A “phoneme” is the smallest unit of speech sound. For example, the word pan has three letters and three phonemes (p/a/n). The word sheep has five letters but just three sounds, or phonemes (sh/ee/p).
Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate the individual sounds – phonemes – in spoken words. This is a critical stage in a child’s literacy development.
A child has phonemic awareness when the child can demonstrate an awareness of individual phonemes and can manipulate them in different ways. We see evidence of this important milestone when children can rhyme one word with another (pan - fan), list words that begin with the same sound (bus, boy, bye) or end with the same sound (ship, jeep, and shop), break words into individual phonemes, and blend phonemes together to make a familiar word.