
Four of the DIBELS measures can be used to assess phonemic awareness skills: