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Phonological awareness is the conscious sensitivity to the sound structure of language. It includes the ability to auditorily distinguish parts of speech, such as syllables and phonemes. The ability to blend and segment phonemes is critical to the development of decoding and spelling skills. Phonological awareness is an important and reliable predictor of later reading ability and has, therefore, been the focus of much research. Phonological awareness is often confused with phonics, but it is different. Phonics requires students to match sounds with letters or letter patterns and use these to say words. Phonological awareness is only related to sounds; letters are not part of phonological awareness. Phonemic awareness is a subset of phonological awareness.
"Phonological awareness" is demonstrated by awareness of sounds at three levels of sound structure: syllables, onsets and rimes, and phonemes. For example, the word football contains two syllables, /fʊt/ and /bɑl/. The syllable /fʊt/ has an onset, /f/ and a rime, /ʊt/. The individual phonemes in /fʊt/ are /f/, /ʊ/, and /t/. Phonological awareness is further demonstrated by manipulating these sounds, such as by clapping the syllables in the word.
Phonological awareness is developed through a variety of activities that expose students to the sound structure of the language and teach them to manipulate it. Specific activities, like clapping the sounds in words and blending phonemes to say words, as well as less directed activities like songs and nursery rhymes are important developing this auditory skill. Research has also shown that students learn phonological awareness in the context of activities that do involve letters and sometimes even spelling. Although phonological awareness is technically only about sounds, research demonstrates the utility of doing phonological awareness practice in the context of reading activities.
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