When we think of phonics skills, we often consider how we may need to improve them phonemic awareness and phonics even if we’re not sure what those terms mean.

So, what exactly is phonemic awareness and how does it differ from phonics skills?

Alphabetic Principle, Phonemic Awareness and Phonics

Hearing sounds and then associating those sounds with the symbols that represent them is known as the Alphabetic Principle. The goal of teaching the Alphabetic Principle is to help children grasp the idea that letters and letter patterns represent the sounds of spoken language.

The alphabetic principle and phonemic awareness go hand-in-hand. Phonemic awareness is the ability to understand sound structure. 7 of 9 auditory processing areas directly impact phonemic awareness. Often it may take reading intervention with Phonemic Awareness and Phonics to ensure these skills are strong and intact as your child reads.

For example, what individual sounds do you hear when you say the word ‘cat’? Do you even hear three individual sounds?

This is critical to being able to read and is why we include Reading Intervention with Phonemic Awareness and Phonics in the summer reading program.

When you couple this process with the alphabetic principle, can you then say the names of the letters that those sounds are represented by?  This is not a natural process! We typically hear a word or word part, but we don’t think in terms of the different sounds that are combined to make the word.

Noticing sounds of words that are heard is the beginning of phonemic awareness, the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds in spoken words. As time passes and this capacity grows, we can use it in the process of sounding out words.

Phonemic awareness, then, is a foundational skill that impacts the ability to read. And often, Reading Intervention Phonemic Awareness and Phonics is precisely what your child needs to improve their reading skills.

Phonics takes this a step further. Phonics is the ability to pair individual sounds with a visual symbol. Specific phonics instruction thus helps children learn the relationship between written language and spoken language.

See below for some reading intervention activities parents and teacher can use with their children and students.  

For more direct instruction on improving reading skills with phonemic awareness and the alphabetic principle, reserve your spot for our Summer Reading Program, where we teach these skills step-by-step through audio and video lessons. Click on the image below and see how we will include Reading Intervention Phonemic Awareness and Phonics in the Summer Reading Program.

Reading Intervention Phonemic Awareness and Phonics

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The program integrates both phonemic awareness and phonics seamlessly.

Reading Intervention Step One

Phonemic Awareness – hearing, identifying, and manipulating sounds

Important Points about Phonemic Awareness

  • Phonemic awareness can be taught and learned.  
  • The combination of auditory processing skills used with phonemic awareness helps students learn to read and spell.
  • The relationship between phonemic awareness and learning to read and spell is reciprocal: building phonemic awareness helps children learn to read and spell; learning to read and spell words by working with letter-sound relationships improves children’s phonemic awareness.

Again, phonemic awareness is the child’s recognition of sounds and word parts. For example, the word /balloon/ has two-word parts (syllables).

Phonemic Awareness Activities

Anyone who struggles with reading will benefit from the following activities. These activities can be done at any age, not just in the pre-school to kindergarten stages.

Clapping Pattern Activities

Clapping a pattern helps with pattern recognition.  Pattern recognition is a precursor to hearing both individual word parts and individual sounds.  The teacher or parent does a clapping pattern, and the student repeats it.

Then, the student does a clapping pattern that the teacher or parent repeats. The student can let the parent or teacher know if they got their pattern right.

Try these variations:

  • Clap, pause, clap
  • Clap, clap, pause, clap
  • Clap, clap, clap, pause, clap, clap
  • Clap, clap, pause, clap, clap, clap
  • Slow and fast clapping

Clap/Count the Words in a Sentence

  • Using nursery rhymes, count the words in a phrase (e.g., Jack and Jill went up the hill = 7 words; to fetch a pail of water = 6 words; Jack fell down and broke his crown = 7 words; Jill came tumbling after = 4 words)
  • Repeat a sentence, counting the words (e.g.: Pizza is my favorite food. = 5 words; I like playing ball in the yard. = 7 words; My dad is a fireman. = 5 words)

Clapping Names

  • Clap the syllables in a student/child’s first name (e.g., Tom – 1 clap; Terry – 2 claps; Marilyn – 3 claps)
  • Clap the syllables in last names
  • Clap the syllables of first and last names together

Rhyming Words

The ability to rhyme words is a finer point of phonemic awareness. It helps with the ability to hear individual word parts and how different words share the same phonemes.

Always give an example: The teacher or parent leads with “Let’s think of words that rhyme with cat…bat, fat, what other words can you think of?”

  • Think of words that rhyme with at, it, an, ant, id
  • Think of words that rhyme with other, lotion, bound

Reading Intervention Step Two

The Alphabetic Principle – pairing individual sounds with visual symbols

  • Acquiring and remembering letter names
  • Acquiring and remembering letter shapes
  • Matching letter sounds with their written form (shape)

Best Practices for Teaching Phonics

  • Teach the letter-sound relationships both explicitly and in isolation
    • Start with f, m, n, r, and s as they can be pronounced easily in isolation
    • Teach five additional sounds (a, i, e, m, t; then you can make words with them: at, it, fat, mat, sat, rat, fan, tan, man, ten, set, sit, met, mitt; then make sentences with them:  I see Mat.  – Mat sits.)
  • Give multiple opportunities each day to practice the sound-symbol relationships
    • Label objects in the room and go around practicing their names
    • Think of rhyming words with at – a great way to introduce additional letter-sound relationships (at, cat, fat, hat, etc.)
  • Review daily previously taught sounds-symbols and gradually add new sound-symbols (letters)
  • Practice and apply these sound-symbol relationships with phonetically spelled words that are familiar to them

Reading Intervention Phonemic Awareness and Phonics then takes into account then the foundational skills your child needs to read and read well!

Bonnie Terry, M. Ed., BCET is internationally recognized as America’s Leading Learning Specialist. She is an award-winning author and learning disability specialist and board-certified educational therapist.

Each of her best-selling books has won the Parent and Teacher Choice Award from HowtoLearn.com: Five Minutes to Better Reading SkillsTen Minutes to Better Writing and Study Skillsand The Sentence Zone Game.

Visit the Summer Reading Program Page here:

Reading Intervention Phonemic Awareness and Phonics

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