Phonological awareness is strongly linked to early reading and spelling success through its association with phonics (Moats, 2019). Phonological awareness describes awareness of how spoken language consists of different smaller components and ability to identify, and manipulate these (Torgenson et al, 2019, Ehri & Flugman,
It consists of several components including: identifying individual words, syllables in words, recognising and creating rhyme, alliteration, and phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness is the ability to focus on and manipulate individual phonemes in words. This skill involves working with onset and rime, blending and segmenting sounds in words and deleting and manipulating phonemes.
Phonological awareness skills
Phonological awareness skills can be conceptualised within a continuum of increasing complexity. “It is best to view the steps of the sequence not as discrete, sequential stages, but rather as overlapping stages” (Schuele & Boudreau, 2008, p. 9). Students do not have to show proficiency and accuracy in one skill before they are introduced to the next.
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 adapted diagram below displays this overlapping concept:
How phonemic awareness relates to phonological awareness
The first three phonological awareness skills are words into syllables, rhyme awareness and production and alliteration. These skills begin to build an early learner's capacity to hear and identify the spoken word and parts of words as separate units of meaning.
Phonemic awareness, which is a sub-set of phonological awareness, moves further along the continuum of complexity. It refers specifically to the ability to focus on and manipulate individual phonemes in spoken words (see diagram above). Moving from identifying spoken words and parts of words to individual sounds in a word, is complex and requires explicit knowledge. This skill is critical for learning the alphabetic coding of a language (Hoover & Tunmer, 2020).
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 such as graphemes) (Ehri & Flugman, 2018). 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 develop their knowledge of the relationships between phonemes and graphemes in written language. As reading and spelling skills develop, focussng on phonemic awareness improves phonics knowledge, and focusing on phonics also improve phonemic awareness.
Why teach phonological awareness
In the early years of primary school, it's important to provide students with explicit and systematic opportunities to hear, identify, isolate, blend, segment and manipulate sounds in words.
Depending on the needs of students, the initial focus may be on phonological awareness skills of least complexity. This includes breaking words into syllables, recognising and producing rhyme and developing initial/final sound (alliteration) awareness. Once students can hear, identify, and isolate parts of spoken word, the teaching focus needs to move to assisting students to identify individual sounds in words. The more complex phonemic awareness skills, including sound blending, segmentation, and manipulation, are the strongest predictors of early decoding success.
English Online Interview (EOI) assesses phonological awareness. Progressing through modules 1 to 4 of the EOI, students are assessed on their ability to recognise and generate rhyming words, identify beginning/middle/end sounds in words and blend sounds.
Theory to practice
Phonological awareness is a key early indicator 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 integral component of reading instruction (Torgerson et al., 2019). The importance of phonics and phonological awareness is outlined in current reading models informing the teaching of reading in schools.
In this video, the teacher leads a whole class lesson that focuses on rhyming words. There's also a
lesson plan to accompany the video.
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. There's also a lesson plan to accompany the video.
In this video, the teacher leads a whole class lesson that focuses on syllables.
Historical reports on the teaching of reading in the USA, UK and Australia support the inclusion of phonological awareness, specifically phonemic awareness skills, in early literacy programs (NICHD, 2000, Rose, 2006; Rowe, 2005).
Research informing these reports has shown that a preschool child's phonemic awareness level is a strong predictor of later success with reading (Hill, 2021, p. 135). As phonemic awareness has a reciprocal relationship with reading (Hoover & Tunmer, 2020), these skills need to be taught systematically and explicitly.
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
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, visit Examples to promote phonological awareness.
Ehri, L. C., & Flugman, B. (2018). Mentoring teachers in systematic phonics instruction: Effectiveness of an intensive year-long program for kindergarten through 3rd grade teachers and their students.
Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal,
Hill. S. (2021).
Developing Early Literacy: Assessment and Teaching (3rd ed.). Eleanor Curtain Publishing.
Hoover, W. A., & Tunmer, W. E. (2020).
The cognitive foundations of reading and its acquisition: A framework with applications connecting teaching and learning. Springer.
Moats, L. (2019). Phonics and spelling: Learning the structure of language at the word level. In: D. A. Kilpatrick, R. M. Joshi, & R. K. Wagner (Eds.),
Reading development and difficulties: Bridging the gap between research and practice (pp. 39–62). Springer.
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) (2000).
National Reading Panel (NRP): Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Rose, J. (2006).
Independent review of the teaching of early reading:
Final report, Jim Rose, March 2006. DfES Publications.
Rowe, K. (2005).
Teaching reading: Report and recommendations. Canberra: Department of Education, Science and Training.
Torgerson, C., Brooks, G., Gascoine, L., & Higgins, S. (2019). Phonics: Reading policy and the evidence of effectiveness from a systematic 'tertiary' review.
Research Papers in Education,