Kennedy had to memorize consonant blends for school. The reading curriculum at school suggested that teaching consonant blends was synonymous with memorizing them. As a result, Kennedy memorized the long list of consonant blends that were sent home:
cr, cl, dr, fl, fr, br, bl, gr, gl, nd, ng, nt, pr, pl, sc, sk, sl, scr, spl, sw, tw, tr, st, spr, ask, ank, wr, sn, sm, thr, shr, mp
Kennedy’s mom Lisa was overwhelmed when she received the extensive list of blends. It took Kennedy a long time to master the 5 short vowels. “How is Kennedy going to memorize over 30 blends?” Lisa wondered. Yet, as every persistent mom would, Lisa helped Kennedy memorize the blends every day after school.
Teaching consonant blends as units to be memorized can slow reading progress
Though Kennedy had memorized many of the blends, Kennedy’s mom wasn’t seeing any reading progress. When the blends were in a word, Kennedy could not identify the blend. For “splat” Kennedy said, “sat.” For “thrash” Kennedy said “that.” “What is going on?” Lisa thought. Why didn’t all that teaching consonant blends work translate into reading progress?
Contrary to what school curriculum’s suggest, teaching consonant blends as one unit can stall reading progress for struggling readers. Why?
Teaching blends as units is not phonics
Whole language, as I’ve said before, wins first prize in causing the most epic reading failure in the US. Whole language is a method of teaching reading that suggests books should be guessable with pictures that basically tell the student what to say. This method also encourages kids to memorize whole words rather than units of sound. Since their failure was so jaw dropping, they’ve had to claim at least some phonics in their curriculum’s. They recommend teaching consonant blends as whole units to appease parents and phonics advocates.
Yet, teaching consonant blends as whole units is the classic bait and switch. You think you’re getting phonics. Well, you’re actually getting a descendant of whole language, a repackaged descendant, but a child of whole language nonetheless.
Consonant blends do not make one sound, they make 2-3 sounds
Consonant blends should not be put on flashcards, posters…etc. There is no need to memorize consonant blends. Why? Consonant blends make 2-3 sounds. For example, the consonant blend “cr” makes two sounds: the letter sound /c/ and the letter sound /r/. If your student already knows letter sounds (which they should if you’re starting on blends), then they already have the tools to read consonant blends. They just say consonant blends sound-by-sound. For example, if a student reads “crash,” they say “crrrraaaash.” They should not say “cr-a-sh.” Teach your student to view blends as a series of letter sounds.
If a student reads “stomp,” they say: sss t ooo mmm p
Teaching consonant blends requires lessons that encourage sound-by-sound reading
If you’re teaching consonant blends, throw away the consonant blend flashcards. Encourage your student to read blends sound-by-sound. They know letter sounds. Therefore, they can read blends. Memorizing blends as units places a huge burden on a student’s visual memory. If a student is a struggling reader, their visual memory might already be overloaded. Why force them to memorize over thirty more units? In the learning how to read process, teachers need to be very careful about what they’re asking kids to memorize. There are 44 English phonemes. And tons of exceptions. That’s hard enough to memorize. Why make up thirty more things to memorize?
The only consonant blends worth teaching
Teach “dr” and “tr.” You can put these two on flashcards. They break the phonetic code. “dr” has a /j/ sound. “Tr” has a /ch/ sound. Place ONLY these two units on flashcards.
Consonant blends words
If you want to create a consonant blends lesson, focus on words with short vowels. When teaching consonant blends, students have mastered short vowel words and consonant digraph words. Here are some sample words to use:
splash, thrash, spot, slid, slip, flop, prop, trunk, sand, bend, land, gasp, last, fact, brim, frost, stop, fond, desk, crust, plum, slump, track, champ, chimp, staff, snap, melt, grip
Consonant blends books
Currently, Reading Elephant offers short vowel books. Consonant digraph will be out soon. Here’s the order in which we will teach the sounds:
1) short vowels
2) consonant digraphs (sh, th, ch, _tch, _ng…etc.)
3) blends (do not need to be memorized; the student just needs practice)
4) long vowel digraphs
If you’d like more information on teaching consonant blends, check out: Consonant Blends Words.