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Phonics & Phonemic Awareness (Why They're Both Important)

Updated: Nov 4, 2019

Every language consists of symbols with each symbol representing a sound. In English these are known as letters or letter combinations. In short, that is phonics - "a method of teaching word recognition or decoding that emphasizes the sound-symbol (letter) relationships that exist in a language." (Rasinski & Padak, p.14) Phonics is seeing the symbol (i.e. B) and recognizing it as a letter that makes the sound /b/. Phonemic Awareness is the hearing of this sound. Students hear it in the name of a familiar object (let's just stick with the letter b - banana, bunny, bark on a tree, Bible, bow, ballet, etc.), they also hear it in songs, rhymes, and books. I do not separate the two in letter lessons. I want the symbol and the sound to be known through hearing, seeing, and doing.


Grab objects from around your home that begin with the sound your learning. I put those items in a box, suitcase, or bag that my four year old enjoys opening and discovering on her own. We've also gone on a letter hunt outside to discover the /b/ bark on a tree, listen for the barking of dogs, the /b/ blue sky, etc.

Every time we encounter a sound from the letter we're learning in a book, I emphasize it big time. Sometimes I go back and reread the word, pointing not only to the letter but a picture of whatever that book is discussing. For example, if a book is talking about a bear and we are learning the letter Bb and the sound /b/, I'll read a sentence clear through, point out that the sentence had "x" amount of /b/ sounds and then reread the sentence as I emphasize the sound multiple times before I complete the word, "/b/ /b/ /b/ bear".

The point is that you want them to associate the sound that they're learning in books, rhymes, songs, and multiple forms of text.


Remember that phonics is the letter-sound relationship in a language. Letters are symbols that represent sounds. Our job is to teach those symbols and the sound that it makes. It's important to see it as well as hearing it. Point it out every time you see it. If you're driving down the road and see it on a sign, point it out. Go on a letter hunt in your grocery store! Incorporate it in your day as you grocery shop, read books, and play. Letters are everywhere and it is a lot of fun to discover all the places they exist.


If you watch today's Facebook LIVE phonics lesson, you'll see how we begin each phonics lesson with an activity that represents the letter that we're learning as we learn the alphabet in the American Sign Language as well. This is what we have so far:

A is for Alligator (We make an alligator mouth with our arms and smack them together.)

B is for Butterfly (We sit down putting our feet together and flapping our knees for the butterfly wings.)

C is for Cat (We do the yoga cat pose.)

D is for Dance (Dancing is always fun.)

E is for Elephant (We use an arm for a long nose and trumpet loudly.)

F is for Frog (We put our arms between our legs and hop around just like a frog.)

We read books, we craft, color, cut, hunt, write, and enjoy our time together.

As phonics progresses I grab my blender and throw in the t and h and mix them up to make the /th/ sound (as one example). We count the sounds we hear in a word (without looking at the word, just speaking it). We match sounds, substitute sounds (What happens if I take the /b/ out of bat and add /ck/ instead?), find rhyming sounds, guess the word based on the context of a sentence and the beginning sound, read poems, rhymes, and books galore.

In the end it is vitally important that your reader doesn't just read a group of boring words that represent the sound their learning:





Instead, open a book and read about a fat cat who chased a rat with a bat. For an amazing list of books download this PDF: Read-aloud books for developing phonemic awareness: An annotated bibliography by H.K. Yopp.

For more resources on this particular topic I highly recommend:

These two resources are incredibly valuable. They have researched strategies, tips and tools to engage your reader and get them excited about reading. I've attended a Rasinski conference, for which I am forever grateful. I'd fill my library with his resources because his knowledge is invaluable for all ages. It was helpful to me as a reading teacher in the junior high and high school classroom and now as a homeschool mom with one learning her letters and the other in the midst of enjoying chapter books and also as a tutor of struggling readers. If you are still struggling, these resources will help. Still, I am available as an expert consultant in the area of reading and writing and in curriculum and instruction. If you have questions or need help, please contact me. I'd love to chat with you. Consider me a useful resource.

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