Your student is in Kindergarten. He knows letter sounds. Yet, when he tries to string letters together to form a word, he forgets the first or middle sound. “H-aaaa-t… um does that say hit?” he says. Sounding out words is a critical early reading skill. Some kids really struggle to blend sounds. If a child struggles with blending, then he can’t read words or books. How do you help these kids?
Sounding out words tips:
Teach you child to hold continuous sounds
First, make sure you taught letter sounds correctly.
Kindergartners need to hold continuous letter sounds. These are sounds you can drag out without any sound distortion. For example, you can elongate /s/ as ssssss without changing the sound in any way. Kindergartners should learn to hold continuous sounds for about 3 seconds. This may seem like a long time, but it will help them blend sounds to form words. Here are all the continuous sounds: short vowels: a, e, i, o, u and consonants: f, l, m, n, r, s, v, z.
Teach your child to clip stop sounds
In addition, Kindergartners need to clip stop letter sounds. These are sounds that you must say rapidly, as not to add an /uh/ at the end. For example, teach your Kindergartner to say /c/ not /cuh/, /p/ not /puh/ and /g/ not /guh/. If your student clips stop sounds (and eliminates that uh), he will be prepared for sounding out words.
For example, if you taught clip sounds correctly, for dog, he’ll say “d-ooooo-g.” In contrast, if you taught clip sounds incorrectly, he’ll say, “duh-oooo-guh.” Duhoguh can be read as dug, dug a, or dog, which will confuse the child. So make sure he clips those stop sounds. Here are some other stop sounds: b, c, d, g, h, j, k, p, q, t, w, x, y.
Teach kids to hold continuous sounds and clip stop sounds so they can transition to sounding out words.
Do (No Text) Oral Blending Activities
Every research-based reading curriculum has blending phonemic awareness activities. Say sounds slowly. See if your child can string the sounds together to say the word. Pick short vowel words to begin like: Sam, man, met, can, him, red, pup, run…etc.
TEACHER: I’m going to say a word slowly. You string the sounds together to form a word. SSSSSSaaaaaammmmmm… What’s the word?”
Do about 10-20 words per lesson. Once your student has mastered sounding out words, you can do about 10 words per lesson. If your student has trouble, blending try to do about 20 words per lesson.
Helping Kids Blend
Let’s say your student is not able to blend the words in the above activity. What do you do? Fortunately, there is still a handy trick you can use.
Have him say the sounds with you. When phonemic awareness activities aren’t enough to get your student blending, try focusing on your student’s breath. He should breathe out the ENTIRE time he says the sounds. Tell your student:
“Take a deep breath in. As you say the sounds, breathe out. Don’t pause your breath or breath more than once. Pretend you are a singer. It should look like this.
[Teacher takes a big breath in, exaggerating the fact that her chest is expanding outward as her lungs fill with oxygen. As teacher says sounds, she breathes out.] SSSSSSSSSaaaaaaaaaammmmmmmm. Together. [Teacher and student take big breaths and breath out as they say the sounds.] SSSSSSSSSaaaaaaaaammmmm. On your own. [Student takes deep breath in and breathes out as he says the sounds.] SSSSSSSaaaaammmmm… Sam! ”
Do this activity with your student every day with about 20 short vowel words. You are both opera singers elongating vowels and continuous sounds. You breathe out the ENTIRE time you say the sounds. When your student tries to blend on his own, you watch his breath and make sure he’s breathing out the ENTIRE time he says the sounds.
This activity has worked with many of my struggling readers that initially could not blend. It may take a handful of lessons. Keep at it.
Avoid Teaching Word Families
Word families are not part of research-based instruction. Teaching them will harm the 30% of kids who really need science-based teaching methods. This includes dyslexic kids and other kids who struggle with phonemic awareness. Here’s the thing: word families appear to be easier to teach and learn. On the surface, they seem to help, so it can be tempting to use them. Yet, word family instruction has been proven ineffective in the reading research.
Essentially, word families give kids half the answer, without encouraging them to engage in the real productive work of blending. Just learn -ap and the kid will read cap, map, tap…etc. so the story goes. Yet, from Cognitive Science we have learned that our brains rip phonemes apart. We don’t read cap as c-ap. We read cap as c-a-p. As an adult, our brains just rapidly string the sounds together so we have no idea we’re analyzing 3 distinct sounds.
“An entire series of mental and cerebral operations must occur before a word can be decoded. Our brain takes each string apart, then recomposes it into a hierarchy of letters, bigrams, syllables, and morphemes. Effortless reading simply serves to show that these decomposition and recomposition stages have become entirely automatic and unconscious” (From Reading in the Brain by Stanislas Dehaene, p. 219).
When you do phonemic awareness activities, teach your child to blend all of the sounds in the word. If the word has 3 distinct sounds (as in hat), have him blend 3 distinct sounds. This will pay off in the future. Sounding out words is a critical skill and it’s worth putting in the effort now.
Don’t wait. Teach phonemic awareness skills right when kids start kindergarten.
Kids usually like phonemic awareness activities. There’s no text. Many feel that the oral blending activities are less intimidating than reading words on the page. Phonemic awareness activities provide a gentle way to begin reading instruction.
Start doing phonemic awareness activities right when kids start Kindergarten. There’s no reason to wait. Phonemic awareness is a skill that can be improved upon.
After your child practices sounding out words, she is ready to start reading our printable phonics books.