Do you know the difference between phonemic awareness vs phonics instruction? To be completely honest, I did not realize these two were different until my second year teaching Kindergarten. I thought the two terms were interchangeable. Let's talk about the difference between phonemic awareness vs phonics instruction and HOW we can bridge the two to create successful readers in our classroom. First let's chat about how phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, and phonics are all different.
What is the difference between phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, and phonics?
What is Phonological Awareness?
Phonological Awareness is like an umbrella for all the phonics-related skills we teach. It involves hearing, manipulating, and repeating sounds, words, rhymes, syllables, etc. Typically, kids as early as 3 years old start developing phonological awareness skills, through nursery rhymes and rhythm. This is the beginning of how kids learn to read. When teaching phonemic awareness, it is important to also incorporate phonological awareness.
EXAMPLES: Counting syllables in words, identifying rhyming words, repeating words or sentences.
What is Phonemic Awareness?
Phonemic Awareness can be defined as the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate phonemes (aka sounds) in words. It is a more narrow skill set that focuses on the sounds in a single word. These skills are best taught orally, and through listening, with an “I say, you repeat, think, and solve” type of sequence. Teaching phonemic awareness can be done in just 5 minutes a day. These 5 minutes can make a huge difference in your students' success.
EXAMPLES: Changing one sound in a word to make a new word, isolating a beginning sound.
What is Phonics?
Phonics is how kids learn to connect letters with sounds, break apart words into sounds, and blend sounds to read words. Teaching phonics is proven to be the best way to teach kids how to read and spell, vs teaching words via memorization. Phonics instruction can be done orally but mainly involves students decoding (aka sounding out) words.
EXAMPLES: Reading CVC words fluently, using the sounds in a word to spell a word phonetically.
Can Phonemic Awareness ONLY be done orally?
The short answer is no. Many teachers argue this. However, I have found through research and my own experience that you can do phonemic awareness using letters and visuals AFTER students have mastered these skills orally. This is how you will bridge the phonemic awareness skill to phonics, and get your students to actually read and spell.
The keyword is “after”. I do not suggest trying to teach the phonemic awareness skill of oral blending while having your students look at the letters and try to visually blend. Spend some time getting them to blend the sounds by hearing (aka the whole saying “phonemic awareness can be done in the dark”) and once they have a solid grasp on that- start by incorporating letters. I like to do this towards the end of the week during my phonemic awareness lesson time.
We practice a few orally and then will add in letters and do a few blending lines. By doing this, you are essentially “connecting the dots” and will be so shocked at how quickly your students start reading CVC words and beyond.
How do you fit all of this into your phonics lesson?
Phonemic Awareness should not take more than 5 minutes a day in your daily phonics routine. By prioritizing your phonemic awareness lesson, you can make sure that you are hitting all those phonemic and phonological awareness skills. Using these phonemic awareness daily warm-ups makes it so simple and easy to just print and go!
Now you understand the difference between phonemic awareness vs phonics instruction. You just took the first step to understanding phonics instruction! To learn more about phonics and completely transform your phonics instruction, you can join The Complete Phonics Toolkit, opening for enrollment in July 2022. Join the waitlist here: