What is phonemic awareness?

What is phonemic awareness? Why is it important?

What is phonemic awareness and why is it important when learning how to read? A student has phonemic awareness/is phonemic aware if the student can hear, identify, and manipulate sounds in the SPOKEN word. Students understand that words are made up of sounds. The student understands that the different sounds in a word makes the word have meaning.

So… Take the word cat. A student has phonemic awareness if the student can recognize/understand the beginning ‘c’ sound. The student can also hear and recognize the ending ‘t’ sound, and the student can hear the ‘short a’ sound in the middle of the word.

Students can blend sounds c-a-t to form the word cat. Students can also change the word c-a-t to form a new word f-a-t or p-a-t, or r-a-t. They can also change the sounds to form new words: cat becomes cot or cut.

Phonemic Awareness helps with phonics: learning to write and spell. Phonemic awareness helps a student read and understand words.

One great way to help students become phonemic aware is helping students with rhyming using  word families/word ladders. Reading to your child from an early age naturally helps a student develop phonemic awareness. When you student seems like he/she is ready to read, start asking questions about the different sounds in words and see if your child hears the different sounds in the words. Your little reader does not have to be fluent at picking out and writing and spelling these sounds to be phonemic aware. He/She just needs to be able to hear these sounds and understand that words are made up of different sounds and letters.

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Madreen Karle is a master first grade reading teacher with over 30 years of classroom experience. She taught reading in a special needs and English as a Second Language classroom. After retiring she wrote a reading program to help others learn how to teach reading. She is a trusted educator and author of 5 books to help teach children to read and write. In addition to her books, she is a mentor for 3 websites that give reading teacher tips (Mrs. Karle’s Sight and Sound ReadingMrs. Karle’s Reading Patch, and Mrs. Karle’s Handwriting Patch). Through her teaching she learned that confidence was the key to learning to read. A child who is not confident at reading does not like to read and struggles to read. Mrs. Karle created “sunshine moments” to help teach children how to grow their confidence and learn to read.
Meeghan Karle Mousaw (Madreen’s daughter) has her Master’s in Special Education. She has 8 years experience teaching children to read online. In addition, she developed a curriculum to teach children handwriting called The Handwriting Patch. With the Handwriting Patch learning is fun because children learn to draw and learn handwriting at the same time. In 2019 The Handwriting Patch curriculum became an amazon best seller the first year it was released, helping thousands of kids learn handwriting with a unique, fun method. She is mom to 6 kids, each with differently learning abilities and struggles.
The Reading Patch was established by the creators of Mrs. Karle’s Sight and Sound Reading. Together they have been featured on the NBC media outlets and Parents Magazine online. Over the last 8 years in their online platform, Madreen and Meeghan have worked tirelessly with teachers, homeschoolers and parents looking to help children learn to read to become a trusted authority in teaching children to read and advocating early literacy skills. They often partner with other educational experts to deliver the most current information to the Reading Patch community.


  1. What great reminds about using word families. Another great post to help me think through our “school” days.

  2. I was just working with Joshua on this today–blend ladders and sounding out short vowel words. They have to understand this concept to read!

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