Phonological and Phonemic Awareness. What is the difference?



Phonological and phonemic awareness are often confused by teachers, and rightly so.  They are so intertwined it is difficult to determine which skills fall under which term.  Hopefully, this post will clear some of the confusion up. 

Phonological and Phonemic awareness - what is the difference? This post outlines the differences between the two terms and gives suggestions about when to teach phonemic awareness and where to start. A free screener is shared to help teachers get started.


Phonological awareness is an umbrella term that encompasses phonemic awareness.  However, you will most often hear the term phonemic awareness and most often it is used to refer to all the skills which are a part of phonemic and phonological awareness.   To avoid confusion and to follow common practice I will also refer to all of these skills as phonemic awareness.  However, let's consider what distinguishes one from the other first. 

What is Phonemic Awareness?


It is the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds or phonemes in spoken words.   It is also the understanding that spoken words and syllables are made up of sequences of speech sounds.  All words are a series of phonemes blended together.   Phonemic awareness does not involve print. It is an auditory skill.  For instance:  a child without phonemic awareness many not be able to hear that sun and sit start with the same sound.  They may not be able to blend together sounds into words like mmmm aaaaa nnnn is man. 


What is Phonological Awareness? 


It encompasses the many ways sounds/phonemes function in words.  It goes beyond just the phoneme level and delves into syllable, rhyme, and onset/rime.  For instance, a child without phonological awareness would have difficulty with the following skills:  counting the syllables in cup-cake, creating rhyming words for sing or recognizing the onset and rime in c-ake. 


How is Phonemic Awareness different than Phonological Awareness? 


Phonemic awareness is all about the phonemes -  the sounds in spoken language and how we manipulate them to make words. It involves isolating phonemes - the first sound in cat  is /c/ as well as manipulating phonemes:  change the /c/ to /b/ in cat.  Phonological awareness expands that skill beyond just the phoneme to include explicit teaching around onset/rime: c-at, syllables: cat has 1 syllable, and rhyming: cat, mat, bat, hat... 


When should you teach Phonemic Awareness? 


Phonemic awareness is a precursor to reading.  Children must be able to hear the phonemes (or sounds) in spoken language.   Ideally, children coming from kindergarten will have had lots of phonemic awareness instruction and have sold phonemic awareness skills.  However, we all know that children progress at different rates in their learning.  For this reason, as a first grade teacher, you should be prepared to teach phonemic awareness right from the start of the school year.  Second and Third grade teachers who have students who are struggling to read should also assess their student’s phonemic awareness to see if there are still gaps that are holding their students back. 

How do I know where to start? 


Using a screener is an effective way to identify where your student is at in terms of his/her phonemic awareness development.  Screening your students does take time but it is time well spent to inform your individualized and whole group instruction. 


Grab this free screening tool to assess your students phonemic awareness skills.


Keep an eye on your inbox for this screener and information about how to use the screener and what to do once you have data on your students.  I have a few more blog posts to planned to help you once you have gathered data on your students and are ready to start.

  • Using assessment data to drive your phonemic awareness instruction
  • Using centers to provide independent practice with phonemic awareness skills.


Check back soon for the follow up posts and in the mean time grab your freebie and assess your students.

Take a moment to pin this post so you can refer back to it later.

Phonological and Phonemic awareness - what is the difference? This post outlines the differences between the two terms and gives suggestions about when to teach phonemic awareness and where to start. A free screener is shared to help teachers get started.


Are you ready for some ideas about to do with that data? Hop over to my next blog post for a few ideas. Click the image below to head to the next post.  


Until next time,

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