A reader sent us these questions about phonics and phonological awareness:

What is phonics? Is it not sounding out words? How does this differ from phonological awareness?

I get this question frequently. First, let me define phonics:

Phonics is the method of teaching beginning readers to connect the sounds of spoken language with letters or a group of letters and yes, part of phonics instruction involves the teaching of children to blend the sounds of letters together to form words (technically referred to as decoding skills).

Phonics instruction typically starts with letters first and children are taught the sounds that those letters "stand for" or "make".

It is NOT the same thing as phonological awareness. The terms are not interchangeable.

Phonological Awareness is the awareness of sounds only! It is void of print. No letters are introduced, no sound to symbol correspondence is taught.

I like to use the following example.

Phonics involves the eyes AND ears. Phonological awareness involves just the ears. You can have phonological awareness without phonics but you cannot have phonics without phonological awareness.

Phonological awareness skills are prerequisite skills for phonics!

Katie and I both think it is best to start with teaching sounds first; teaching children to hear, identify and manipulate the sounds in our language. Of course, the sooner you can establish the Alphabetic Principle the better but good phonological awareness skills help children to make sound letter connections more readily.

Skilled reading teachers can explicitly teach both phonological awareness and phonics skills (alphabetic principle) almost simultaneously in their instruction.

Thanks for the questions. Hope this information helps.
- Steve

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