Phonological Awareness Development

What is Phonological Awareness?

Phonological Awareness is an individual's awareness of the sound or phonological structure of a spoken word (Gillon, 2004). 

The development of phonological awareness

The following is an excerpt taken from the NIPA:

  1. As children grow older they become increasingly sensitive to smaller and smaller units. They can detect and manipulate syllables at the same time as they can manipulate onset rimes, which they can do before they can detect or manipulate individual phonemes within syllables in word units (Carroll, Snowling, Hulme, & Stevenson, 2003).
  2. Children can detect similar and dissimilar before they can manipulate sounds in words and can blend phonological information before they can segment it (Anthony, Lonigan, Driscoll, Phillips, & Burgess, 2003). There is a degree of overlap (not completely linear or in stages) so children can refine skills they have acquired while learning new skills. 

Syllable level skills should be established before introducing phoneme level skills

Carroll et al. (2003) suggest that syllabic phonological awareness skills arise from, or are closely linked with with, receptive lexical knowledge, and so they should be considered part of typical linguistic, rather than metalinguistic development. This strengthens the argument that syllable level skills should be well established on school entry and before phoneme level skills are introduced.

Why is this important?

Children who enter school are entered into phoneme level literacy instruction straight away. The research indicates that if they do not have good syllable level skills, they will not be able to progress with phoneme level skills. It is crucial that syllable level skills are assessed on entry to school and support is provided at this level to children who need it. 

 Sequence of acquisition

Sequence of acquisition for typically developing children

Age (years;months)

Phonological awareness

up to 5 years of age

  • Segment or count syllables
  • Delete initial and final syllables (compound and non-compound words)
  • Identify Rhyme

up to 7 years of age

  • Identify initial and final sounds
  • Delete initial and final sounds
  • Substitute initial and final sounds
  • Generate rhyme

Source: Wilson & Katz (2009)