Phonological Awareness and the School-Age Student
Phonological awareness is knowledge of the sounds of oral language. It is the ability to
regulate and be conscious of the sequence of speech sounds and the structure of syllables.
Sound awareness plays a vital role in the early years and is a reliable predictor of
literacy development. Children with good phonological skills have a huge advantage when learning to
In the early years of school, the children who recognise that words can be broken down into individual
sounds generally develop into competent readers. The children who struggle to make the link
between sounds and words (the sound/letter link) are at a disadvantage when learning to read.
When we talk about speech sounds we are referring to the spoken sound, which is different from the
written letter name.
For instance, the letter 'l' has the letter name 'el.' Contrast that with
the spoken sound /l/ which is a single phoneme made by placing the tongue tip on the alveolar
ridge, behind the top teeth.
Sound awareness is a conscious knowledge of speech sounds at three levels: syllables,
onset and rime, and phonemes.
Syllables: syllables are the building blocks of words and language. They influence
the structure and rhythm of the English language. Syllables can be individual vowels, or
vowels combined with consonant sounds.
For instance, if we were to break down the word elephant
into separate syllables we would have el/e/phant - three syllables.
Onset and Rime: onset and rime are phonological units that make up a syllable. A syllable can be
separated into two distinct parts, the initial consonant and then the vowel, and sometimes final
For instance, the word 'catch' is made up of the onset /c/ and the rime /atch/. Rime is
similar to rhyme - the difference is that with rime the spelling is constant, whereas in rhyme
the spelling can change, though the sound at the end of the word sounds alike.
For instance, rime onset words for kite would include, bite, rite, spite, etc.
The rhyme words for kite would also include, bite, rite etc, but also feature words with different spelling, such as sight.
Phonemes: phonemes are the smallest structural unit of language. For example, the phoneme
/p/ is a speech sound that can be found in the words patch, top, stepping, etc.
Children who cannot make the distinction between speech and letter sounds need to be explicitly
taught this skill. Speech pathologists are highly competent at teaching phonological awareness skills.
Intervention for Sound Awareness Difficulty
Speech-language pathologists are well versed on the importance
of sound awareness and expert at facilitating this vital skill
in children with language disorder.
What follows is a brief introduction to some of the areas speech-language pathologists focus on
when targeting phonological awareness skills.
Syllable segmentation: separate words into distinct syllables. For instance butterfly - butt/er/fly.
Rhyme detection: Identify words that rhyme. For instance, sink - pink rhyme, sink - sash do not,
Rhyme production: produce words that thyme. For instance, for the word 'bump' lump, dump, stump.
Phoneme segmentation: separate words into individual phonemes. For instance, sock - /s/ /o/ /ck/.
Identify initial phoneme: For instance, for the word 'gold' the first phoneme is /g/.
Onset and Rime: identify words that have a universal rhyme and spelling structure. For instance,
the rime 'ent' - lent, sent, tent, went, bent, etc.
This is a brief introduction to phonological awareness, and its importance. Articles and extra information about phonological awareness will be added over the coming months.
To learn more and to access phonological awareness activities please follow this
Kaderavek, J. N. (2010) Language Disorders in Children: Fundamental Concepts of Assessment and Intervention.
Allyn & Bacon
Paul, R. (2006) Language Disorders from Infancy through
Adolescence. Assessment and Intervention. Mosby
Schuele, C.M. & Boudrea, D. Phonological Awareness Intervention: Beyond the Basics. (2008) Language,
Speech and Hearing Services in Schools Vol. 3 - 20
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