How to Teach Blending Sounds to Read Words

How to Teach Blending Sounds to Read Words

Do you have kids in your classroom (or at home) who are learning letter-sounds and segmenting their words, but once they try and attack an unknown word, things fall apart?

Do you have kids who can’t get past the first or second sound of a word?

If you’ve got kids with blending problems, you’re in the right place!

I’m going to show you how one super easy activity and a straightforward decoding strategy can help move the needle with kids who have blending problems.

{To watch a video where I explain how you can teach blending sounds to read words, hit play below or continue reading for a detailed overview}

Switch It & Read It: The Perfect Blending Duo

One of the core activities we teach here at Reading Simplified is Switch It. This activity teaches everything from phonemic segmentation to phonemic manipulation, letter-sound knowledge, the alphabetic principle, left to right tracking, decoding and spelling.

As you can see, Switch It teaches multiple reading sub-skills, but there’s still something missing because Switch It doesn’t solve the blending problem. And this is where the activity, Read It, comes to the rescue!

Read It teaches a decoding strategy I like to call Blend As You Read. With Switch It, we almost always give students the word. They don’t need to worry about blending the sounds to make a new word.

However, it’s important to keep moving them along because they NEED to learn the skill of being able to see a set of letters and make a word out of it and this is precisely what the Blend As You Read Strategy teaches.

But before we get into the Blend As You Read approach, let’s take a look at what mainstream reading programs teaches us and why it doesn’t always work for every student.

How NOT to Teach Blending: Mainstream Approaches to Blending Problems

There are two mainstream approaches to teaching blending sounds to kids. Below, I explain what these approaches are and why they don’t work for every student.

1. The “Sound, Sound, Sound = Word” Approach 

What is it?

The first mainstream approach to teach blending sounds to students is the sound, sound, sound, word approach. It’s exactly how it sounds and teaches kids to say each sound of a word one by one before finishing with the whole word at the end.

Why is it a problem?

Although this approach works for many students, it doesn’t work for everyone. The kids who are most likely to struggle with this teaching method are kids with a low literacy background, those who are new to the English language and kids with weak phonological memory.

Solution:

Instead of asking kids with a weak memory system to remember each sound individually, I encourage you to dump the sound, sound, sound, word approach and choose the Blend As You Read approach.

2. Onset Rime

What is it?

The onset rime technique puts the onset of a word, (e.g., the “w” in wet) with the rime, which is the remaining letters of a word such as “et” in wet.

Why is it a problem?

This mainstream approach works for around 70% of students, but what about the remaining 30%?

Many kids struggle with this method because they have a blending problem that isn’t being catered to. What you’ll usually find is that some kids may be able to read all the sounds in the word “black,” but when they put it together, they say “back.”

Solution:

The easy solution is to increase phonological awareness by encouraging kids to put the sounds together as they go rather than waiting until the very end to do so.

How to Teach Blending Sounds to Read Words

Teaching the Blend As You Read Approach

Putting the sounds together as you go is key to solving blending problems.

The Blend As You Read strategy is simple, but it makes a BIG difference for many kids.

Here’s a brief overview of the steps of the Blend As You Read strategy:

Step 1 

The teacher writes the word on a board for everyone to see. Or, if you’re working with slightly more advanced students, you can give each student a different word card. Then, you ask the student to read the word.

However, you don’t want to reveal the entire word at once because you want the students to focus on the sounds and blend them as they go. To do this, take a card and cover the last letter (or last few letters) of the word and ask the student to put the first two sounds together. In the beginning, you may need to model it for them first and then ask them to copy you.

Step 2 

Each student will now write the word on their own boards and say the sound as they go. Doing this helps to reinforce letter-sound names and how the code works.

Research has shown that when kids write and say the sounds, it’s the FASTEST way to learn, so I really recommend it!

Step 3 

The final step is to play the “erase game,” which asks the students to erase the word and say each sound as the erase it to reinforce again what they’ve learned.

If you’d like to see an example of the Blend As You Read approach in action, here’s a short video sample of a student practicing the strategy:

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