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Phonemic Awareness and Young Children in the Preschool Classroom

written by: Elizabeth Wistrom • edited by: Amanda Grove • updated: 1/20/2012

Phonemic awareness in children is an important step in learning to read. Find out more about why activities to improve phonemic awareness play an important role in early childhood education.

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    There is an important connection between phonemic awareness in children and their development of skills in the early stages of literacy. This article will provide you with an overview of phonemic awareness, and explore why phonemic awareness activities should be a part of every Early Childhood classroom.

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    What is Phonemic Awareness

    The term "phonemic awareness" gained popularity in the 1990's. The phrase is typically used to describe the ability to "distinguish the sounds, or phonemes, in spoken language as they relate to the written language."1

    While often used interchangeable with the word "phonics," phonemic awareness is - instead - the foundation for learning and understanding phonics. Phonics, on the other hand, refers to the process of teaching learners to read and write based on the letter-sound relationship. Since there are 26 letters in the alphabet but well over 26 sounds represented by those letters (individually or when grouped together) one must first master auditory identification of the different sounds made these letters and/or groups of letters to be able to learn and use phonics. This is phonemic awareness. ist2 4941346-alphabet-blocks 

    In her paper, entitled Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning about Print (Cambridge, MA: Bolt, Beranek, and Newman, Inc., 1990), researcher Marilyn Jaeger Adams describes 5 levels of phonemic awareness in terms of abilities3:

  • to hear rhymes and alliteration as measured by knowledge of nursery rhymes

  • to do oddity tasks (comparing and contrasting the sounds of words for rhyme and alliteration)

  • to blend and split syllables

  • to perform phonemic segmentation (such as counting out the number of phonemes in a word)

  • to perform phoneme manipulation tasks (such as adding, deleting a particular phoneme and regenerating a word from the remainder)
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    Why Phonemic Awareness is Important

    Educators are constantly trying to identify reliable methods for determining academic achievement. Once those methods are uncovered, best instructional practices may be formulated.

    Researchers and educators alike have determined there is a direct link between phonemic awareness in children and their ability to learn how to read, write and spell. In fact, many believe that phonemic awareness abilities "appear to be the best single predictor of reading acquisition."2 This makes phonemic awareness activities an important component of the preschool educational curriculum.

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    What Educators Should Do

    According to Reading.org, the best approach is one which is designed to "consciously and purposefully attend to the development of phonemic awareness as part of a broad instructional program in reading and writing".4 However, teaching phonemic awareness in Kindergarten and Preschool should not occur to the detriment of other balanced literary components.

    Edwin Ellis, in his article How Now Brown Cow: Phoneme Awareness Activities (1997)5, identifies some basic guidelines which should be followed when planning phonemic awareness activities and lessons for the classroom:

    Instructional Guidelines for Teaching Phonemic Awareness in Kindergarten and Preschool - Planning Phoneme Awareness Activities (Ellis, 1997):

    • Identify the precise phoneme awareness task on which you wish to focus and select developmentally appropriate activities for engaging children in the task. Activities should be fun and exciting – "play" with sounds, don't "drill" them.
    • Be sure to use phoneme sounds (represented by / /) and not letter names when doing the activities. Likewise, remember that one sound may be represented by two or more letters. There are only three sounds in the word cheese: /ch/-/ee/-/z/. You may want to target specific sounds/words at first and "practice" beforehand until you are comfortable making them.
    • Continuant sounds (e.g., /m/, /s/, /i/) are easier to manipulate and hear than stop consonants (e.g., /t/, /q/, /p/). When introducing continuant sounds, exaggerate by holding on to them: rrrrrring; for stop consonants, use iteration (rapid repetition): k-k-k-k-katie.
    • When identifying sounds in different positions, the initial position is easiest, followed by the final position, with the medial position being most difficult (e.g., top, pot, setter). When identifying or combining sound sequences, a CV pattern should be used before a VC pattern, followed by a CVC pattern (e.g., pie, egg, red).

    * *Note: CV = consonant-vowel; VC = vowel-consonant; CVC = consonant-vowel-consonant

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    The connection between phonemic awareness and young children developing literacy skills makes incorporating activities to promote phonemic awareness essential. Find more about Pre K songs - phonemic awareness based - which can be used in the Early Childhood classroom.

    Most importantly, remember to keep a balanced approach to literacy as you being teaching phonemic awareness in Kindergarten or Preschool.

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    Resources

    1. Beam, J. , What is Phonemic Awareness? WiseGeek.com (accessed November 23, 2009), http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-phonemic-awareness.htm

    2. Phonemic Awareness and the Teaching of Reading: A Position Statement Reading.org (accessed November 23, 2009) http://www.reading.org/downloads/positions/ps1025_phonemic.pdf

    3, Sensenbaugh, Roger, Phonemic Awareness: An Important Early Step in Learning to Read KidSource.com (accessed November 23, 2009), http://www.kidsource.com/kidsource/content2/phoemic.p.k12.4.html

    4. Phonemic Awareness and the Teaching of Reading: A Position Statement Reading.org (accessed November 23, 2009) http://www.reading.org/downloads/positions/ps1025_phonemic.pdf

    5. Ellis, Edwin How Now Brown Cow: Phoneme Awareness Activities (1997) ReadingRockets.org (accessed November 23, 2009) http://www.readingrockets.org/article/388