When it comes to learning how to read, the common wisdom is to teach phonemic awareness skills first, then phonics. This is because phonemic awareness is a critical pre-reading skill.
Phonemic awareness helps kids understand the sound structure of the English language in order to read printed text. Students with proficient phonemic awareness skills can hear and identify letter sounds within words. They understand that spoken words are composed of individual and a blend of sound parts (i.e., phonemes). And, they use phonemes (i.e., units of sounds) to sound out words to read-out aloud.
Young children that do not have strong skills in phonemic awareness do struggle to learn to read and spell. This is because many of them have not been taught how to isolate and blend sounds into word parts and words to learn to read and spell.
The only way to build-up students phoneme awareness is by teaching them the alphabet and explaining how each letter represents one or more sounds. For example, the letter “A” has three possible sounds such as: aaa, ah, or ae. By helping a child develop an ear for each corresponding sound a letter produces, s/he will become a proficient reader and speller.
Reading is not an easy skill for young children to develop. The best way for them to acquire this skill is by understanding phonemes. If a child can take words apart auditory and then put them back together over and over again; then reading mastery will occur.