Phonics is a big word in education. You could say it’s a “buzz” word. There are many phonics workbooks, programs, and games on the market. In its simplest form, phonics teaches letter/sound correspondences. Phonics helps children learn to read, spell, and write. Phonics is generally taught between Kindergarten and 2nd grade. Phonics is essential to teach, but phonemic awareness must be taught and mastered before students can make sense of phonics.
To say phonics and phonemic awareness is the same thing would be a mistake. Phonemic awareness is not the same as phonics. Phonemic awareness does not involve letters, only sounds. It is focused solely on spoken words. Phonemic awareness is an auditory skill and a prerequisite skill for students to become competent spellers, readers, and writers. Phonemic awareness should be taught before phonics. It will only confuse struggling readers if they are taught phonics skills before mastering phonemic awareness skills.
The majority of students will develop phonemic awareness very naturally, without direct instruction. About 20% of readers will not – they will struggle with these skills. Struggling readers have difficulty with phonemic awareness skills and will need to be explicitly taught all 7 phonemic awareness skills. Having these skills, students will realize that words can be broken into syllables, which can be broken into individual sounds. Check back next week to read more about phonemic awareness.