Phonological awareness, phonemic awareness vs phonics

Though all three terms have to do with sound, as seen by the prefix “phon”, Phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, and phonics are distinct terms that refer to different skill sets. An early reader can strengthen each skill set through unique tasks.

  1. Phonological awareness: the Broader awareness of sounds
  2. Phonemic awareness: a more specific skill, the awareness of the smallest unit of sound, phonemes 
  3. Phonics: the awareness of sound and text 

The English language has 26 letters.

The English language also has 44 sounds.

The letters don’t map directly to the sounds

The same letters can make different sounds (like “ch” can be a chair, choir) 

Remember that English does not have a “one letter one sound” relationship. Letters can make many different kinds of sounds, actually.

What is a Phoneme?

The smallest unit of sound in language

Can be represented by a letter or a cluster of letters (sh makes shhh)

We segment the words into its phonemes and we blend the sounds back together to help students read

What is Phonological Awareness?

Phonological awareness is the broader awareness of sound. Hearing a sound is phonological awareness, so hearing a bird making a sound and recognizing the sound, is phonological awareness. 

Phone- SOUND

Example of Phonological Awareness Tasks 

Rhyming skills develop phonological awareness

Alliteration- tongue twisters build phonological awareness

 5 skill sets related to Phonological Awareness

  • rhyming
  • alliteration
  • sentence segmenting
  • syllable blending
  • segmenting

What is Phonemic Awareness

A smaller category within phonological awareness, in which we are only working with the smallest units of sound.


To isolate sounds

Ch . AIR

First sound: ch, second sound AIR

Isolating the first sound CH

C- A- T three sounds, this is segmenting the words ini its phonemes and its phonemic Awareness, being aware of the PHONEMES, smallest units of sound

If you tell sounds too take off a first phonem and add another, like


Take off CH

Put no F


This is sound manipulation and its a PHONEMIC awareness skill


What does phonics mean?

Phonics refers to the relationship of sounds and letters.

Example of Phonics Tasks 

  • Mapping speech onto the text
  • Learning the alphabetic Principle

Remember, the Greek root word phon means “sound” (as in microphone, phone, and saxophone) so all of these terms refer to ways we hear, identify, and make sense of sounds. microphone, phone, and saxophone.

Bottom Line: Though the three terms phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, and phonics all have to do with sound, hence their prefix “phone”, they are distinct and refer to different skill sets. An early reader can strengthen each skill set through unique tasks.

“Most of us end up with no more than five or six people who remember us. Teachers have thousands of people who remember them for the rest of their lives.”

Andy Rooney

Related Keyword Phrases: phon, phonics, phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, phonics, early reader


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