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Deedee Wills - Mrs. Wills Kindergarten

Phonics Blending Best Practices – Blending Practices that Yield Better Results

Deedee and Adam continue their discussion on the Science of Reading. Specifically, they discuss blending and segmenting best practices.  Deedee was asked by a kindergarten teacher if teachers should include alphabet cards that include the key sound picture (mnemonics) on the card to practice blending and segmenting.

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Blending Practices that Yield Better Results


Adam Peterson  0:03 

Hello, everyone, welcome to The Classroom Collaborative Podcast. How are you, Deedee?


Deedee Wills  0:07 

I am really good. How are you?


Adam Peterson  0:09 

I’m good. Excited to chat again. And I know you’ve been crazy busy. I’ve been crazy busy. But uh, I think what we’re going to talk about today is going to be a good conversation piece. Possibly, I don’t know, is that the right word when it comes to discussing things like this, isn’t it? There’re so many questions. What teachers should or should not be doing or about what is right or what is wrong. And I guess I’m on the mindset. I don’t know if anything is, is wrong in the way you’re about going? In reviewing phonics with kids, but maybe there’s a better way to be teaching phonics with kids. Does that make sense?


Deedee Wills  0:48 

Like efficient, we want efficient instruction.


Adam Peterson  0:51 

Efficiently and effectively there. We should like a coin that expression “efficient and effective instruction.” That’s good. So we’re talking today, kind of continuing discussions from past episodes, if you haven’t listened to past episodes, about our discussions on reading and science of reading, Word walls, sound walls, all that because we have quite a few episodes on that kind of stuff over the course of our podcast. But this leads into another discussion in the discussion is … you go ahead because you said you’ve gotten this question before on your various platforms.


Deedee Wills  1:24 

Yeah, so I, you know, I’ve been traveling around as well and doing a lot of professional development around the science of reading. I was in Florida and I just got back from Tennessee.


Adam Peterson  1:33 

I saw you were in Tennessee, you got to hang out with our good friend Elizabeth.


Deedee Wills  1:35 

I know Elizabeth Hall who we love from Kicking it in kindergarten.


Adam Peterson  1:38 

That’s awesome. It looked like a fun visit.


Deedee Wills  1:40 

It was! Oh my gosh! And you know how like, Okay, so let’s just before we get into the topic, let’s talk a little bit about Miss Hall, Mrs. Hall, and Mr. Fantastic. And all of the little Halls.


Adam Peterson  1:51 

They’re the cutest kids in the world.


Deedee Wills  1:54 

You know what? And legit, they are the sweetest children!  I mean, they are! I mean, I’m not surprised because both of their parents are amazing.


Adam Peterson  2:02 

After my own two, right, because you met mine too.


Deedee Wills  2:06 

Oh my gosh, I love your children… really love them. And they’re also equally sweet. But Elizabeth’s you know, I mean, they’re just precious, they.a. precious. And their personalities are also fun and different. But anyhow, it was such a pleasure getting to know her sweet school, I spent two days with them, talking about all things, but a chunk of it was the science of reading. The questions that often come out is when we’re teaching the sounds, the individual phonemes basically, should we be using pictures? Or not? For example, if you have a program where they’re teaching sounds in isolation, where there’s not a picture of a cat for /k/, or, you know, it’s for i should you add them in.


Adam Peterson  3:00 

That one drives me nuts because I have a program that I’ve used in the past that uses it for /i/. And I’m going to get on my soapbox here and say, first of all, we don’t itch, we scratch an itch. Itch isn’t a verb. Is that, right? Like if you say it’s in show a picture of someone scratching? That’s not sorry, that’s a totally random topic. But I think about that all the time. Like it’s, it’s just not you scratching the itch. You don’t itch.


Adam Peterson  3:00 

Right, right. Sorry. Okay, so that was a bad example.


Adam Peterson  3:05 

Oh, I’m totally kidding. I want to know when you (and this will lead into the discussion because I’m sure these questions came up when you were visiting). Elizabeth, did you get to go in her room or were you there simply for PD workshops? Or were you visiting classrooms while they were teaching too?


Deedee Wills  3:43 

I was not in the classroom with students. Although we are talking about me coming back. I know it’d be really cool for next time. I would modeled lessons.


Adam Peterson  3:53 

I was just curious if you got to see anything in action.


Deedee Wills  3:56 

Yeah, I mean, I do that locally. And I’ve done that in other places, but I didn’t do it there. And it would have been a great opportunity. So I think we’re talking about a follow-up visit I’ll suggest that.


Adam Peterson  4:10 

Have fun.


Deedee Wills  4:11 

I know it’d be really, really fun. So I love anytime I get to play with kids. It’s fun. We did have some kids come in and you know, play some games with us when we were doing the center thing but no, I didn’t get to do that this time.


Adam Peterson  4:22 

That’s cool. I got to I was we talked before we started recording that I was in Kansas yesterday before recording this and working with Alive Studios Company that I’ve worked with students. Usually, when I’m on the road with them, I’m just demoing to teachers and showing teachers the product and retraining teachers on the product they’ve purchased. But this one is at school that’s looking to outfit their entire early childhood center. I mean, it’s a beautiful school. I would love to have this person on that created like this. This director I worked with to talk about their creation process because the school is


Deedee Wills  4:53 

Oh, let’s do that.


Adam Peterson  4:54 

We should! It was designed by the teachers and the kids. It’s an amazing place but anyway, If she said as part of your visit, we want to bring in some kindergarteners to see how they interact with the product too. And I said, “Let’s do it!” That’s my favorite thing to do. I got to work with five little kindergarteners for a while yesterday. It was so fun. So sorry, I’m totally off-topic there. But back to your question. I’m sure you’ve asked been asked this in workshops, I can only guess that this has been asked on the primary collaborative about using writers.


Deedee Wills  5:25 

We do want to use the pictures when introducing the sounds: consonants, digraphs, blends. I don’t know if you know, Katie Gardner, she has the Secret Stories, which are fantastic. If you’re not familiar with that, that Secret Stories is also great for teaching those individual phonemes.One of the things that you will try to do is keep those keywords, I call them keywords, but other people may call them mnemonics. You keep those keywords as short as possible. Some words are better than others. Fundations uses the word Ed for /e/, which always seems really, really kind of odd. But when you think about it, Ed is better than elf because oftentimes elf people say L, right? Elf or elephant. Keeping those keywords short with just a few syllables is important. Instead of umbrella for /u/, have something that’s a shorter word. Although that’s not how it’s all been done, that is something that has been recommended. So yeah, you want to use those mnemonics or those keywords for introducing and a having students master sound. The way that I was taught was to say, the letter, the keyword than the sound. So T, top, /t/.


Adam Peterson  7:04 

I think that’s still being done. Quite a bit.


Deedee Wills  7:07 

They’re kind of working together. And it’s a good scaffold for students who are learning so of connect those letters to the mnemonics. Naturally, though, when we go to assess those sounds, we’re looking for mastery. Right? We’ve talked about, “What is Mastery” before.   If  you’re assessing a student, maybe using ESGI when  you’re assessing them, you would not want to have a student only able to tell you the sound when they see the picture. Right? We want to make sure that they are going you know the sound quickly. It’s super fast. Because when we think about reading on the fly, as students are blending sounds that really will hinder them. In order for the student to demonstrate “mastery”, I’m doing the air quotes, people can’t see it for mastery, they need to know those sounds very quickly. Without having to lean into that keyword in order to tell you the sound.


Adam Peterson  8:05 

Let me tell you that funny story about assessing a student on sounds that we were using pictures that was what is the beginning sound of this picture. And I’ll never forget I showed him like it was a picture of a duck and they were trying to get understand that duck started D but I said what is the beginning sound of this picture that you see and he looks at me really odd he goes, “quack, quack, quack.” And I was like, “Okay, let’s see where this goes. Just to see what happens.” I put it up the next one, it was Sun. So the letter was asked what a Sun start was? He goes, “Ah.” The best one was when a rainbow showed up. And I was like, “What sound do you in the word rainbow?” And he looks at me and goes, “wheee” and made like a slide motion. Every picture came up with some sound that was related to the pictures. It was like a word association but a sound association.


Deedee Wills  9:10 

Total October or September 1st assessment of the year!


Adam Peterson  9:15 

It was so good. So good.


Deedee Wills  9:17 

Oh my gosh!  I know I had a “bebop, bebop beap” for /r/.


Adam Peterson  9:20 

Oh, yeah. Yep. Does it make any wonder Okay, did I phrase the question the wrong way? So so let’s talk about teaching versus using things as clues for review. Because I think that’s a much-needed discussion. And I’ll tell you why. Because I’ve had this question come up. Since we did an episode about sound walls, and the teacher said to me, like, “Are you telling me I need to need to ditch my word wall? My kids use that as a reference.” And I was like, “Oh, good point.” Then I had a conversation with our good friend Kim Adsit and she made a great comment she said, “I think we need to look at the difference between the instruction and a reference point for children.”, know you and I have it was just kind of ties into this episode really our word wall unit that ties in pictures with the words right to help them understand. I think that’s a great reference tool. And I want to kind of reiterate on what we talked about in a previous episode that a sound wall. They’re teaching the sounds that I’ve seen amazing success with dealing with these two little boys I’m working with since I stopped just skill and drilling them on sight words. Yeah, really focusing and grouping words by sounds that has been


Deedee Wills  10:29 

Orthographic mapping is huge!


Adam Peterson  10:34 

Oh my gosh, they’re catching on to these words.  I never thought to do it in the past. I’m not even using like a true wall. Because the classroom I use is a shared space, we’re just doing it on a table. Like, I’ll say, “We’re going to go through some of these words, and I want you to sort them because they’re at the point where they can. They’re reading pretty well, but they’re not understanding diphthongs and blends and rhymes and digraphs. We’re really focused on that, you know, “ow says owl.” We’re grouping sounds like you had talked about. There’s still a point to be said about having your, whether it’s on a wall or your students have their own list of words that they use as a reference point.


Deedee Wills  11:14 

Right? Hilary Statum and I have been talking  flush out her sound wall and sound valley to include the sight words. And, and add that to the resources that I offer. Anyhow, we’re going to be working on that in the next couple of weeks. But she has a sound wall, which has kind of the sound she has a sound wall. Let me just keep saying that word over and over again.


Adam Peterson  11:42 

Well, sound wall. Deedee is not trying to ingrain that into your brains yet then.


Deedee Wills  11:46 

She has a Sound Valley, which is what are some things that we often see. So I’m doing this with my hand, I’m making a ‘ V ‘ with my hands, right, so that you have all of the different vowel sounds and it’s more, it’s more based on vowel sounds, or, diphthongs, and that kind of thing. And you can place your high frequency words on those. But then she also has a sound wall, where there’s the pictures of the mouth positions and such. It’s just a matter of taking your current words and, rearranging them. You don’t have to throw anything out, you just have to rearrange the way that you had them, and maybe add some, you know, those mnemonics onto that wall and just rearrange it differently.


So when a student is looking for the word THE, they’re looking on a word walland they’re like, “Okay, you tell them it starts with /t/,” but on a traditional word wall it doesn’t.  You students just don’t know where to find that sound, right? It’s just about just tweaking. It’s not throwing out the baby with the bathwater. It’s about tweaking things. So anyway, we’ll have more on that. I’ll probably do like a follow-up webinar on that just to kind of show the implementation.  


But so back to the original question, do you use pictures to teach phonics? The answer is yes!  You do want to use those pictures to use phonics. The other thing that you want to make sure that you’re doing is when you go to blend sounds, you don’t want to use those same cards in the blending process, right? If you’re going to blend, I’m in my head, you know, those like little flashcards that you have, right? So what a teacher might think  “I’ll just use those cards (with the pictures) for the blending practice.” And we don’t want to do that. We want to make sure we have just those letters shown for blending practice. Really in isolation. So the A is by itself, there’s no keyword picture. The C is by itself, with no keyword picture, the T is there without a keyword picture right?


Adam Peterson  13:50 

Are you saying when you blend, so that’s it? People that are listening and driving and going, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait.”  We’re not talking on our letter line if we have B Bat, /b/ and L lamp /l/. We’re not taking those cards with pictures on them and putting them together to blend.


Deedee Wills  14:08 

Right, right. Right. Okay. Right. So let’s say you’re at that point. We’ve talked about this, I believe in another episode about blending practice and segmenting practice. We have a ton of practice students need to have in order to build that orthographic mapping. Right? 20% of the population has a language-based learning issue. 40% of the fourth graders are not reading at a proficiency level. So that it between that 20% And that 40% Are students you know, there’s another 20% there that hasn’t been diagnosed but still are learning at a slower rate. In order for them to master that blending and segmenting of individual phonemes, or  those individual chunks of words, we need to have tons and tons of blending and segmenting practice. What I mean by that is, each day, we’re going to be blending 15 to 20 CVC-type words, that could be nonsense words or not.


And then we’re going to actually have dictation the same type of six or seven  words every single day, every single day. But what happens is it flips the switch, and it starts to build in the brain, the connections between the three areas of the brain that are necessary for reading to take place, That should happen on a daily basis. If you’re using cards for that blending or segmenting, you want to make sure that they don’t have pictures on them.  So the S is in isolation, the A is in isolation, and the P is in isolation so that they go see SAP, SAP or AP, SAP, right.


So those are a couple of different ways of blending. Another way of blending is that like a continuous blend, so you know, oftentimes we talk about blending individual phonemes, which would be /s/ /a/ /p/, sap. I was taught onset and rhyme, right. So if they have a hard time with that process, the three individual phonemes process, students struggling with that than I was taught “2015 Deedee Wills would have done /ap/, /sap/, right? But what research is telling us it’s better to go and keep that left to the right blending process. So at /s/ /a/ /sa/ and then /sa/ /p/ /sap/. Does that make sense?


Adam Peterson  16:51 

Yep. So at what point then do you suggest, because there is a lot of instruction that does use onset rhyme?


Deedee Wills  16:57 



Adam Peterson  16:57 

Is that after you’ve mastered the continuous blend? Well, and they’re saying or what is research saying no, not even to use it.


Deedee Wills  17:04 

You shouldn’t need it. You need that onset, rhyme part of it. I mean, it’s a great, it’s a great kind of structure. But students are going to acquire, you can certainly use it, it’s not going to hurt anyone. But if we’re talking about effective and efficient, then the continuous blend is, is going to get you there faster.


Adam Peterson  17:29 

So what and I’m asking strictly because I’m teaching some of this, my little guys, right now. So I want to know what you really do. What about when you move into, like phonemes substitution, then for word family work? And you’re doing, you know, change sad too bad? Or, you know?


Deedee Wills  17:50 

Sad to bad.


Adam Peterson  17:51 

So like, you take away the essence you put down the B, you’re not taking apart? The A D? Right? Or you’re saying we should? Um, well, you’re saying I’m saying researchers, Deedee Wills says


Deedee Wills  18:05 

Yeah, Deedee Wills in her clinical trial.(laughs) If you were doing phoneme substitution, you’re going to do phoneme substitution throughout all three of those phonemes. You’re going to change the middle sound then change the ending sound, thenchange the beginning sound, right? So for that, yes, you definitely want to get those chunks solid. So if you’re thinking, okay, change the middle sound that we’re family doesn’t help you knowing that word family doesn’t help you in that process, right? If you just stick with on, okay, let me back up.


Adam Peterson  18:42 

Maybe I should have said [Inaudible]


Deedee Wills  18:44 

That word, that word family onset, and rhyme isn’t going to help me when I try to manipulate the ending sound, it isn’t going to help me to try to manipulate their middle sound. You  just need that flexibility. So when you’re talking about phoneme substitution, then, of course, onset and rhyme is going to help you for the initial phoneme.


Adam Peterson  19:00 

Yes, that’s what I was getting at. Because I have some kids that are working on word families right now.


Deedee Wills  19:05 

Working on word families is a great skill. But if we’re looking for efficiency, really blending and segmenting, in all, where we’re constantly changing those phonemes and not just sticking with word families, is going to mirror more of what they need to do in real life reading, right? If you want to work on some onset and rhyme, that’s, I mean, that’s fantastic. But if you do that at the cost of, you know, because you have instructional minutes, you don’t have like 15 minutes for this lesson. If you’re going to spend 15 minutes on onset and rhyme versus constantly changing those phonemes through the card system or what we use in our power points. Then, really what you want to do is not invest your time with onset rhyme and really stick to those individual phonemes. Do you know what I’m talking about? Am I making sense because I know what I am talking about?


Adam Peterson  20:08 

I’m really, I’m for those who listen, I’m really asking because I’m working with students on this right now, on this specific type of instruction. So I’m sorry, listen for me, I’m really, I’m really wanting to know.


Deedee Wills  20:19 

You are like your so are “Not Your Mother Sight Word ” instruction, that I made the Deanna Jump has a slide deck in there for every single day, instead of using cards because I have, I’m all thumbs when it comes to cards.   They fall on the floor, it’s like not a good idea for me. So instead of doing that, we have PowerPoints.  The first slide goes up, and it might have the word “cap” on there, the next slide goes up, and it might be the word tot.  We will have lots of different words on there. There needs to be a ton of flexibility with students when we introduce them. Those slide decks start from like the second week of school, based on the phonics they’ve learned thus far.  Each one is going to follow a week behind phonics instruction.


So week one is going to follow week behind and it’s just going to be the five letters that we’ve learned so far. The kindergarten students are having lots of opportunity to practice with /a/, then the next week, they’re going to have lots of practice to work with three phoneme words that have /a/ and /o/ plus the letter sound. It builds week by week. If you stay with the scope and sequence, it builds super quickly, and all of a sudden, students are just masters at blending and segmenting. You won’t have to go to the onset and rhyme. Because they’ve been doing it on the fly and they have that orthographic mapping. So orthographic learning leads to orthographic mapping, so you won’t have to break it down to that part.


Now, what do you do with a student who is let’s say, second grade, who hasn’t had that kind of orthographic mapping training.  Then you’re going to want to kind of back up, and maybe do some of that with them as well.  Make sure that they’re solid with their sounds, and you may have to take that slide deck a little slower at first if you’re talking about individual students if you doing a tutoring one on one.  You may take that little slower so that they can touch each sound, tap it out, blend it together.


But if you’re doing your whole class, and you’re just starting in your, say, your middle of first grade or whatever, you’re going to want to watch the whole classroom to see kind of how to pace based on the students that are there. You want to keep pace with about two-thirds of your students. So two-thirds of the class is keeping pace with you, then that’s the right pace. If they’re way behind, then you may need to either backup instruction or slow down. If everybody’s with you, then you need to speed it up a little bit more. And know that the third that’s not quite on, you know, there might be a slight delay in that and their response is students, you know, you’re two-thirds of your students are just right on, right on with you. And a few are kind of lagging a little bit behind. They’re still learning so it’s okay. But you also have a small group where you can do some additional teaching or review or whatever so that they can have their they can have a chance to, to kind of dig the trough of. Okay, so that doesn’t even make sense when I say that.


Adam Peterson  23:42 

No, it totally does. It totally does. And I’m glad I asked these questions because like I said, I’ve got students right now who specifically need some, some help with this. And I do use “Not Your Mothers Sight Words” and it makes total sense when I use it. And I see where it’s going. So another question. I’m like playing, posing you in here, Dr. Deedee. What do you do in the case of a student then because I’m sure this happens in some of our listener’s classrooms, too. Who, okay, we’re past the point of teaching, c, cat, /k/ right. And then when he is reading words, but every time they see a word that they need to send out, they have to go back to that mnemonic device.


Deedee Wills  24:24 

If don’t have them they don’t have mastery.


Adam Peterson  24:26 

Little Yeah, so a little one I’m working with sees the word “can” be seen him read it millions of times and text but there’ll be days where I put you know, we put the word in front of him he was stuck. I said okay, think about it.


Deedee Wills  24:50 

Sometimes that can be a habit, right? When you teach through the sound decks that we use, you know, so the first part of that PowerPoint has letters up there. The second part of the PowerPoint has blending practice. And then the third part of the PowerPoint has sight words would you know, right? Yep. So when you’re practicing is on a daily basis, and they see the letter C, we want them to see their correct responses is C says, and then /s/, and T says, right, that’s the correct response.  We are not going to go back to they aren’t going to say, C cat, /k/. When we’re doing that blending when we’re doing that real quick review, right. And maybe that sounds the opposite of what I was saying earlier when we show them that picture. Because that’s when we’re teaching them the word when we’re practicing the word, then we’re going to want to go and be really, really quick. Oftentimes, what happens, if you have a student who has to lean back into that mnemonic in order to get it, it means that they don’t have fluency with the letter sound, right?  Then you want to make sure you include that fluency on a daily basis so that they’re seeing it and saying it and then hearing it and writing it.


Adam Peterson  26:19 

So for new teachers that are there listening, and you’re wondering that same thing because I’m sure there’s little ones in every classroom this to do. Something I have found that is, no, maybe it’s just this little, this little guy I worked with, he loves a challenge, right? Like everything is if I challenge him, he’s going to do it. So I have a little phrase I say with him every time we do I say, I’ll say just read it. Don’t say it. I’ll just read it don’t sound that just because he knows it, you know, and like, there’ll be times where he’ll, or I’ll force him to do because he wants to say, letter and sound even though I know he knows the letters.


When we practice the sounds, I’ll say, I don’t want to hear the letter. I want to hear the sound. And it helped him a ton because we play a game called teacher versus student and every time he will because he knows his letters and sounds we just do just review now. But he’ll still refer to. I’ll put up the D and he’ll still he’ll go de dub da do like see, you know what’s done, buddy? Let’s try it again. We go through it again. And I say no sound or I say no letters, just sounds no letters just sounds let’s see what I know I’m doing him the habits are doing that or is that okay?


Deedee Wills  27:25 

It depends on what’s happening with this. What’s really happening with the student, right? We want to tell students when you come to words you don’t know, we need to look at those individual sounds and blend them together. So we want to make sure that they’re really clear with that. But what you can also say to his students is that when our brain does that enough, we no longer have to stop at each one of those sounds. And we can just blend them together. So I’m not asking you to blend every word because sometimes our brains know it. I’m laughing because Ozzie like on the window, like, “Are you going to let me in?”  [my dog]


Adam Peterson  28:03 

You were looking at. He’s outside looking at you.


Deedee Wills  28:05 

What we want to tell our students is that and you, you like legit can tell your kid this, okay, your student this. When we come to word, we don’t recognize we’re going to look at each letter and blend that together to say to sound. That’s a great strategy. And if your brain has seen that word enough times, your brain is going to know it on sight. That’s how a high-frequency word or word becomes a sight word.  We don’t need our brains to stop every time to blend it out if we’ve seen it enough times. That might be something you say to him. If you’ve seen this word, and you have seen it enough, your brains  already know how to read that word. I’m not asking you to stop every time. But if it’s a word you don’t know, then absolutely. If he does at c, cat, /c/ for each one, I’m going to ask him to try it the first time, “I’m going to have you try this word, but I’m going to have you try it. I would do that I would lift that word out of the page, I would have him have words that maybe he hasn’t seen before.


You know, some of those kinds of obscure words that like the word lit LIT, right? Those obscure words that he hasn’t seen, then see what happens when he does that. If he sees that word lit and he has to go, will it lit that’s, that’s great. If he sees the word lit and he has to go l,  lamp, /l/, it tells you that he doesn’t have mastery with that sound. So that’s why you have to have practice. Our slide deck has 15 to 20 sounds every day 15 to 20 blending and then you know 10 or so sight words where words so that we build that I explain it like this. So you know, you’re going to plant a garden, right, and you have a hoe, and you’re going to dig a trough to put the seed in. Right? Is that the right word trough?


Adam Peterson  30:14 

I think it’s trying to use the word trough twice today.


Deedee Wills  30:16 

You’re going to take a row with your hoe, And you have a student who does not have a language-based learning disability. 60% of the population has three parts of their brains that are activated to learn words, right? So they’re really efficient. So first, that student, you might have to go and do, you might have to row that row hoe six or seven times in order for them to have mastery, right? Six or seven exposures, lessons practice blah, blah, blah. But 40% of the population has a harder Earth, right?  You don’t have to do anything different. You just have to do more. So they might need more exposure more than you have to dig a little bit harder. But if you’re consistent with your path, if you’re persistent, if you’re consistent with the right type of instruction, it’s going to get dug deep enough to plant that seed. Does that make sense?


Adam Peterson  31:19 

That’s a great analogy. I like that.


Deedee Wills  31:21 

Row that hoe.


Adam Peterson  31:23 

Yeah. I love this. And this is I feel like I always learn from you every time we speak. And every time we talk, I feel like to learn something new. But this for those of you listening this was not like we planned this, I really do have questions as a teacher like I have little ones I’m working with. So I hope that I feel like oh, you just gave me a PD there Deedee.


Deedee Wills  31:46 

I sent you a bill. Honestly, do you know, what happens? What happens with teachers, and I’ve been guilty as well, I think about all of these types of activities that I need to do I have to do onset and rhyme, I have to do phoneme manipulation. And with some students, you might have to do that in a small group kind of setting. Right? Or, and you can do that orally with just a quick lesson, right? But if you do the type of consistent blending activities, those changing that last sound is not going to be hard. I mean, nobody sat down with you Adam, and said, change the last add in the word cat so that it says cap, nobody sat down and did lots of drills with you is because you have it orthographically mapped in your head that you can make that change. And that’s what we really want to do. We want to make sure on my watch things I’m working out


Adam Peterson  32:37 

Deedee is talking a lot with their hands today.


Deedee Wills  32:39 

I know, but if they have it in their brain and mat, then that’s, that’s like a diagnosis that shows them that they show you that they have it. Does that make sense? You have to assess it, you have to make sure that they have it. And if they don’t, you know, you may need to pull that small group and teach that skill in isolation. But for the huge group of your class, you may not need to do a lot of instruction, some instruction but not a lot of instruction.


Adam Peterson  33:05 

I love it. So let’s answer the question we started with again, should you be using pictures to teach letter sounds? The answer is yes. But when it comes to blending and putting sounds together to make words, and really focusing just on the sound isolated, or not isolated, mix together with others to blend and read. Right, take away the pictures and focus on mastery of the sound.


Deedee Wills  33:32 

Right. And the last thing I was going to say is oftentimes teachers spend a lot of time teaching phonemic awareness skills, just auditorily right. So listen, boys and girls, I’m going to give you these sounds and you’re going to blend them and then you put your three sounds and then you say it, and then the sounds, and then they blend it right. So because we’ve all been told phonemic awareness is something you can teach in the dark. But research tells us if they have the letter symbol in front of them while you’re doing that, they’re going to acquire that skill faster. So if you’re looking at your whatever, manual teacher manual that you’re following, and is asking them to do that just in isolation, add the alphabet cards in there, because it’s going to help those students acquire those skills faster.


Adam Peterson  34:19 

What about so you’re saying have to have a clue for them? Not the actual word itself? Or is it? Are you saying that like if I’m having a student, because this is I just created a game with this? I call it to hop it out where they use little bunny erasers to hop out the word rather than sound out the word. So they’re using Conan boxes to hop it in?


Deedee Wills  34:39 



Adam Peterson  34:41 

Are you saying to have access to your entire letter line if I’m having the word and hop out the word bat or actually put the word bat in front of them so they can see the book?


Deedee Wills  34:50 

Great question. So what I was talking about was okay, so it depends if you’re in coding or decoding? So if I’m asking a student to blend three known sounds, right, three known sounds that’s the that’s a decoding activity that they’re doing. Right. So they’re decoding it, that would be what we would want them to do when they see those sounds on the letters represented and produce the sounds right? Right. So so that would be encoding. If I’m asking a student, like, let’s say I’m doing am in a small group, and I have those l coded boxes, right, we can go ahead and say, Okay, let’s go ahead and make sure that now we’re segmenting, right? Because I’m giving them a sound, a word, a word, sorry, I’m giving them a word. And now they’re put pulling it apart.


Adam Peterson  35:46 

Telling you the initial individual sounds.


Adam Peterson  35:48 

So then they would just move those little hot bunnies up for each one. And if they are fluent with knowing their letters and sounds, then I would ask them awesome. Let’s go ahead. And let’s replace that first bunny with the first sound, the second bunny with the second sound, right? So that’s what I would have them do. Does that make sense?


Adam Peterson  36:08 

Yep. Okay, so going back to your point that you said they should have access to. Or you’re just simply saying, if they still need it, they should be able to see the letters and pictures. For this type of activity. Maybe I completely misconstrued what you said, when they had to have it, they should see it in front of them.


Deedee Wills  36:29 

So if I’m having them, blend three, if I’m asking a student to blend three sounds, okay, so I’m going to have them blend the word nap. Right? And, you know, in 2015, Deedee Wills would have had my word list in front of me and my students in front of me, and I would have said, Listen to me, I’m going to give you three sounds I want you to put them together, right? And I would go at, and that I would point to the students, and they would say nap. And then I would give them another word. Listen to me, they weren’t, they’re not seeing anything that was looking at my mouth. And I would give them the next one, and then they would blend those together.


Adam Peterson  37:07 

Okay, so I think a lot of phonemic awareness instruction is telling us we, or at least was


Deedee Wills  37:14 

Let me just finish. All right, 1015, we’ll do it that way. 2022, Deedee Wills would say, we’re going to blend these sounds, and I would have the cards there that would say, AP, and I would have an N and an A and a P. And then I would say Listen to me, as I’m touching them Un AP  now go ahead and blend them. They’re doing the same thing. But now they have a picture, no, no picture, they have an image, they have the letter, there at the graphemes there, right so that they can blend those together. And research says when you do it with the letters present, then it’s going to be more effective. Okay, so that’s what I’m just saying, if you’re using a program that asks the teacher just to have students get it orally if you can add the letter sounds in there, it’s going to help them acquire it faster.


And so that’s the blending part for the segmenting part. Okay, so that’s blending, segmenting part is when they’re going to hear a word. And now they’re going to take it apart. And so I would have maybe a class a Conan box, and I would give them the word and they say, I’m going to push these up. And as I push one up, each one I push up, you’re going to go ahead and say the sound so they’re going to go, it’d be a different word, but I can’t think of another one nnapp right nap. And let me show you now let’s replace that first one with the end, you know, obviously, eliciting a response from the students as in teaching,


Adam Peterson  38:43 

So in that case, yeah, would you? That’s true auditory, you’re not showing them the word nap. You’re


Deedee Wills  38:51 

The first part of it. The first part is fully auditory. Although we are,


Adam Peterson  38:58 

I’m really asking I really am sorry if I’m not following them.


Deedee Wills  39:02 

I’m giving those visual learners. Think about how obscure that is, you’re going to take this word, I want you to take it apart. You know, I want you to tell me the sound you hear I want you to slow it down. That’s a very obscure skill for students who still see every word as a chunk, right? They see every word as a chunk. Now we have to slow down that language. And by having if you know me holding the lesson in my hand and say, Listen, I’m going to say a word.


And I’m not going to give them any kind of visual support for that. That’s less effective than if I said, I’m going to give you a word, we’re going to push a sound for each one. And now I’m going to go ahead and replace that first image with the letter, the second one with the letter, and the third one with the letter right. And you may have some students who are only able to hear that first sound, which is cool. Right, that’s cool, they’re going to hear the first sound, they’re going to hear the last sound, that middle sound is a little harder. So, you know, in your classroom, you might have a student who can hear all of those sounds, and you’re going to have some of your students only hear the first sound. And you may have some of your students who don’t hear any sounds yet, but they’re participating physically moving as they’re doing yet. And that’s going to help them.


Adam Peterson  40:21 

I’ve seen that actually with one of the little guys I work with he if he has to, I mean, for example, I did the word ANB which is tough anyway, because the A in the end kind of flows, right? So he without physically moving. So I said, Can you tell me the sounds you hear? And he? He said, and, and I said, How many do you hear? And he said two? I said, Are you sure? And then he did our little game at the end. And he goes, Oh, there’s three. And I said you right, we have to hear three sounds. So there is something to be said for sure. I mean, this just goes back to teachers, you have the hardest job in the world, because of its instances, like we talked about today, there are 20 different kids in your classroom learning in seven different ways at any given time. And you’re trying to teach the same skills to all of them. So,


Deedee Wills  41:09 

But learning is the most effective way and a way to deliver that instruction because nobody becomes a teacher to have no success with some students. And I have had, I’ve gotten to the end of the year where, you know, 2015, Deedee Wills, I had those five students in my intervention group, and at the end of the year, they’re still in my intervention group. And although they learned a lot, they hadn’t, they hadn’t reached mastery and all the skills yet, and that’s a horrible feeling as a teacher, that you have taught your rear off, and it hasn’t been effective, right? For those students or as effective as it possibly could be. It’s sort of like, Adam and I were kind of talking about, you know, we both love our groceries, right? So, you know, we tend to, you know, are always on one kind of diet or another, right? Like, imagine that somebody had found the magic solution, right. And even though you know, you work really hard from time to time, not all the time, we’re clear, this wouldn’t be an issue.


But you’ve worked really hard on making healthy choices, and all of that, right. And you’re just, you know, and you’re just beat down because we’ve all been beaten down by working hard and things not being as successful as you’d like them to be. And then over here is some person who has figured out this magic solution. And if you just do it this way, you will be successful. And you’re going to, you’re going to be rewarded, because it’s not going to be you know, it’s not going to be boring and mundane, you’re going to find success along the way, and you’re going to love it, you’re going to have fun, like, why would you not want to go that route versus the hard way? Right? It’s like the electric bike. You know how Yeah, those bicycles that now have some electrical help, right versus when you’re going up a hill. And everybody’s working really hard. But if the goal is to get there first, and somebody has the electric engine on there’s, that’s the way we want to go. And that’s the way we want to go with, you know, the way that we teach letters and sounds. That ELA part of learning how to read, right?


Adam Peterson  43:12 

Love it. No, thank you for this. I feel like I’ve learned a lot. So appreciate this conversation. It was a good one. All right. Well, we will link, Let’s link “Not Your Mother’s sight words” in the show notes. For those of you asking all of you, I’ll send you the little game I just created today. It was just something fun we did to practice sending out different words, and I made some different variations for it. So you guys can check the show notes for that. And


Deedee Wills  43:38 

I think I’ll try to make something also for it. I have these really cool little Have you seen these?


Adam Peterson  43:45 

I have not little puppets or individual ones.


Deedee Wills  43:50 

Yeah, they’re like little fidget poppers. But they’re big. So, everybody, they’re about an inch by an inch. And you can put three or four together or two together and that could be your version of an L Conan box.


Adam Peterson  44:05 

Right? Those are Cool. Yeah.


Deedee Wills  44:06 

So I’ll make some activities that work with this make it a free file. And you guys can download that in the show notes. Also.


Adam Peterson  44:14 

Mine is I just started creating some files to go along with my teach play to learn book. Just some game-based learning and I are just simple I did this little guy so it’s just a half sheet and they’re using it for this one I made. I think I put like bunny clipart frog clipart and what else hops kangaroo or for my students? I was using a classroom because I had a bunny. They were using that.


Deedee Wills  44:40 

Adam is holding up these. It’s like an Elkonin box, boxes and there are five spots there.


Adam Peterson  44:47 

So well. I know I’m holding it up like they can see that.


Deedee Wills  44:51 

I’m going to show you I’m going to give you this show you this one. Can you put crickets in right where you’re holding it up?

Adam Peterson  44:59 

We totally could.

Deedee Wills  45:00 


Adam Peterson  45:00 

Well, I’ll leave that or give it to you to leave that product in the notes as well. This was a great conversation so thank you, Deedee because I always learn from you but I truly have some questions with some of my students so we’ll see you guys next time.

Deedee Wills  45:15 

All right, peace.

Adam Peterson  45:16 

See ya.

About the Podcast

The Classroom Collaborative Podcast is a show about teaching, classroom, and education. We tackle new classroom tips and tricks in every episode.

About Your Hosts

Deedee Wills is an early childhood educator, instructional coach, and international educational consultant. She is also the author of the award-winning blog, Mrs. Wills Kindergarten.

Adam Peterson is a kindergarten teacher, nationally recognized speaker, and educational consultant. He also the creator of the popular YouTube channel,

I hope you enjoyed this episode! See you on the next one!

Deedee & Adam

Deedee and Adam continue their discussion on the Science of Reading. Specifically, they discuss blending and segmenting best practices. Deedee was asked by a kindergarten teacher if teachers should include alphabet cards that include the key sound picture (mnemonics) on the card to practice blending and segmenting.

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Deedee and Adam continue their discussion on the Science of Reading. Specifically, they discuss blending and segmenting best practices. Deedee was asked by a kindergarten teacher if teachers should include alphabet cards that include the key sound picture (mnemonics) on the card to practice blending and segmenting.


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