“Phonemic awareness” is a term often used when children are beginning to read. You might hear this term at a parent conference or PTO night. Simply put, phonemic awareness is the ability to hear sounds in spoken language.

Yet it’s more complex than that simple definition. There are five steps to acquiring phonemic awareness, and they go in sequence. In other words, a child cannot do step five without knowing steps one through four. Understanding this sequence will allow you to help your young child practice these important steps, when he or she is learning to read.

•    Step 1: Beginning sounds Help him practice consonant sounds so that when he sees the word “hat,” for example, he’ll recognize that it begins with the “h” sound.
•    Step 2: Ending sounds
Help her identify sounds of letters at the end of words. She should be able to recognize that the word “bed” ends with the sound of letter “d.”

•    Step 3: Medial/middle sounds
This is where knowledge of short and long vowel sounds can aid a child in “sounding out” words. For example, he needs to know that “cat” has the short “a” sound in the middle, while “rake” has the long “a” sound.
•    Step 4: Blends and digraphs
Blends are formed when two letters are put together and keep their own sounds, like the “pl” in the beginning of the word “plant.” Digraphs are formed when the two letters put together form a new and different sound, like the “ch” in the word “cheese.” Common digraphs are “th,” “ch,” “sh,” “wh” and “ph.” These can be found at the beginning (shell), middle (together), or end of words (bath).
•    Step 5: Substitutions and deletions
Substitutions mean that when he reads the word “can,” for example, you say, “If you take away the ‘c’ and change it to ‘m,’ what’s the new word?” He should know that it’s “man.” Deletions mean that if she knows the word “stake” and you erase the “s,” she’ll know the word left is “take.”

Understanding and practicing this sequence and placement of sounds can help your child improve decoding, fluency, and reading comprehension skills.


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