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Alphabetic Principle vs. Phonemic Awareness

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

Alphabetic principle and phonemic awareness are vital skills for students to master as they learn to decode words. In this lesson, we will compare alphabetic principle and phonemic awareness.

Phonics and Phonemic Awareness

What are the basic skills students need to master before they will be able to decode words? Decoding, which is changing letter symbols into language, requires the ability to recognize letter symbols and the sounds they make. However, in order to decode, students also need to be able to hear the individual sounds in words and manipulate them. Let's examine alphabetic principle and phonemic awareness.

Alphabetic Principle

Alphabetic principle is comprehending that a relationship exists between letter symbols and spoken words, also referred to as phonics. Alphabetic principle is a foundational skill that students must master to be able to move forward as a successful reader.

To teach the alphabetic principle, teachers begin by teaching the letters and their corresponding sounds in isolation. Students engage in daily practice as new letter/sounds are gradually folded into existing knowledge. As students learn new letter-sound combinations, they should be given the opportunity to use their newly acquired skills in context through reading and writing.

Since the goal is to start students reading as quickly as possible, they should be introduced to high-frequency letters first. For example, m, n, s, t, l, a, and e are used with a higher frequency than q, x, and z.

Phonemic Awareness

While the alphabetic principle is associated with letter symbols, phonemic awareness focuses on the sounds themselves. Phonemic awareness relates to a student's ability to hear, isolate, and manipulate the sounds in words.

Teachers are tasked with teaching students how to categorize words by beginning, middle, and ending sounds. Students also need practice blending and segmenting words. Finally, students learn deletion, insertion, and substitution. The chart below outlines skills students should practice as they are developing phonemic awareness and provides examples of each phonemic awareness skills.

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