Phonological and phonemic awareness overview transcript

Rebecca McEwan:

Both phonological and phonemic awareness relate to skills in recognising and working with sounds in spoken language. We're not talking about any written, text-based skills yet. Phonemic awareness skills, however, are directly linked to the ability to work with – so read and spell – written text. We'll talk about that a little bit more soon.

To help explain the difference between phonological and phonemic awareness, it's often a bit confusing, I'll pull up a diagram that we've got in one of our documents now. The document is Phonemic awareness overview, and Craig's going to put that link in the chat for you. You can also find it on our topic page and in the handout section.

This is what the document looks like, and we're going to focus in on that steps diagram for today. I'll just zoom in. The steps show the progression of skills moving from simple to complex.

[The slide shows the continuum of phonological awareness with nine steps from easier to harder, from left to right: segment words into syllables; identify and produce rhyme; alliteration; onset and rime; isolate initial phonemes; isolate final phonemes; blend phonemes; segment phonemes; delete, add and substitute phonemes. There is a green arrow labelled ‘Phonemic awareness skills’ beneath the five hardest steps: isolate initial phonemes; isolate final phonemes; blend phonemes; segment phonemes; delete, add and substitute phonemes.]

When we look at the steps, phonological awareness is the umbrella term, so all of the steps relate to phonological awareness. On the left-hand side, we have early phonological awareness skills, like working with spoken syllables and rhyming. These skills work with chunks of sounds in words. Ideally, children come to school with already developed skills in those early steps.

If we have any early childhood educators here today, your aim can be to work on those early skills in a really playful way with your children, in order to set them up for success at school. Of course, we know not all students will come with those skills, so there is some work we can do once students are at school as well.

As we move up the staircase, we come to a subset of skills, that's where the green arrow sits, and that subset of skills is phonemic awareness. A phoneme is a speech sound, and so phonemic awareness skills are skills we use when we are recognising and working with single speech sounds in words. For example, recognising that the word gate starts with the single speech sound /g/ and is made up of the sounds /g/, /ā/, /t/. These are phonemic awareness skills, and these develop later than those early rhyming and syllable skills. They often require more explicit instruction for most students.

All phonological awareness skills contribute to success in literacy, but the reason we have a document specifically related to phonemic awareness is that those skills, working with single speech sounds in words, are most closely related to reading and spelling success. It makes sense because the single sounds that we hear in words and that we can work with, with phonemic awareness, are the sounds that students start to associate with letters and groups of letters as they learn to read and spell, so there's that direct link there.

It's only once students start to recognise that spoken words are made up of single speech sounds and that words can be written down, that associating letters and sounds start to have real meaning for them.

Thinking about that link to phonics instruction, what we know is that once students have started to grasp some early phonemic awareness skills orally, like being able to say the first sound in a word, the time is right to start introducing and working with those beginning letter–sound correspondences in your phonics progression.

Looking back at the document now, just to give you a quick overview, you'll also find an overview of the evidence behind instruction for phonemic awareness, including a really great reading from Emina McLean's blog about introducing phonics alongside phonemic awareness. That's a good one to check out. There's also some practical ideas about how to start your instruction in the classroom.