Reading / Blending / Speaking Phonics
Blending is the skill of being able to combine sounds together to make words. This means that students are able to identify the different sounds in words and correctly pronounce new words by recognizing letter and sound patterns.
We teach the students to learn and access individual sounds so they will be able to confidently say words smoothly without pausing between sounds. They can break down the individual sounds and blend these together to create a word. When teaching our students, we not only use real words but also made up words to help them to focus on the whole word sound, and not just remember vocabulary.
This will help them with a future reading of new vocabulary as they can remember the patterns in the pronunciation of sounds in words.
This enables students to speak fluently using the English language and become competent readers. The students learn codes relating to the sounds in words, in story books in class. These stories show the coding above words and then once these have been learned the coding in our reading books is slowly removed until the students are able to read proficiently and independently without it.
It is important to teach students these skills when reading because some students will struggle with being able to blend sounds together. By practicing the I Can Read method when reading, we are helping students to read words without making them sound “choppy” or pausing at the wrong times when they are speaking. Students who don’t learn the blending method may find it easy to correctly pronounce short words which they have learned how to pronounce, but when it comes to reading longer words when they are expanding their vocabulary they may have difficulty being able to say and read the words correctly. These students will then likely make many more errors when reading and spelling new words.
To avoid problems with pronunciation it is important for students to learn how to blend words from when they start reading and writing in English. This allows them to learn and develop the skills they need and will avoid them from learning bad habits such as remembering words using incorrect pronunciation
Why do you need to teach students to blend sounds together?
While many students pick up smooth blending easily and automatically, others do not acquire this vital skill on their own and need specific work to master blending. Difficulties blending are usually evident as ‘choppy sounding out’.When a child separates the individual sounds this inability to blend smoothly can create a hurdle that blocks reading development. If the student is chopping sounds apart they often are not able to put all the sounds together and ‘smoothly’ say the word. The student either forgets the individual sounds by the time they get to the end of the word or is unable to combine the segmented sounds into a word. Students who struggle with smooth blending often know the sounds in isolation but are unable to ‘hook’ the sounds together. They know the individual sounds but because they do not ‘hook them together’ they forget all the sounds and are unable to read the fluid word. Students who lack blending skills may initially get by with short words but quickly run into trouble with longer words containing four or more sounds. When a child does not know how to blend sounds together they make numerous errors and face difficulty with beginning reading. Correct phonology processing requires smooth blending.
Blending is a skill easily overlooked. As proficient readers, we already ‘know’ the entire word and can easily break sounds apart and effortlessly put the word together again. Since it is effortless for us we often fail to recognize the difficulty beginners face in combining individual sounds to form words. Beginner readers do not ‘know’ the end result (the word). Therefore, choppy segmenting of sounds can prevent them from being able to combine sounds together and form the word.
To avoid potential difficulty it is important to directly teach smooth blending skills from the beginning. The student needs to automatically engrain the skill of smooth blending. Also remember, it is always easier to develop correct techniques in the initial stages than try to ‘undo’ engrained bad habits of ‘choppy’ ‘segmented’ sounding out. Take the time to develop smooth blending from the very beginning.
How Do I teach students to blend sounds smoothly?
From the very beginning, directly teach the child or student to smoothly combine sounds. Do not let the child ‘chop’ sounds apart. Have the child practice smooth blending. Never pause between individual sounds. Teach smooth blending skills from the beginning and specifically work on this skill with any student that has difficulty blending smoothly.
Smooth blending can be directly taught with several simple techniques:
·First, the parent or teacher needs to always demonstrate correct blending skills! Never demonstrate choppy segmenting. Pay attention to how you demonstrate sounding out! Many parents and teachers inadvertently demonstrate choppy or segmented sounding out without realizing the child may be picking up incorrect techniques. Always keep sounds hooked together smoothly. If the child does not remember an individual ‘sound’ you can point to the individual sound and say the sound in isolation. However, instead of chopping all the sounds in the word apart go back and have the child ‘hook all the sounds together’ when they sound out.
·Explain blending to the child in understandable terms. Using age-appropriate terminology to explain ‘smooth blending’ of sounds.Blending can be explained as ‘keeping sounds hooked together’ or not ‘chopping up’ the sounds. For younger children who like trains, you can make an analogy to train cars coupled together. When the train cars come ‘unhooked’ the train falls apart. Words are the same way, when we ‘unhook’ the sounds the word ‘falls apart’. For older students, the straightforward explanation of ‘smooth blending’ is generally adequate. Use whatever terms you wish, just be sure the student understands they need to keep sounds hooked together so the word does not ‘fall apart’.
· Have the child ‘take a breath’ before starting to sound out a word. This intentional inhaling before starting a word helps the child get through the word before they have to pause and take a breath. This conscious reminder and effort to ‘take a breath’ before starting to sound out a word is a temporary step to help the child develop blending. After they develop smooth blending skills, this deliberate breath is no longer necessary.
· Make sure the child pronounces the sounds correctly. When ‘slowing’ down and ‘stretching out’ the word when sounding out be sure the child does not distort any sounds. Some sounds can be stretched out (such as m, f, s, a, i, o, e, l, n, r, v). Other sounds can not be slowed down (the ‘fast’ sounds b, d, t, k, g, p, ch) and must be hooked quickly to the next sound. If you slow these sounds down you end up distorting the sound (for example /t/ as /tuh/or /k/ as /Kuh/. A few sounds are harder to say (h can be one of the trickiest) and need to practice.
·If a student is having trouble blending sounds, have the child SING as they sound out the word. When you sing the sounds (carry a tune) it is impossible to segment sounds. I would like to thank my friend Sally for sharing this highly effective technique with me. This ‘singing’ the word is fabulously effective with the students who struggle with blending. The singing helps the child learn to smoothly ‘hook sounds together’. Once the child has developed blending skills, they no longer need to ‘sing’ the words. However, singing is one of the most effective tools for teaching smooth blending.
· If the child is separating sounds instead of smoothly blending sounds together, stop the child immediately. Don’t let the child practice incorrect skills! Remind him to keep the sounds together and have him take a breath and sound out the word again or sing as he sounds out. If needed explain and demonstrate; say something similar to “listen to how we keep the sounds together without stopping when we sound out”. If the child can not blend STOP and work on oral blending activities until he acquires this essential skill. It is essential to develop smooth blending in the beginning. Remember, habits are harder to break. Stop and teach. Help the child learn and practice correctly!
- Also, remember necessary reading skills are not isolated tasks. The fundamental skills are interrelated. Smooth blending is related to automatic knowledge of the code. If knowledge of the phonemic code is not automatic and direct, the student often has to pause before they recall the sound resulting in ‘choppy’ sounding out. If the student is pausing because they don’t automatically know the sound, they need to do some direct practice of the print=sound code in isolation. This provides additional support for a systematic presentation where the child practices reading decodable text. If the child is trying to sound out words that contain sounds they do not know, they will have to pause and think and this may hamper the development of smooth blending skills.
·For young children who lack blending skills, you can use oral sound blending activities to practice and develop smooth blending skills. Tell your child you are going to play some fun sound games. Say “First I will say some sounds slowly. Then you say the same sounds slowly by yourself and then say them at regular speed. Let me show you how we are going to do this” Always DEMONSTRATE as instructions are often not understood by children
For this blending skill development activity, use simple single-syllable words. Begin with sounds that can be ‘stretched’ out and avoid the ‘fast’ blended consonant combinations until the child first masters basic blending.
Start simple and build skills. If the child has difficulty with these oral exercises, practice with the child. Demonstrate how to stretch out sounds keeping the sounds hooked together. Have the child practice stretching words out (saying words slowly) and then saying the words at regular speed. Once again, demonstration and practice are highly effective in helping the child learn. If necessary the child can also ‘sing’ the words in these exercises to help develop blending.