Johns Hopkins University Secondary Support Initiative (JHUSSI)  

Phonemic Awareness


Phonemic awareness, is the ability to process, identify, and manipulate the individual sounds, or phonemes, in spoken words (e.g., identifying the individual sounds in the word cat (c/a/t)) (RAND, 2002). Phonemes are the smallest parts of sound in a spoken word. Before children are able to attack printed text, they must first develop the awareness of letter sounds. When a child is learning to read, their ability to harness phonemes to sound out words is a predictor of future reading ability or difficulty (Reading Rockets, 2015). Children demonstrate their phonemic awareness by:

  • recognizing words that begin with the same letter sound (i.e. bell, bat, book, and bend all begin with the initial /b/ sound.)
  • isolating and saying the first or last sound in a word ("The beginning sound of dog is /d/." "The ending sound of sit is /t/.")
  • combining the separate sounds in a word to say the word ("/m/, /a/, /p/ – map")
  • segmenting a word into its separate sounds (Reading Rockets, 2015).


The follow lessons detail strategies that teach children to use phonemic awareness and understanding of letter sounds to decode any unknown words. While phonemic awareness is predominantly taught to beginning readers at the elementary level, instruction in decoding unknown words is relevant for any grade level and content area.