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3 Tips to Help Students Who Struggle with Blending

Blending is a critical reading skill. The term "blending" can take on 2 different meanings:

Meaning #1: The term "blending" can refer to a student’s ability to merge three sounds together and come up with a word (no alphabet letters involved - this is just done orally). Example: You say /h/ /a/ /t/, and a child says “hat.” This is a phonological awareness or phonemic awareness skill.

Meaning #2: 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.” This is a decoding skill.

Ultimately, our goal is for students to be able to blend to read new words - this is how children learn to read!

If a child is struggling, here are 3 tips to support them with blending:

Tip 1: Focus on phonological awareness first.

Let's take a minute to consider what’s required when you ask students to blend and read a word like "dot."

The reader must:

  • Recognize the alphabet letters
  • Know to read the sounds left-to-right
  • Recall and say the sounds quickly enough so as not to "forget" sounds while blending

For beginning readers, this is an lot of hard work - just to read a single word!

If a child is struggling with blending to read words, you may need to take a step back. Focus on phonological awareness by having them blend sounds, no letters involved. 

For instance, you might say:

"Let's play a mystery word game. The sounds in the word are /s/ /i/ /p/. Now you say the sounds." (The child should say /s/ /i/ /p/). "What's the mystery word?" (The student should say "sip.")

Tip 2: Leave less ‘space’ between sounds at first.

If a child is having a tough time blending sounds orally or when reading words, leave less “space” between sounds.

For example, instead of making the sounds in “run” choppy, like this: /r/ /u/ /n/, make it sound more like this: “rruuuuuunnnnn.”

Of course, if you choose words that begin with continuous sounds (a, e, f, i, l, m, n, o, r, s, u, v, z) this is easier to do.

By keeping the sounds closer together, you are already doing some of the blending work for them. This may be necessary at first for the student who struggles to blend independently. Over time, increase the space between sounds. 

Tip 3: Start with two sounds, rather than three.

We 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:

an, at, up, on, in, go

When students are ready to move onto 3-sound words, ease into the process by starting with the first two sounds of the word, then adding the third. 

Here's an example for the word “fan:”

Students blend /f/ /a/ -> “fa”

Then they add the final sound: /fa/ /n/ -> “fan”

More Blending Resources

From Sounds to Spelling is a phonics program for Kindergarten, 1st grade, and 2nd grade students that includes systematic instruction on phonological awareness, phonics, blending, decoding, high frequency words, and vocabulary. Through teaching guides and videos, the program takes the mystery out of teaching students to read and spell.

To learn more about this science-based phonics program, click here. 

An Example Lesson Plan for Teaching Vowel Teams

An Example Lesson Plan for Teaching Glued Sounds

An Example Lesson Plan for Teaching Consonant Blends