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Ohio Partnership for Excellence in Paraprofessional Preparation

Phonemic Awareness – About This Unit


In the last two units, we discussed the reading process, the science behind our knowledge of the reading process, and the best ways to teach reading. In the next units, we will examine these things in more detail. Parapros who understand how students learn to read will be better prepared to help them, especially those students who experience challenges. 

Imagine Scarborough’s Rope, the diagram of what happens when we read (see Unit 1). One of its two main strands is “Word Recognition” (we will talk about the other main strand, “Language Comprehension,” in later units). The process of word recognition involves phonemic awareness and decoding—processes resulting in sight recognition. In this unit, we’ll focus on phonemic awareness. It is an important gateway skill to good reading. 

Core Concepts 

A child has phonemic awareness when they can recognize and produce the units of sounds in a language, understand that words are made up of those units of sound (phonemes), and fit those units of sound together to make words. 

Not all children have difficulty developing phonemic awareness, but those who do need support and instruction. That’s because developing phonemic awareness is part of learning to understand spoken language and to speak. But some children need more explicit instruction to develop the skill. This is especially important because phonemic awareness unlocks the next steps in the process of learning to read, like mapping sounds to letters and connecting letter sounds to word sounds. 

Phonemic awareness is an auditory skill—it depends mainly on what people hear rather than what they see. Many students can hear different phonemes with their eyes closed. But learners with reading difficulties may benefit from also seeing what is happening with someone’s lips and mouth when that person makes different speech sounds. This means phonemic awareness comes easier to some students than others, especially if they have difficulty hearing or processing what they hear. Later in this unit, we’ll talk about what these difficulties mean for instruction. 

Phonemes can be tricky for English Learners (ELs) too. While ELs can draw on their auditory skills to notice sound differences, they may be used to different phonemes than those found in English, and they may associate phonemes from English words with different symbols (i.e., graphemes). Other challenges confront children whose first language relies on symbols to represent whole words. Like Mandarin Chinese, these languages don’t associate characters with sounds the way alphabetic languages like English do. 

Key Vocabulary

[glossary cat=”HSR Unit 3″ glossary_index_style=”classic-definition”]

Module: Helping Students Read (Clone)

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