Phonological awareness is the ability to break words into separate sounds. A child who has phonological awareness can tell you when two words rhyme and when two words start with the same sound. Further development of phonological awareness will allow the child to tell you when two words end with the same sound. For example, they can tell you that “bat” and “sit” end with the same sound but “bat” and “sad” do not end with the same sound.
Phonological awareness is a broad term that includes phonemic awareness. In addition, to phonemes, phonological awareness activities can involve work with rhymes, words, syllables, and onsets and rimes.
The key to the process of learning to read is the ability to identify the different sounds that make words and to associate these sounds with written words. In order to learn to read, a child must be aware of phonemes. A phoneme is the smallest functional unit of sound. For example, the word cat contains three distinctly different sounds. There are 44 phonemes in the English language, including letter combinations such as /th/.
In addition to identifying these sounds, children must also be able to manipulate them. Word play involving segmenting words into their constituent sounds, rhyming words, and blending sounds to make words is also essential to the reading process. The ability to identify and manipulate the sounds of language is called phonological awareness. There are five levels of phonological awareness ranging from an awareness of rhyme to being able to switch or substitute the components in a word.
Children generally begin to show initial phonological awareness when they demonstrate an appreciation of rhyme and alliteration. For many children, this begins very early in the course of their language development and is likely facilitated by being read to from books that are based on rhyme or alliteration.