Phonetic, Phonemic; Tomāto, Tomȯto

“Potāto, Potȯto; tomāto, tomȯto
Let’s call the whole thing off”

When speaking about phonetic versus phonemic, things are not as simple as this song.  Phonemic and phonetic are often used interchangeably when discussing skills an emerging reader has.  Although these two words are connected, they are two different aspects of learning to read.

phonemic awareness vs phonics blog

My interpretation of the two terms:

Phonemic awareness is a student’s understanding that individual sounds make up words.  Phonemic awareness is an auditory skill!  Although there are 26 letters in the alphabet, there are 43 distinct phonemes (18 vowel, 25 consonant).  The minute your lesson involves printed word, it becomes a lesson of phonological awareness (phonetics).

Phonological awareness is a student’s understanding that individual sounds in words are associated with a specific letter (grapheme).  A student understands that words can be segmented into syllables, onsets and rimes, and letter sounds.  They use their knowledge of phonemes to phonetically spell during writing, chunk words while decoding during reading, etc.

Phonemic awareness falls under phonological awareness, phonological awareness is part of phonology, etc.  If you really want to blow your mind – read this The Phive Phones of Reading.

Confused yet?  The differentiation between the terms is not necessary when teaching – the concepts are more often than not taught simultaneously.  Below is a great table I found from Literacy Resources, Inc.

Phonemic Awareness Phonics
Main focus is on phonemes / sounds Main focus is on graphemes / letters and their corresponding sounds
Deals with spoken language Deals with written language / print
Mostly auditory Both visual and auditory
Students work with manipulating sounds and sounds in words Students work with reading and writing letters according to their sounds, spelling patterns, and phonological structure

The times that I find the differentiation important, is when I am working with struggling readers.  This year, I have been thinking about it a lot.  When assessing a student in my class, I found that she did not identify some letters just by looking at them.  If I prompted her with the letter sound, she would then identify the letter correctly. For example:  I hold up T. She stares blankly. I say /t/. She says T.  However, the reverse was not always true.  I could ask, “What does T say?” and receive a blank stare.  To me, this was a conundrum so I asked colleagues and did some research.  I wanted to find activities to add to the poems, rhymes, songs, chants, and games I was already doing.

I’ve compiled some great resources for you – resources I’ve actually tried.  I’m happy to report my student is making great progress with both phonemic and phonological awareness.

Phonemic Awareness activities – Remember this is an auditory skill:

Amazing presentation from the 2008 Reading First conference – Info and activities:

Patti’s Electronic Classroom (some typos on the website, but you’ll get the gist of the activities):

Michigan Learning Fundamentals: Pages 6-14

Always love Reading Rockets:

Sing a Song of Poetry, Fountas and Pinnell (book for purchase):

Phonological Awareness/Phonics activities:

Reading Rockets breaks down the development of phonological awareness:

PBS Kids:

Michigan Learning Fundamentals: Pages 14-22

Florida Center for Reading Research:

Fountas and Pinnell Phonological Awareness Assessment:

Letters, Words, and How They Work – Fountas and Pinnell (book to purchase) :



Filed under Literacy, Reading Workshop

3 responses to “Phonetic, Phonemic; Tomāto, Tomȯto

  1. Faige

    Great post. Terrific links and resources.

  2. You’re right. So many people mix this up. Someone told me that Phonemic Awareness can be done blindfolded: whereas Phonics cannot. That has helped me remember it ever since.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s