What is a phoneme?
A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound. A phoneme is the sound associated with a letter or group of letters. Each different sound in a word is a phoneme. For example, the letter t makes the sound /t/ as in tap. Phonemes are often represented by more than one letter or combination of letters. For example, in ship, sh makes a single sound that corresponds to two letters (one grapheme).
English consists of about 45 phonemes (sounds), but more than 250 graphemes (different written representations for these sounds, i.e. letters or combinations of letters). This means that English does not have a strict one-to-one correspondence between letters and sounds. However, English is also not entirely irregular. It involves numerous patterns and regularities. Phonics is the method that helps children become aware of these regularities in a systematic way by teaching them the most common phoneme-grapheme correspondences.
For example, in the word fly, the /f/ sound is represented by the letter f. In the word bluff, the /f/ sound is represented by ff. These two different graphemes represent the same phoneme, or sound.
We have an activity for each phoneme - for example, the phoneme /f/, here - find them all in our resource library!
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Phonics is the method that helps children build systematic connections between letters and sounds. Phonics has a better impact on children’s reading ability than any other type of reading program. It has also been shown to improve spelling, particularly among kindergarteners and first graders.
To find out more, read our Deep Dive into Phonics report. This report provides an easy-to-understand overview of phonics and phonemic awareness - why they are important and how they are taught in the classroom - and explains all the relevant terminology. It's perfect for sharing with colleagues, friends, and to Google Classroom!