Phonological awareness (PA) is a broad skill that includes identifying and manipulating units of oral language (i.e. words, syllables and onsets and rhymes). Phonemic awareness is a subset of phonological awareness skills that refers to the specific ability to focus on and manipulate individual phonemes (i.e. sounds) in spoken words.

What is a phoneme?

Phonemes are the smallest unit constituting spoken language. English consists of about 41 phonemes. Phonemes combine to form syllables and words. A few words only have one phoneme, such as a or oh. Most words consist of a blend of phonemes, such as go (with 2 phonemes), or check (with three phonemes), or stop (with 4 phonemes). Phonemes are different from graphemes, which are units of written language that represent phonemes in the spelling of words. Graphemes may consist of one letter, for example, P, T, K, A, N, or multiple letters, CH, SH, TH, -CK, EA, -IGH, each symbolizing one phonemes.


According to research gathered by the National Reading Panel:

  • Phonemic awareness and letter knowledge as the two best school-entry predictors of how well children will learn to reading during their first 2 years of school.

  • PA instruction produced positive effects on both word reading and pseudo word reading, indicating that it helps children decode novel words as well as remember how to read familiar words. It was also effective in boosting reading comprehension.

  • PA instruction helps all types of children improve their reading, including normally developing readers, children at risk for future reading problems, disabled readers, preschoolers, kindergarteners, 1st grades, children in 2nd through 6th grade, children across various SES levels and children learning to read in English as well as in other languages.