To understand phonemic awareness, you first have to understand what a phoneme is. A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound in a language that holds meaning. Almost all words are made up of a number of phonemes blended together. Consider the word “bat”. It is made up of three phonemes: /b/ /a/ /t/ . Each of its sounds affects the meaning. Take away the /b/ sound and replace it with /h/ and you have an entirely different word. Change the /a/ for an /e/ sound and again the meaning changes.
Therefore, phonemic awareness is simply the realization that a spoken word is composed of a sequence of speech sounds. For example, phonemic awareness is knowing that the word cat is made up of three distinct phonemes (sounds), /k/, /a/, and /t/.
How is Phonemic awareness different than Phonics? Phonics is concerned with the written symbol (grapheme) and its correlating phoneme (sound), where as phonemic awareness is just concerned with the phonemes (sounds) in words. Below are two examples that should help clarify what this would look like for a student.
Example 1 – Phonics
Teacher: What letter does the word bat start with?
Student: The word bat starts with the letter b.
Example 2 – Phonemic Awareness
Teacher: What three sounds do you hear in the word bat?
Student: /b/, /a/, and /t/