Isn’t phonemic awareness the same thing as phonics? Not exactly: Phonics is the study of the relationship between written letters and the sounds they make, while phonemic awareness is the ability to pick out the individual sounds (called phonemes) in a spoken word.

Phonemic awareness also helps students pick out similar sounds in different words.

But, you might ask, what does phonemic awareness have to do with teaching a child to read?

Fun Phonemic Awareness Activities

Phonemic awareness is developed through reading rhymes, poems, and stories in which wordplay and alliteration are used (basically everything that Dr. Seuss ever wrote for kids). Rhymes and tongue twisters also help kids to recognize and predict sound patterns and sentence patterns based on what came before.

Those are fun ways to help your child or student get to know phonemes, and you can take the phonemic learning further by creating word family charts based on the child’s favorite nonsense rhymes or rhyming books. You can also create a word family chart of words in which changing just the first letter makes a whole new word, such as sat, hat, rat, bat, and mat.

There are many other ways that parents can help their children and teachers or tutors can help students develop phonemic awareness and have a great time in the process! If your child is a reluctant writer, he or she will probably find it easier, more fun and less intimidating to practice creating words with magnetic letters or letter tiles (such as Bananagrams or Scrabble tiles).

Once your child is comfortable with phonemes in short words, you can show how larger words are also made up of phonemes, like di/no/saur. Deconstructing bigger words in these ways helps your child decode the different letter combinations that go into those now-familiar phonemes.

How Better Phonemic Awareness Helps Dyslexic Readers

Phonemic awareness is an especially helpful tool for teaching dyslexic students, who need additional ways to recognize and sort out the most basic language elements so they can go on to become competent readers and writers.

The Orton Gillingham approach places an emphasis on the individual learner, making it ideal for homeschool students and dyslexic students who are working with reading tutors.

The Language Tune-up Kit (LTK) uses the Orton Gillingham method to teach and reinforce sound blends, and many teachers in small classroom settings and parents teaching their children at home have found this approach highly effective at bringing dyslexic students and kids with other learning disabilities up to an age-appropriate reading level. And when kids feel more comfortable with reading, they are more likely to love it.

Whether part of a homeschool reading program or as after-school enrichment, the LTK has helped many students achieve greater competence with phonemes. But there’s always plenty of room for parents to play favorite word games with kids, make up silly rhymes, and cuddle up for story time — so kids associate reading with fun and enjoyable activities even before their reading skills reach grade level.