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Content: Phonemic Awareness vs. Phonics

Phonemic awareness requires some auditory processing ability, but not the visual recognition of text.

Phonics helps to build the connection between auditory processing and the visual recognition of text.

Phonemes are the sounds

Graphemes are the written representation of the phonemes

Students who do have reading skills may notice the relationship between phonemes and graphemes.

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We already saw a few examples of this in the previous unit: the relationships between rhyming words like:

  • “grip” and “trip”
  • “socks” and “fox.”

As students develop phonetic decoding skills, highlighting unusual spellings can help them understand that several different combinations of graphemes can make the same sound.

One idea for building connections between students’ background experiences and their efforts to learn to decode is to point out how strange differences in spelling the same phoneme often come from loanwords.

Loanwords are words from other languages that have been incorporated into the English language. Here are a few examples of the same phoneme appearing as different graphemes to consider as you work on activities using rhymes.


Written versions of the English phoneme /f/ that appear in writing as “ph” usually come from Greek loanwords.

Rhyming words with this phoneme:

  • Graph and Staff
  • Glyph and Skiff
  • Dolphin and Golfing

Some English words begin with the letter K but keep it silent. Words like this, especially ones that combine /k/ and /n/, usually came into the language from Old Norse or Old Germanic, and at the time they joined English, would have been fully pronounced!

Homophone (same-sounding) words with these phonemes:

  • Knight and Night
  • Knot and Not
  • Knead and Need

Exercise: Ask a group of students to list as many homophones with different spellings as they can think of—

  • boar and bore,
  • knight and night,
  • hare and hair

Ask the students to use these words in short, descriptive sentences like “She was covered with hares/hairs” that are confusing and funny based on their sound alone but clear based on their spelling. Then ask the students to illustrate their sentences and to share the sentences and illustrations with a partner or a small group of peers.

These silly sentences and accompanying drawings provide an amusing way for students to practice what they are learning about some of the complexities of sound-symbol connections in English.

Module: Helping Students Read

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