Phonological awareness is a crucial skill to develop in children. It is strongly linked to early reading and spelling success through its association with phonics. It is a focus of literacy teaching incorporating:
- recognising phonological patterns such as rhyme and alliteration
- awareness of syllables and phonemes within words, and
- hearing multiple phonemes within words.
Phonological awareness skills
Phonological awareness skills can be conceptualised within a sequence of increasing complexity:
Syllable Awareness (docx - 274.77kb)
Rhyme awareness and production (docx - 400.87kb)
Alliteration - Sorting initial and final sounds (docx - 679.3kb)
Onset-Rime segmentation (docx - 250.94kb)
Initial and final sound segmentation (docx - 422.36kb)
Blending sounds into words (docx - 1.63mb)
Segmenting words into sounds (docx - 572.86kb)
Deleting and manipulating sounds (docx - 4.95mb)
The diagram below displays this concept:
How phonemic awareness relates to phonological awareness
Phonological awareness consists of all the above competencies, and phonemic awareness is a critical subset of phonological awareness. Phonemic awareness includes onset-rime identification, initial and final sound segmenting, as well as blending, segmenting, and deleting/manipulating sounds (see diagram above).
The difference between phonological awareness and phonics
While phonological awareness includes the awareness of speech sounds, syllables, and rhymes, phonics is the mapping of speech sounds (phonemes) to letters (or letter patterns, i.e. graphemes). Phonological Awareness and Phonics are therefore not the same, but these literacy focuses tend to overlap.
Phonics builds upon a foundation of phonological awareness, specifically phonemic awareness. As students learn to read and spell, they fine-tune their knowledge of the relationships between phonemes and graphemes in written language. As reading and spelling skills develop, focussing on phonemic awareness improves phonics knowledge, and focussing on phonics also improve phonemic awareness.
Why use phonological awareness
Developing strong competencies in phonological awareness is important for all students, as the awareness of the sounds in words and syllables is critical to hearing and segmenting the words students want to spell, and blending together the sounds in words that students read. Focussing on phonological awareness is recommended to form a key component of early childhood education for literacy, starting with syllable, rhyme, and initial/final sound (alliteration) awareness.
In the early years of primary school, the focus of phonological awareness includes syllable, rhyme, and alliteration awareness, but has a stronger focus on phonemic awareness, especially sound blending, segmentation, and manipulation — as these are the strongest predictors of early decoding success.
Theory to practice
Phonological awareness is a key early competency of emergent and proficient reading, including an explicit awareness of the structure of words, syllables, onset-rime, and individual phonemes. Together with phonics, phonological awareness (in particular phonemic awareness) is an essential competency for breaking the code of written language as per the
Four Resources Model for Reading and Viewing
In this video, the teacher leads a whole class lesson that focuses on rhyming words.
Phonological awareness onset-rime
In this video the teacher explicitly teaches onset and rime through a mini lesson. Students make differentiated onset-rime booklets to practise the skill of onset-rime segmentation.
In this video, the teacher leads a whole class lesson that focuses on syllables.
National reports on the teaching of reading in the US, UK and Australia support the inclusion of phonological awareness in early literacy programs. Hill (2016, p.110) notes the importance of phonological awareness as ‘a precursor to decoding’ which needs to be explicitly taught (Adams, 2011).
Links to the Victorian Curriculum - English
- Understand concepts about print and screen, including how books, film and simple digital texts work, and know some features of print, including directionality (Content description VCELA142)
- Recognise all upper- and lower-case letters and the most common sound that each letter represents (Content description VCELA146)
Speaking and listening
- Identify rhyming words, alliteration patterns, syllables and some sounds (phonemes) in spoken words (Content description VCELA168)
- Blend and segment onset and rime in single syllable spoken words and isolate, blend and segment phonemes in single syllable words (first consonant sound, last consonant sound, middle vowel sound) (Content description VCELA169)
- Replicate the rhythms and sound patterns in stories, rhymes, songs and poems from a range of cultures (Content description VCELT172)
- Understand that punctuation is a feature of written text different from letters and recognise how capital letters are used for names, and that capital letters and full stops signal the beginning and end of sentences (Content description VCELA156)
- Understand that sounds in English are represented by upper- and lower-case letters that can be written using learned letter formation patterns for each case (Content description VCELY162)
- Understand concepts about print and screen, including how different types of texts are organised using page numbering, tables of content, headings and titles, navigation buttons, bars and links (Content description VCELA177)
Speaking and listening
- Identify the separate phonemes in consonant blends or clusters at the beginnings and ends of syllables (Content description VCELA203)
- Manipulate phonemes by addition, deletion and substitution of initial, medial and final phonemes to generate new words (Content description VCELA204)
- Recognise that different types of punctuation, including full stops, question marks and exclamation marks, signal sentences that make statements, ask questions, express emotion or give commands (Content description VCELA190)
Speaking and listening
- Manipulate more complex sounds in spoken words through knowledge of blending and segmenting sounds, phoneme deletion and substitution (Content description VCELA238)
- Identify all Standard Australian English phonemes, including short and long vowels, separate sounds in clusters (Content description VCELA239)
Links to the Victorian Curriculum - English as an Additional Language (EAL)
Speaking and listening
- Imitate pronunciation, stress and intonation patterns
- Use intelligible pronunciation but with many pauses and hesitations
- Repeat or modify a sentence or phrase, modelling rhythm, intonation and pronunciation on the speech of others
- Identify and produce phonemes in blends or clusters at the beginning and end of syllables
- Identify some sounds in words
- Recognise some common letters and letter patterns in words
- Relate most letters of the alphabet to sounds
- Use knowledge of letters and sounds to read a new word or locate key words
- Spell with accuracy some consonant–vowel–consonant words and common words learnt in the classroom
- Spell with accuracy familiar words and words with common letter patterns
Speaking and listening
- Use comprehensible pronunciation for familiar words
- Repeat or re-pronounce words of phrases, when prompted, if not understood(VCEALL183)
Use comprehensible pronunciation for a range of high-frequency words learnt in class
Repeat or re-pronounce words of phrases, when prompted, if not understood
Use clear pronunciation for common words and learnt key topic words
Self-correct and improve aspects of pronunciation that impede communication
Self-correct and improve aspects of pronunciation that impede communication, and focus on correction
Reading and viewing
- Apply knowledge of letter–sound relationships to read new words with some support
- Self-correct pronunciation
- Apply knowledge of letter–sound relationships to deduce the pronunciation of new words
- Self-correct a range of aspects of speech
- Spell a number of high-frequency words accurately
- Spell accurately common words encountered in the classroom
- Spell frequently used words with common patterns with increased accuracy
- Spell most words accurately, drawing on a range of strategies but with some invented spelling still evident
For example activities to develop the major phonological awareness skills, see:
Examples to Promote Phonological Awareness
Adams, M. J. (2011). The relation between alphabetic basics, word recognition and reading. In S. J. Samuels & A. E. Farstrup (Eds.), What research has to say about reading instruction (4th ed.) (pp. 4-24). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Allington, R., Baker, M., Baumann, J., Hoffman, J., Stumpf Jongsma, K., Klein, A., Larson, D., Logan, J. & Morrow, L. (1998). Phonemic awareness and the teaching of reading: A position statement from the Board of Directors of the International Reading Association. Newark, Delaware: International Reading Association.
Hill, S. (2012). Developing early literacy: assessment and teaching (2nd ed.). South Yarra, Vic. Eleanor Curtain Publishing.