What is phonological awareness?

CCSS ELA Literacy K-2, Foolproof Phonics App, ELA K-2, ELA Kindergarten, ELA 1st Grade, ELA 2nd Grade



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Phonological awareness is the awareness of the sounds in spoken words, as well as the ability to manipulate those sounds. Phonological awareness describes the set of skills involved in identifying and using different parts of oral language (e.g. onset-rime and syllables in words, identifying where each word ends in a sentence, etc.). This skill set allows us to understand, recall, and employ sounds at the sentence, word, syllable, and phoneme level. Children with strong phonological awareness can differentiate the sound structures of speech and use those structures.

Phonological awareness is an umbrella term that encompasses both basic levels of awareness of speech sounds, such as rhyming, alliteration, the number of words in a sentence, and the syllables within words, as well as more advanced levels of awareness such as onset-rime awareness and full phonemic awareness (the ability to identify the smallest units of sound in words, the phonemes).

Phonological awareness develops over time, but it is especially important at the earliest stages of reading development. Explicit teaching of phonological awareness is part of systematic synthetic phonics instruction. This skill set is crucial for reading and spelling success, because these skills are central to learning to decode and encode printed words. This is because children need to know which sounds are involved in a word in order to be able to match those sounds to letters when they read or spell.

For example, rub a dub dub involves repetition of the sound /b/ (alliteration). Identifying the same sound in a sentence is part of building phonological awareness.

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Foolproof Phonics Part 1

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Deep Dive

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!


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