Language Arts with Lyn Stone (St Monica's Wodonga)

Phonological Awareness

Broadly speaking, phonological awareness (PA), is a sensitivity to the sounds and sound patterns of language. PA can be measured and can help form accurate predictions about reading ability.

PA is the ability to perceive and manipulate the following word parts:

  • syllables
  • onsets
  • rimes
  • phonemes

Let’s look at each one.


Origin: Greek syn ‘together’ + lemma ‘something taken’.

A syllable is a word or part of a word that can be made with one impulse of the voice. In speech, syllables are clusters of sounds usually with vowels as their nucleus and consonants gathered around them. I say ‘usually’ because a syllable nucleus can be consonantal. Think about the final syllable in chasmrhythmbottle.


An onset is a part of a syllable that precedes the peak. The /st/ in stamp is an onset. There is no onset in the second syllable.


The rime is the part of a syllable containing the nucleus and any consonants afterwards. You can further divide a rime into a nucleus (the most sonorant) and a coda (literally, the tail). The rime is what makes words rhyme.

So in stamping, the first rime is /æmp/ and the second rime is /ɪŋ/.

For many children, rime sensitivity begins in the pre-school stage. Nursery rhymes, songs and poems form an instinctive part of parental/caregiver communication with babies and infants. This is another reason that children who are talked to and read to have a head start in acquiring reading than those who come from less advantaged homes.

Talking and reading to children is important for setting up strong structures for reading, but please bear in mind, it doesn’t teach reading and it certainly doesn’t teach writing.

Phonemic awareness

A very important subskill within PA is phonemic awareness. The two terms get used interchangeably sometimes, but they are distinct from one another. PA is knowledge of many different aspects of speech sounds, whereas phonemic awareness solely addresses the smallest units of spoken sound (phonemes).

Phonemic awareness is the ability to perceive and manipulate individual sounds within words.

Before automaticity in reading and writing, the requirements of memory and processing are high. In the case of low phonemic awareness, perceiving, ordering, numbering and differentiating sounds in words can be tough and thankless. The good news is that phonemic awareness can be measured, directly taught and practised to levels which optimise progress in literacy.

Having said that, intensive PA training for typically developing readers has been the subject of academic debate for many years. With good, systematic, synthetic phonics instruction, PA emerges for most children without direct, intensive PA training. This is because the act of mapping phoneme grapheme correspondence is itself is a strong exercise in becoming aware of the constituent parts of words.

The Language Arts approach acknowledges that phonological awareness and proficiency are key drivers of early reading and writing success and that development of this awareness alongside high quality grapheme instruction is ideal.

Phonological awareness

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Lyn Stone

Do you have PA resources and techniques you’d like to share? I use David Kilpatrick’s Equipped for Reading Success.