How to Teach Blending: 5 Tips for Success
Are your students struggling with blending?
Or are you looking for some new, fun ideas to practice blending?
Or maybe you’re not sure how to teach blending at all?!
You’re in the right place! Today’s post has 5 tips to help your students learn to blend.
Blending is a super-important reading skill, and these strategies will help your students become stronger readers!
Before we get started, let’s get clear on what blending is.
Blending can refer to a student’s ability to merge three sounds together and come up with a word (no alphabet letters involved). Example: You say /h/ /a/ /t/, and a child says “hat.”
Blending can also refer to a student’s ability to say each sound in a written word and blend the sounds together. Example: A child sees the word “gum” and says “/g/ /u/ /m/ — gum.”
Tip #1: Focus on phonological awareness first.
Let’s think about what’s required when we give students a word (like “dot”) and ask them to blend and read it.
The reader must:
- Recognize the alphabet letters
- Remember to read the sounds left-to-right
- Recall and say the sounds quickly enough so as not to distract from the blending
- Remember all 3+ sounds in order to blend them together and read the complete word
This stuff is all easy for us because we’re adults! But for beginning readers, that’s not the case. A lot of brainwork is required to read even a simple CVC word.
If a child is struggling with blending to read, I want to make sure that their ability to blend sounds (no print letters involved!) is really solidified.
This means that we do a LOT of phonological awareness practice!
I’ll say the sounds in a word (like /t/ /o/ /p/) and the child has to say the word (“top”). (If this is still too difficult, even without letters involved, see Tips #4 and 5.)
Tip #2: Try practicing with and without visuals.
Visuals and manipulatives can be a big help for students who are learning to blend. I like to practice both with and without visuals. If a child is really struggling, I might try a few different visuals to figure out what works best! Here are a few examples:
Visual #1 – Elkonin or sound boxes
You may have heard of these before! Students touch each box as they say a sound in a word, and then blend the sounds together. You can also have students push a counter into each box to blend.
These boxes can also be used to work on segmenting (the opposite of blending).
Visual #2 – Dots & arrow
This is one I created to help my students. They touch a dot as they say each sound, and then slide their finger along the arrow to blend.
Visual #3 – Color-coded fingerprints
This is another one I created to help my students. They know to start on the green square because “green means go.”
There are fingerprints that they touch each time they say a sound.
(Note: These visuals are only currently available to members of my Kindergarten Literacy Club. Members can find them in the “Intervention Central” section.)
Tip #3: Incorporate movement!
I’ve learned a few different ways to have students practice blending. The first one is ideal for Kindergarten students (or any students who don’t have great fine motor control yet).
Strategy #1 (great for 3-sound words): Have the student extend one arm. As they say one sound, they touch their shoulder with their other hand. As they say the next sound, they touch their elbow with one hand. As they say the last sound, they touch their wrist.
/m/ (touch shoulder)
/u/ (touch elbow)
/g/ (touch wrist)
Strategy #2: Teach students to blend on the fingers of their non-dominant hand. They touch their thumb to their index finger as they say one sound, their thumb to their middle finger as they say another sound, and their thumb to their ring finger as they say another sound. (You can also involve the pinky for 4-sound words.)
See how to do it in this very basic video:
Tip #4: Leave less “space” between sounds at first.
If a child is having a tough time with blending sounds (phonological awareness), leave less “space” between sounds.
For example, instead of making the sounds in “man” choppy, like this: /m/ /a/ /n/, make it sound more like this: “mmmmaaaaannnnn.”
Of course, with some sounds (the continuous sounds – a, e, f, i, l, m, n, o, r, s, u, v, z) this is easier to do than others.
Tip #5: Start with 2 sounds rather than 3.
I tend to jump right to CVC words when having students practice blending. However, whether you’re practicing phonological awareness or actually reading words, you can always start with 2-sound words, like…
Also, when you move onto 3-sound words, have them blend two sounds together first, then add the third.
Like this, for the word “fan:”
/f/ /a/ -> “fa”
/fa/ /n/ -> “fan”
Start small, and then build from there!
If this post was helpful to you, you might also like this one (and look for the freebie in it!):
Blevins, W. (2017). A Fresh Look at Phonics, Grades K-2. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.