Phonological awareness sounds like knowing where you put your cell phone. In fact, it’s a foundational skill in reading, albeit more easily acquired by typical learners. For the child with reading disabilities, phonological skills must be taught systematically because dyslexia is a language-based disorder (see the International Dyslexia Association website for more information).
Phonological awareness is a broad category that includes identifying and manipulating spoken language, from words to syllables to phonemes (individual sounds). At the sentence level, students distinguish between words in a phrase or sentence. “She borrows my pencil” has four words (not six, when a student may be confusing syllables with discreet words). At the word level, students identify whether words are the same or different and recognize and produce rhyme. At the syllable level, students blend syllables (starting with compound words and progressing to multi-syllabic words), segment syllables (the same progression of complexity as blending), and delete syllables (same progression of complexity).
That leads us to phonemic awareness, which refers to the manipulation of individual sounds, of which there are 44 in conventional English (and several more in the Southern US!). A basic phonemic awareness skill is blending an onset and rime (a rime is a vowel and any consonants that come after it, more popularly called a “word family”). In my experience, this is a skill that most teachers emphasize and is often mastered by dyslexic students before they begin specialized instruction. However, there are nine other skills relating to phonemic awareness; depending upon the severity of their disorder, dyslexic students may need systematic instruction through all of these skills. Phonemic awareness instruction is often improved by the use of visual cues (such as blocks or tapping the sounds using fingers). Phonemic skills instruction is not phonics instruction. Phonemic awareness is sound manipulation, whereas phonics includes the use of letter-sound associations and spelling patterns.