What Is Phonemic Awareness
Phonemic awareness is the ability to recognize, identify and manipulate the units of sounds which make up words.
Over the past few decades, hundreds of studies and hours of research have been dedicated to deepening the understanding of the workings of phonemic awareness, as well as determining the effect it has on teaching children to read.
The National Reading Panel of the United States (or the NRP) has come to the conclusion that children’s reading, reading comprehension and spelling are all greatly improved by increasing their phonemic awareness.
In conjunction with this, the NRP has stated that phonics programs are more effective than teaching reading through whole language systems. In fact, the studies conducted have shown that phonemic awareness and knowledge of the alphabet are the best indicators of how quickly and easily a child will learn to read during the first two years of formal instruction.
Sifting through 1,962 citations, the NRP stated in their own publication that the findings about the effectiveness of phonic programs was consistent throughout multiple experiments.
“Overall, the findings showed that teaching children to manipulate phonemes in words was highly effective under a variety of teaching conditions with a variety of learners across a range of grade and age levels and that teaching phonemic awareness to children significantly improves their reading more than instruction that lacks any attention to phonemic awareness (PA).”
The NRP has also stated that teaching phonemic awareness should be considered essential and necessary to any complete reading program, since it gives children a solid foundation in the alphabet system, reading and spelling.
Watch this video to learn how to put 3 letter words in a chart to help identify beginning, middle and ending sounds:
The NRP’s research also showed that teaching phonemic awareness produced the best results when the children were taught to manipulate the phonemes using letters, and when they were instructed in small, concentrated groups.
Two other studies, independent of the NRP’s research, have also shown similar results. In a study conducted on children between 6 and 7 years old, researchers found that the children with a high rate of phonemic awareness scored extremely well in the vowel substitution task given to them, unlike the other children, who scored nothing.
The study also showed the difference between the performances of the children in Grade 1. Those with high phonemic awareness had high achievements in both reading and spelling, while those with low phonemic awareness struggled with learning how to read. The study consequently demonstrated that phonemic awareness was the key component in learning to read.
The second study observed phonemic awareness in a younger group of 42 children, who had an average age of 5 years and 7 months. The results showed that the relationship between phonemic awareness and spelling was both positive and bidirectional. This means that not only did phonemic awareness improve spelling skills, the exercise of these same spelling skills resulted in increased phonemic awareness.
Based on the research of the NRP, as well as other independent studies, teaching phonemic awareness to children at a young age prepares them for formal education in school, by giving them a strong foundation that will help them to read and spell.
1. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction (NIH Publication No. 00-4769). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
2. Cognition. 1991 Sep;40(3):219-49.
The relationship of phonemic awareness to reading acquisition: more consequence than precondition but still important.
Wimmer H, Landerl K, Linortner R, Hummer P.
University of Salzburg, Austria.
3. Exp Child Psychol. 2002 Jun;82(2):93-115.
Emergent literacy skills and training time uniquely predict variability in responses to phonemic awareness training in disadvantaged kindergartners.
Hecht SA, Close L.