9 Skills of Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic Awareness is more than listening for sounds in words. Rather, it is one primary skill that is reinforced and demonstrated through eight sub-skills.

Primary Skill: Identification

Identification is the ability to break words into individual sounds. Example: What three sounds do you hear in the word “cheese”?

If a student can accurately and consistently identify the sounds within words, then he or she can likely do (or learn to do) all the rest of the sub-skills.

Phonemic Awareness Sub-skills

In alphabetical order, the eight sub-skills to phonemic awareness are as follows.


Description and Example


Connecting individual sounds to make a word, the opposite of identification.
Example: What word do you get when you combine the sounds “ch,” “ee,” and “z”?


Predicting the next sound in a partial word.
Example: What sound can follow “chee”?


Removing specific sounds from a word.
Example: What word do you get if you remove the “ch” sound from “cheese”?


Recognizing that two sounds are different or that sounds in words are different.
Example: Are these words the same or different: “cheese” “these”?


Identifying specific sounds within words.
Example: What is the final sound in the word “cheese”?


Replacing or changing sounds within words.
Example: Change the “ch” sound in “cheese” with a “th” sound.


Finding words that have the same sounds in a specific place in a word.
Example: What word has the same second sound as “cheese”?
Example: What word has the same final sound as “cheese”?


Switching the order of two sounds in a word.
Example (non-cheese example): What word do you get if you switch the “d” and “f” sounds in “Defer”?

One More Potential Sub-Skill

I will add one more skill to this list: Emphatics. Emphatics is recognizing accents in words and stress (emphasis) given to spoken words. For example, a person who says “I don’t want cheese; I need cheese” is emphasizing the difference between want and need. Emphatics is not typically included as a phonemic awareness skill, but it is a phonological skill. (Phonemic awareness is a subset of phonological awareness, an understanding of sound within language.) I include emphatics here because it relates to the ability to analyze sounds within words and passages. It leads to understanding meter, rhythm, and similar auditory characteristics of speech.

Emphatics is also a cross-over skill with oral language development because it relates to changing spoken sounds to communicate a message, i.e., how a speaker emphasizes certain words or sounds. For example, if a person says “I am STILL waiting,” he is communicating frustration by emphasizing the word “still.”)

Integrated Approach to Phonemic Awareness Skills

Students do not have to master one skill before learning another skill. They are not sequential, other than the focus on the primary skill, which should be introduced first and continue to be reinforced as you help students perform the sub-skills.

For example, the student doesn’t need to focus only on identification before tackling matching. In fact, a good lesson in phonemic awareness will combine several sub-skills. Not only will this make the learning activity more interesting but also it will help students think about the sounds in multiple ways, further reinforcing their ability to perform the primary skill: identify sounds within words.

On the other hand, some sub-skills are more challenging than others because they take greater cognitive processing and analysis. Very generally, blending, completion, differentiation, and isolation are less sophisticated than deletion, emphatics, manipulation, matching, and reversal.

If you are working with young children, say around ages three to four, I recommend that you stick to the simplest sub-skills. Once students are pretty good at finding the individual sounds within words and a few of the simpler sub-skills, they will be able to pick up the other sub-skills more easily as their cognitive development progresses. With these young children, you are helping them make that cognitive leap from whole words to sounds within words. If you are working with older children, try presenting activities that address the more challenging sub-skills.