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Should We Teach Phonemic Awareness to Older Readers?

Individualized Assessment-based Instruction

Assessment-based Instruction

The question of teaching phonemic awareness to remedial readers has often been framed as a “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” question. Juel, Griffith, & Gough, 1986 as well as Yopp, 1985 concluded that phonemic awareness is a prerequisite of learning to read, while Ehri, 1979; Read, Yun-Fei, Hong-Yin, & Bao-Qing, 1986 found that phonemic awareness is a consequence of learning to read. The question is relevant, because if reading brings about phonemic awareness, then remedial reading programs should focus on listening comprehension and fluency practice rather than upon explicit phonics and phonemic awareness instruction.

What it is… Phonemic awareness is the basic understanding that spoken words are made up of individual speech sounds called phonemes. There are about 43 common phonemes in English.

What it is not…Phonemic awareness is not exactly phonological awareness (a broader term). It is not simply auditory discrimination, which differentiates between sounds. It is not phonics because it is not applied to letters.

Why don’t some students learn this skill in their early years?

Somewhere between 20 and 40% of the population does not naturally develop phonemic awareness. Research seems to indicate that there are medical and genetic factors that contribute to this inability (Grossen, 1997).

Can remedial readers learn phonemic awareness?

If no explicit instructional strategies could be found to help students learn phonemic awareness, the implicit “teach reading first” approach would be warranted. However, an important study by Bhat, Griffin, and Sindelar (2003) found that middle school remedial readers do benefit from phonemic awareness training, although not as much as do younger learners. The implication of this important research is that if this skill can be learned through explicit instruction, then it would make sense to teach it in remedial reading instruction.

Additionally, because speech sounds differ among languages, phonemic awareness and phonics acquisition are more challenging for English-language Learners (ELLs) and English Language Development (ELD) students.* However, research has shown that these students are able to transfer phonological awareness skills from their primary language to English, and positively benefit from phonemic awareness training (Quiroga, Lernos-Britton, Mostafapour, Abbot, and Berninger, 2002). Depending upon the primary language, many phonemes may match those in English. For example, Spanish and English share more phonemes than not.

So, should we teach phonemic awareness to remedial readers? Absolutely.

Are there reliable and valid phonemic assessments?

Get the Phonemic Awareness Assessments FREE Resource:


Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

Pennington Publishing provides two reading intervention program options for ages eight–adult. The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is a full-year, 55 minutes per day program which includes both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). The word recognition components feature the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities: 1. Phonemic Awareness and Morphology 2. Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling 3. Sounds and Spelling Independent Practice 4. Heart Words Independent Practice 5. The Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables 1ith comprehension and word fluency practice for older readers. The program also includes sound boxes and personal sound walls for weekly review.  The language comprehension components feature comprehensive vocabulary, reading fluency, reading comprehension, spelling, writing and syntax, syllabication, reading strategies, and game card lessons, worksheets, and activities. Word Recognition × Language Comprehension = Skillful Reading: The Simple View of Reading and the National Reading Panel Big 5.

If you only have time for a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) program, the The Science of Reading Intervention Program features the 5 Daily Google Slide Activities, plus the sound boxes and personal word walls for an effective word recognition program.


Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

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