phonemic awareness assessment phonics screening

How to Assess Phonemic Awareness? Why assess it? Sample assessment of Phonemic Awareness

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What is Phonemic Awareness?

Phonemic awareness (PA) is the ability to identify, hear, and manipulate the smallest sounds of the language, which are referred to as “phonemes”.

These individual sounds, when put together in a string, form words.

For instance, the word ‘mat’ is the combination of the following three phonemes /m/ /a/ /t/.

A person who is highly-skilled in PA is able to:

  • Recognize and isolate the individual sounds in words (segment)
  • Blend a set of given phonemes to form words (blending)
  • Add/delete phonemes from words to form new words (manipulation)

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Why is Phonemic Awareness so important?

In the last few decades, there have been numerous ground-breaking scientific studies that have shown the importance of Phonemic Awareness in literacy. Phonemic awareness has been found to be the #1 predictor for future successful reading and of reading difficulty.

For instance, take a look at this extract from the meta-analysis of 1960 different studies from the National Reading Panel.

“[PA]… It improves their ability to manipulate phonemes in speech. This skill transfers and helps them learn to read and spell. PA training benefits not only word reading but also reading comprehension. PA training contributes to children’s ability to read and spell for months, if not years, after the training has ended. Effects of PA training are enhanced when children are taught how to apply PA skills to reading and writing tasks” (National Reading Panel Report, an Evidence-based assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction, 2000).

Other studies:

“The best predictor of reading difficulty in kindergarten or first grade is the inability to segment words and syllables into constituent sound units (phonemic awareness)” (Lyon, G. R., 1995. Toward a definition of dyslexia. Annals of Dyslexia, 45, 3–27).

“The ability to hear and manipulate phonemes plays a causal role in the acquisition of beginning reading skills” (Smith, Simmons, & Kame’enui, 1998).

Main takeaways about Phonemic Awareness

  • PA is a foundational skill in learning to read.
  • The lack of PA is the best predictor of reading difficulty in kindergarten and first grade.
  • PA training significantly improves reading and spelling abilities, but also has a beneficial impact on reading comprehension reading comprehension.
  • The benefits are long-lasting, and go well beyond the training period.

If you want to learn even more about Phonemic Awareness, check out this other post.

Free PA Assessment Sample   

Why assess Phonemic Awareness in struggling readers?

Unfortunately, many struggling readers lack serious Phonemic Awareness skills.

The causes behind the difficulties with PA these student present many can range from a simple lack in practice with phonemic awareness activities to phonological processing disorders.

It is worth mentioning that so PA becomes an automatic response, it has to be trained with purpose-driven activities to develop phonemic awareness, as the development of advanced PA skills does not happen naturally for most students.

Should we assess all students on Phonemic Awareness (PA)?

Ideally, yes. Phonemic Awareness should be assessed several times from the beginning of Kindergarten through First grade. In an idyllic scenario, Phonemic Awareness assessment should be given to all students three times, at the beginning of the year, at midpoint and at the end of school year. This allows identify children at risk of reading difficulty, and also check progress.

You can asses your child at home, if you suspect he/she is at risk, if you are homeschooling him/her, or if this type of assessment is not available at your kid’s school.

Below you’ll find examples of questions you can ask to assess PA. The assessment should be done one-on-one.

To download this PA Assessment Sample in pdf format, click here!
SkillInstructionsSample questionsCorrect/Incorrect Answers
Isolating wordsAsk the student to isolate one of the two words that form a compound word.Say “football” without saying “foot”
Say “popcorn” without saying “corn”
Say “meatball” without saying “ball”

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Isolating syllablesAsk the student to isolate one syllable in a two-syllable wordSay “picnic” without saying “nic”
Say “burger” without saying “bur”
Say “cactus” without saying “cac”
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Recognizing Rhymes Ask the student to identify whether the two words rhyme (have the same ending sound) or not.Cat - Hat
Sun – Moon
Dog – Frog
Cake - Ball

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Initial Sound Recognition/ IsolationAsk the student to identify the beginning sound of each word. Say the words slowly, stressing each individual sound.What sound do you hear at the beginning of the word "cat"?
What sound do you hear at the beginning of the word "dog"?
What sound do you hear at the beginning of "sun"?
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Phoneme matchingWhich words start with the same sound?Sam, sat, pop
mouse, moon, sun
log, lap, rat
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Final sound recognition/isolationWhat is the last sound in these words?What is the last sound you hear in “sat”?
What is the last sound you hear in “chip”?
What is the last sound you hear in “dog”?
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Blending soundsAsk the student to break a word into its individual sounds.What sounds do you hear in the word "pig"? (e.g., p - i - g)
What sounds do you hear in the word "run"? (e.g., r - u - n)
What sounds do you hear in the word "fish"? (e.g., f - i - sh)
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Phoneme Deletion (Initial sound)Ask the student to say a word after removing the initial sound.Say "cat" without the /k/ sound. What word do you have?
Say "fox" without the /f/ sound. What word do you have?
Say "clap" without the /k/ sound. What word do you have?

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Phoneme Deletion
(last sound)
Ask the student to say a word after removing the initial sound.Say “rain” without the /n/ sound. What word do you get?
Say “moon” without the /n/ sound. What do you get? Is it a word?
Say “pet” without the /t/ sound. What do you get?
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Phoneme substitutionAsk the student to swap one of the sounds in a word with another one.Say “log.” Change the /l/ sound in “log” to an /f/ sound.
Say “hop.” Change the /h/ sound to a /k/ sound
Say “chip”. Change the /ch/ sound for the /sh/ sound.
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What to expect?

  1. Basic phonological awareness skills, including rhyming and word/syllable isolation (kindergarten)
  2. Initial phoneme matching and initial sound recognition (towards middle of kindergarten)
  3. Final sound recognition/isolation (end of kindergarten – early first grade)
  4. Blending phonemes (end of kindergarten or beginning of first grade)
  5. Phoneme segmentation
  6. Phoneme manipulation (deletion, substitution)

Proven to Increase Reading Level in 90 Days 

Further resources and Alternative Phonemic Awareness Assessments

This is an informal assessment.

It can help you detect issues with PA awareness, pinpoint which PA skills your child/student lacks of, track progress.

For alternative PA tests, take a look at these:

Paid PA assessments:

For even more information about Phonemic Awareness, don’t forget to check out our Phonemic Awareness guide.

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