Phonemic Awareness VS Phonics What's the Difference?

Sorry if you thought phonics and phonemic awareness were "just all basically the same thing" as one kindergarten teacher once said to me. They aren't and it's pretty important if you teach K-2 to know the difference. But wait! Don't feel bad that you don't know! I am constantly amazed at the number of teachers who don't! And universities largely aren't teaching education students this! Even early childhood majors. So don't worry if you don't know! Read on and get the information you need to know the difference!

Basically, phonics involves the use of both eyes and ears while phonemic awareness involves the ears only. I always say Phonemic Awareness can be done in the dark!

Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds or phonemes in spoken words. Before children learn to read print, they need to become more aware of how the sounds in words work.

This involves the understanding that a spoken word is made up of individual sounds and a child should be aware of the blending and segmenting of sounds whether verbally or in written words. Phonemic awareness deals with spoken language and students make an effort in manipulating the sounds in words. Phonemic awareness relates to the reading and writing development. Phonemic awareness is developed through practice and being able to identify and manipulate the separation of sounds in a word. A child should be able to identify a word and its unit of sounds. Either syllables or individual phonemes and how many a word has. When a child is able to identify and blend sounds together, it makes it easier to decode and spell out the word.

An example of phonemic awareness would be, when a child hears the word rug, he is able to identify the sounds used /r/u/g/ tell which is first, middle and last, tell how many syllables and how many phonemes or sounds the word has.

This is a continuum of Phonemic Awareness skills that I try to teach beginning in kindergarten.


I will say that I break rhyming into 3 tiers! 
Tier 1 - Do they rhyme?
Tier 2 - Which 2 rhyme?
Tier 3 - Can you tell me a word that rhymes?

I begin by reading rhyming books!!!

I also use books for alliteration introduction!

Phonics is the sound symbol relationship of letters and the 44 sounds in English. So assigning a p to the /p/ sound or knowing that the /sh/ sound is a special sound called a digraph made up of the letters s and h. These are combinations of letters that can be blended together to form a word. The child must know the letters of the alphabet first and its corresponding sounds. Phonics deals with the written language and is both visual and auditory. Phonics is a method of teaching children how to read easily by combining the sounds of the alphabet to form new words.

An example would be a combination of /b/a/t/ which when combined says BAT.


With direct, systematic, explicit instruction in phonics, a student will be able to identify and decode the vowels and consonant combinations that could form into words and the student will be able to decode independently.

There are 44 sounds in the English language but they can be spelled a huge number of ways! To get a free sheet of al of them and a cheat sheet of the difference between phonics and phonemic awareness including questions to ask students - sign up below!

Phonics and Phonemic Awareness plays a huge role in a student’s life in becoming literate. Phonemic awareness is an important ability to develop decoding skills while phonics is important in being able to identify the combination of letters and sounds to form a word by looking at it, sounding the letters and forming the final word by combining the letter and sound. They both play a huge role in helping the student read easily and confidently.

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