Unit One

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Back to Developing Phonemic Awareness in Kindergarten Children


Upon completion of this unit, the participant will be able to:

  • State the meaning of phonemic awareness.
  • Explain the process of decoding in early literacy.
  • Explain the role of phonemic awareness in early reading instruction.


Can you read the following message?

?%$@#! ~-{ &#>%-{/~$/

What information would you need to know in order to figure it out? It is a code, but do the symbols represent letters, or sounds, or whole words? Does each symbol correspond with one and only one letter, sound, or word? You would need a cipher to figure out that this code says,"Phonemes are important".

Phonemes are the "smallest unit of speech sound" (Cunningham et. al. 1998). Spoken words are made up of speech sounds that can be blended together in many, many ways to create thousands of unique words. When spoken words are transcribed, or encoded, the sounds of speech are recorded through representative print symbols called graphemes (ie. letters or letter combinations). Each phoneme is represented by a grapheme. Knowledge of the correspondence between phonemes and graphemes is necessary in order to read, or decode, the message.

For example, look at the following photo.


Say the word "telephone". It consists of 3 syllables containing 7 sounds or phonemes. It is represented in writing by 7 graphemes containing a total of 9 letters. How can that be? Each letter in this word corresponds to a unique phoneme in the spoken word; except that the letters "p" and "h" together represent the /f/ sound, and the final "e" is a marker that indicates a long "o" sound. It would be very difficult to read the word "telephone" for the first time if you did not know about the "ph" grapheme or the long "o" final "e" marker.

For some children reading is confusing because of a lack of understanding about such correspondences between graphemes and phonemes. For them, reading can be as arbitrary and difficult as deciphering the message at the start of this unit. Imagine how intimidating it would be if one day all texts were magically converted to a writing code such as the one above. How would you feel as you tried to go through your day?

  • Take a minute to jot down your thoughts.

It all starts with the phoneme.

Phonemic awareness is "the ability to notice, think about, and work with the individual sounds in spoken words" (Armbruster, et. al. 2003), and is necessary for successful phonics instruction. Phonics instruction teaches children how to decode and encode - to read and spell - the words of spoken language by matching letters, or groups of letters, with the phonemes they can represent. An ability to notice the individual phonemes in spoken words is essential to this matching process. When reading, people see letters, or combinations of letters, and begin to approximate a pronunciation for the word using the letter-sound correspondences learned in phonics. This approximate pronunciation leads to recognition of the word. When writing, people think about the sounds in the words they wish to encode and choose letters or letter combinations that can represent those sounds.

Phonemic awareness is necessary for learning the cipher, or code, for learning to match letters with sounds. The code is needed to decode and encode spoken language - ie. to read and to spell.

Check out some of these Resources and Sources to learn more.


  • In your own words, please write a definition for phonemic awareness.
  • In your own words, please write a description of the decoding process.
  • In your own words, please explain the importance of phonemic awareness in early reading instruction.


For Teacher feedback, click this link at File:UnitOne.wma Please be aware that you may need to use your Back button to return to this page after listening to the Teacher feedback.


  • Please take a few minutes to recall trying to "read" the message at the start of this lesson. Review your notes of what you thought and felt when you tried to read the message, and think about what you have learned in this unit. How would you persuade a colleague to include phonemic awareness training in their early reading instruction program?

You have completed Unit One. You may proceed to Unit Two now.