There is considerable research from all over the world into the importance of different aspects of phonological awareness. Phonological awareness is often a major weakness in learners with dyslexia or similar processing difficulties.

Background information

Phonological awareness is often referred to as phonemic awareness, but there is a crucial difference between these terms. 

The term ‘phonemic awareness’ comes from the word ‘phoneme’, which is a single sound in language.   This includes the following individual skills:

  • Identification of initial, final and medial sounds in words
  • Segmentation (breaking words into individual sounds)
  • Blending (blending individual sounds to make words)
  • Phoneme transposition (ability to ‘swap’ sounds)

The term ‘phonological awareness’ comes from the word ‘phonology’, which is the sounds and sound patterns of language.  Phonological awareness is therefore a broader term than phonemic awareness and encompasses the following:

  • All of the above aspects of phonemic awareness PLUS
  • Onset + rime
  • Rhyme
  • Syllabification
  • Word Retrieval
  • Auditory discriminationsoundboxes.png

Phonological awareness is purely processing the sounds and sound patterns in language, not understanding how those sounds map onto text, which is referred to as phonic or orthographic knowledge.  However, it is an essential precursor to phonic knowledge.  There is no point trying to learn what letters represent what sounds if you are unable to process those sounds in language in the first place.

How does Steps develop Phonological Awareness?

The following activities are specifically designed to develop phonological awareness. Some of these activities only involve processing the sounds or sound patterns themselves (phonological awareness) and some make the link with the written word (phonological awareness + phonic knowledge).

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Chunks – onset + rime awareness
Word Building – onset + rime awareness
Initial Sounds – onset + rime awareness, phoneme transposition
Sound Tiles – phonemic awareness + phonic knowledge
Sound Boxes – phonemic awareness + phonic knowledge
Vowel Sounds (game) – phonemic awareness, auditory discrimination and phonic knowledge
Clear the Skies (game) – phonemic awareness, auditory discrimination and phonic knowledge
Vowel Ladder (game) – phonemic awareness, auditory discrimination, phonic knowledge, blending, decoding/encoding skills
Alphabet (General Section) – phonic knowledge, phonemic awareness
Spelling (General Section) – auditory discrimination, phonemic awareness, decoding/encoding skills

Phonemic Awareness Research

“The majority of preschoolers can segment words into syllables.  Very few can readily segment them into phonemes. The more sophisticated stage of phoneme segmentation is not reached until the child has received formal instruction in letter-sound knowledge.”   Predicting reading and spelling difficulties (Snowling & Backhouse 1996)
"The best predictor of reading difficulty in kindergarten or first grade is the inability to segment words and syllables into constituent sound units (phonemic awareness)" Lyon, G. R. (1995). Toward a definition of dyslexia. Annals of Dyslexia, 45, 3-27.
“The ability to hear and manipulate phonemes plays a causal role in the acquisition of beginning reading skills”. Smith, Simmons, & Kame'enui, 1998
The effects of training phonological awareness and learning to read are mutually supportive. "Reading and phonemic awareness are mutually reinforcing: Phonemic awareness is necessary for reading, and reading, in turn, improves phonemic awareness still further." Shaywitz. S. (2003). Overcoming dyslexia: A new and complete science-based program for reading problems at any level. New York: Knopf.

Additional References

Adams, M. J., Foorman, B. R., Lundberg, I., & Beeler, T. (1998). The elusive phoneme: Why phonemic awareness is so important and how to help children develop it. American Educator, 22(1-2), 18-29.
Anderson, R. C. (1992). Research foundations for wide reading. Paper commissioned by the World Bank. Urbana, IL: Center for the Study of Reading.
Anderson, R. C., & Pearson, P. D. (1984). A schema-theoretic view of basic processes in reading. In P.D. Pearson, R. Barr, M. L. Kamil, & P. Mosenthal (Eds.), Handbook of Reading Research (pp. 255-291). New York: Longman.
Blachman, B. A., Ball, E. W., Black, R. & Tangel, D. M. (2000). Road to the Code. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
Felton, R. H., & Pepper, P. P. (1995). Early identification and intervention of phonological deficits in kindergarten and early elementary children at risk for reading disability. School Psychology Review, 24, 405-414.
Felton, Rebecca H., Wood, Frank B. (1992). A Reading Level Match Study of Nonword Reading Skills in Poor Readers with Varying IQ. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 25, 5, 318-326.
Foorman, B. R., Francis, D. J., Shaywitz, S. E., Shaywitz, B. A., & Fletcher, J. M. (1997). The case for early reading intervention. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Foorman, Barbara R., And Others. (1996). Relation of Phonological and Orthographic Processing to Early Reading: Comparing Two Approaches to Regression-Based Reading-Level-Match Designs. Journal of Educational Psychology, 88, 4, 639-652.
Torgesen, J. K., & Bryant, B. T. (1994). Phonological awareness training for reading. Austin, TX: Pro-ed.