What is Phonological Awareness?
Phonological awareness is the ability to recognize and manipulate the sounds of language. Babies and young toddlers listen and learn the sounds of their language in order to learn to talk. As students grow, they begin to listen to the sounds of words and soon are able to think about those sounds. Phonological awareness is not just the ability to hear sounds but also to notice, analyze, and manipulate those sounds. Students must learn to understand that the way a word sounds is separate from what the word means. This is not easy. Students must first think of the word as something that holds meaning. Second, they must be able to think of the word as an object or symbol whose sounds can be analyzed, changed and taken apart.
Phonological awareness development is necessary to learn to read and write. If students do not understand that words are made up of sounds and how those sounds works together, they will not be able to use their knowledge of letters to read or write. As students grow in their phonological awareness and their knowledge of letters, they can eventually put the two together to crack the code of reading. This typically happens in kindergarten or first grade during formal reading instruction. However, the phonological awareness skills young students gain in preschool are critical and is the first step to later reading success.
Phonological awareness has two key dimensions of development: the size of the sound unit that a child can attend to and work with, and the challenge of the task that students are asked to perform with the sound unit.
The first dimension of phonological awareness development is the size of the sound unit that students can attend to (e.g., syllable, onset-rime, phoneme). Typically students are more apt to attend to larger parts of words (e.g., syllables or words within a compound word) first. With development, instruction, and practice, students will be able to attune to increasingly smaller parts of sound (e.g., first sound of a word, all the individual sounds in words).
The second dimension is the challenge of the task that students are trying to do with a specific sound unit. The easiest task is for students to identify a sound unit. These tasks require students to listen and recognize the sound units, but do not require students to produce or make any sound on their own. Examples of these types of tasks are: asking students to count syllables, listen for whether two words rhyme or not, or listen for words that start with a specific sound.
The next level of difficulty is blending sound units when students take word parts and put the parts together to make a word. For example, blending two short words to make a longer compound words like cup
cake. Another example is blending syllables to make a word like ro – bot, or blending beginning sounds and rimes to make a words like c – at. Also blending individual sounds in words like s – u
The most difficult set of tasks asks students to analyze sound units. Students must break apart a word into sound units (segmentation) and manipulate those sound units by deleting or replacing sounds or syllables to make new words.
Phonemes are even more challenging because you have to listen for individual letter sounds. As students become able to notice individual letter sounds and play games that change or move the sounds around, they are
moving from phonological awareness to phonemic awareness and phonics
. To understand phonics, students need to know not just the letter sounds but the letter names that go with the letter sound. This is a more difficult skill for students.
These dimensions of phonological awareness combine to form various skills that develop over time.
Phonological awareness develops along a timeline
in which being able to attend to the larger units of sound sets the stage for learning to attend to the smallest units of sound. Below are skills that develop over time in Phonological Awareness.
- Recognize individual words in a spoken sentence
- Blending and dividing words into syllables Adding and taking those meaningful units
- Recognizing and producing rhyming words
- Identifying words that sound the same at the beginning
- Blending words at the phoneme or single sound level