Phonemic Awareness



Phonemic awareness is the awareness that words are composed of sequences or strings of individual sounds called phonemes.  Phonemes are the smallest parts of sound in a spoken word.  The word, “at,” has two sounds or phonemes, / ă / / t /.  The word, “dog,” has three phonemes, / d / / ŏ / / g /.   The word, “box,” only has three letters, but it has four phonemes,  / b / / ŏ / / k / / s /.  As evidenced by the word, “box,” phonemes are completely separate entities from the symbols that we call letters of the alphabet, or graphemes.  A grapheme is the smallest part of written language that represents a phoneme in the spelling of a word.  A grapheme may be just one letter, such as “t” ord” or several letters, such as “aw” or “eigh”.  Graphemes represent the phonemes in written language.

Students must have the ability to identify and visually image the number, order, and identity of sounds and letters within words.  These abilities underlie accurate word attack and spelling.  Children who have these skills are likely to have an easier time learning to read and spell than children who have few or none of these skills.  Weakness in these functions causes individuals to add, omit, substitute, and reverse sounds and letters within words while reading and spelling.

The five key skills that serve as the foundation of phonemic awareness are:

  • Replication – the ability to repeat a sound that they hear        

  • Blending – the ability to join a string of phonemes together to create a word

  • Segmenting – the ability to break a word into its individual phonemes

  • Substitution – the ability to replace a phoneme with a new phoneme, creating a new word 

  • Rhyming – the ability to find words with the same rhyme[1]


[1] The onset is the beginning of the word, usually consisting of consonants.  The rhyme (rime) is the rest of the word without the initial consonant structure (single consonant, consonant digraph, or consonant blend).  For example, in the word, “rest,” the consonant “r” is the onset.  The remaining letters in the word, “est,” is the rhyme.  Words that end with the phonemes / ĕ / / s / / t / rhyme with “rest” (e.g., test, guest, blessed).



(Excerpted from, “School Success for Kids with Dyslexia and Other Reading Difficulties” by Walter Dunson, Ph.D.)

Image courtesy of Pixabay