Let’s explore how to teach blending individual sounds and word-building skills in kindergarten. Here are some great instructional routines to build students’ phonological awareness.
When you think of teaching phonics in kindergarten, you probably think about letter-sound relationship. It is important for us to realize, however, that phonics is a little more than just that. Yes, we want our students to understand that sounds have letters to represent them on paper; but we also want students to have oral blending skills to read a whole word. Furthermore, we want students to build those unknown words and understand their meaning. This is part of what makes successful readers. With instructional routines in place, we can effectively teach phonics to young children.
Phonics Instructional Routines
Effective instructional routines are powerful tools. I want to focus on two instructional routines – blending and word building – that you can use during whole group or small group instruction. The Science of Reading based ideas in this blog post are meant to guide and offer support in your phonics instruction.
How to Teach Blending Letter Sounds
Blending sounds should be done daily within a kindergarten classroom. This is how we build a strong foundation in each young student. “Research shows that teachers who spend larger than average amounts of time on blending – modeling blending and providing loads of practice blending words in isolation and in context – achieve great student gains.” (Haddock, 1978; Rosenshine & Stevens, 1984) Students are well on their way to becoming successful readers when they can look at unfamiliar words and blend the separate sounds in order to say the correct word.
Did you know that blending can and should start super early in kindergarten? It is such an important skill! Students do not need to know all of their letters and sounds before they practice blending. For example, perhaps you’ve introduced n, m, l, r, i, a, t. With just those consonants and vowels, students can begin blending sounds to make short words. (mat, rat, lit, tan)
Wiley Blevins tells us that when students are starting to blend words, it is best to start with continuous sounds. These are sounds students can stretch without distortion. Once students have a better understanding of blending, which will come quickly, you can add stop sounds such as /b/, /k/, and /d/.
Let’s look at two different ways to practice blending with your early learners
Cumulative Blending or Final Blending
Cumulative blending and final blending are interchangeable. In this type of blending, you blend one sound at a time. Picture this… you are working with a student on blending simple CVC words. Let’s say sat, and by the time you get to the letter t, that little sweetie has forgotten the sound that s makes. Oy! I have experienced this SO MANY TIMES! This is where cumulative blending can help!
Using letter tiles or magnetic letters, spell the word in front of your student but leave a good amount of space between each of the letters. Let’s use the word sat as an example again. I would point to the individual letters, s and a, while pronouncing each sound. Then, slide my finger under the first two letters as I blend those sounds. Physically push s and a together and say the sound and then point and say the last sound, /t/. Push the t next to the others and slide your finger under as you blend all the sounds together. Finally, point and read the word from left to right.
Cumulative blending or final blending is the best way to teach your students during the first few weeks.
Continuous Blending or Successive Blending
This is the blending routine that we are probably all most familiar with and you will want to use this form of blending for the bulk of your phonics instruction. We show students a written word and blend the sounds together from left to right, holding each sound as we move to the next letter. You do not pause between the different sounds.
When your students are ready for continuous blending, make sure you are giving students opportunities to decode words in connected text, not just in isolation. This is where your young readers will truly start developing fluent reading. If you are in need of decodable texts for your students, be sure to check out these decodable readers here:
How to Teach Word-Building with Word Chains
Word building activities are the next step for strengthening your students’ phonics and phonemic awareness skills. There are also two types of word building routines that can be used during whole group or small group instruction. You can use both to successfully meet the various needs within your classroom.
Word Building: What is the new word?
In this type of word building, you provide a little extra support. Using some sort of visual representation (magnetic letters, letter cards, or letter tiles), you would say, “Use the letters s, t, a, to spell your first word.” “What is the word?” You then use substitution to direct students to create new words. i.e., “Now change the s to h”.
Hands-on activities are the best way for students to practice building and reading words. Here students are using our blending cards to build -et words.
For lesson plans, blending cards, and printable resources for teaching phonics in kindergarten and first grade, check out our phonics curriculum:
Word Building: What will you change?
This word building routine is a little more complex which works well for your students that need a bit of a challenge. Instead of giving the letters, you simply ask the students which letters they need to spell the word. Then, instead of providing the letter to change out in order to make a new word, you just give them the new word to make. “Now make it say “hat”.
For this routine to be effective, students need an understanding of phoneme manipulation. Meaning how to segment, delete and substitute sounds. Changing out the beginning consonant may be a simple task for some. Here are ways you can increase the complexity:
- Words that change the beginning and ending consonant
- Words that change the vowel sound
- Words that change the beginning consonant to a blend
- Words that change the beginning consonant to a digraph
- Changing CVC words to CVCe words.
This type of word building is a great way for students to show their understanding of letter-sound correspondences.
My hope is that these teaching strategies for blending letter sounds and building words will guide you in your phonics instruction! There are so many great resources to help you along the way. Here are a few that I like to use:
Literacy Centers to Practice Blending Sounds and Words
Students need a lot of practice blending to become fluent readers. These blending literacy centers are a fun way to provide students with independent practice.
Science of Reading Board Games
These phonics board games provide fun and simple ways for practicing decodable CVC, CVCe, and vowel teams words.
Decodable Sentence Activities
You can use these in literacy centers but also in your small-groups. Students read each decodable sentence and find the picture to match.
Phonics Activity Cards
These word cards are great for practicing blending and identifying the missing sound.
Short Vowel CVC and CVCe Word Games
Students get lots of practice with these sets of word cards. There are multiple themes of this fun game to use throughout the year.
Want to read more about the Science of Reading?
- How To Teach Blending Letter Sounds And Word-Building In Kindergarten
- Tips On How To Teach A Kindergarten Interactive Read Aloud Lesson
- Phonics And Phonemic Awareness | Are They The Same?
- Are Guided Reading Lesson Plans Wrong? 5 Ways to Bring the Science of Reading into Your Classroom
- What Does a Science of Reading Lesson Plan Look Like? Free File Too