For any of you that have taught early phonics to young children, the question may well have come up – ‘Do you teach blending or segmenting first?’
This is a common question, but one there seems no official answer to if you consult the usual authoritative channels.
I have based my own personal answer to this question based on ten years of working in the early years, and having experimented a great deal with multiple strategies to get children confident in phonics as quickly as possible.
So should you start with blending or segmenting?
I would say you should definitely teach blending before teaching segmenting. The usual teaching sequence is to focus teaching on speaking, then reading and then writing. That is the order to go for. Blending is linked to reading, segmenting linked to writing.
Therefore, blending should come before segmenting, as you want to get children starting to read some words before they need to start writing them.
Also, blending is a slightly easier skill to master as it relies more on listening. Segmenting relies on both listening and speaking. To summarise, then, begin with oral blending. However, I would teach segmenting quite soon after. Maybe start about a month later. If they can blend they can normally segment as well.
This article attempts to answer a few more questions about blending and segmenting. What it is, why we do it, and, perhaps most importantly, some fantastic games to help you teach the skill of specifically blending to young children.
So what exactly is blending and segmenting again?
Quite simply, oral blending is the ability to hear separated sounds and put them together (blend them) back into one single word. For example, a child that hears the separated sounds ‘d-o-g’, should be able to ‘blend’ them back into the single word ‘dog’.
This is the key skill for reading. When children begin to read, they will be sounding out words, e.g. p-i-g. Blending is the skill of hearing that what you have just sounded out becomes a word, in that case ‘pig’.
Segmenting is the opposite skill, although the two are related. To segment, you separate a word into its component sounds. For example, ‘cat’ would become ‘c-a-t’. This skill is crucial for writing, as to write a word, a child must hear its component sounds.
Once again, if you would like to find out more about segmenting and the best ways to teach it, then check this out.
When are children ready to orally blend and segment?
Children are ready for this stage when they demonstrate some of the following skills:
a.) They join in with simple games with musical instruments
b.) They have a simple awareness of alliteration (check out the best ten alliteration games here). For example, they can hear the sound repeating in a phrase such as ‘terrible terrific tiger.’ (If you really have to emphasise the sound that is fine)
c.) They have some awareness of rhythm. For example, they can hit the syllables in their own name with a drum or rhythm sticks. (For more about rhythm sticks, check out this essential guide in how to use them)
d.) They can play simple listening games offering relevant ideas
e.) They may have a simple awareness of rhyme in words (though this is not essential)
e.) They can talk about the different sounds that different objects make if you hit them
Why teach blending and segmenting?
Blending and segmenting are arguably the most important part of early phonic learning. When children are able to do these two skills, the task of learning some sounds is normally quite straight forward.
If you can blend and segment, then you will quickly be reading and beginning to write words with just a few sounds under your belt.
There is little point in learning any sounds until children have at least start to develop these two skills.
Start with blending
OK, so now we have highlighted that it is a good idea to start with oral blending, the next question may well be how do we teach it.
I am now going to outline some of my favourite tried and tested methods of teaching blending. First a couple of pointers…
I think the most important thing about teaching blending is that when you decide that some children you teach are ready to attempt blending, then commit! Pick a couple of easy games and play them every day I would say for at least a month! You don’t have to take long. 2 or 3 minutes a day is enough. However, I think they need to do it every day. Little and often is the way to go.
You will get blank looks when you start, but if you keep going then the penny will drop with some of them, and hopefully that will then snowball to the rest of them.
OK, so without further ado, here are my favourite blending games…
1. Use a sound puppet to tell a story
Using a sound puppet to tell a story is my number one strategy for teaching oral blending. Any puppet will work well for this. Traditionalists say you should only use your sound-puppet for talking in sound talk, but I like to use puppets that sometimes have other roles as well, and I don’t think there is any massive harm in this.
To tell the story, get the puppet to whisper into your ear. This then means that you are saying the words. It is good for children to be looking at your mouth when you are saying the sounds, to see how the sounds should be articulated.
Say one sentence of the story at a time, one word of which will be in sound-talk. For example, Tatty Patty went today to the p-ar-k. Where did she go?’ (Hopefully some children will blend the word ‘park’). ‘In the park on the pond she saw a d-u-ck. What did she see?’ Continue like this. The more context and clues you can give, the morely likely children are to pick up blending. When they see it as something connected to what they already know, rather than an abstract concept, they will stop guessing and start hearing.
2. George’s Gym
Get them to stand up. Then you give instructions for movements in sound talk. For example, you could say ‘Put your hands on your h-ea-d.’ ‘Stand on one l-e-g.’
This fun and simple game works really well. Children just seem to get it.
3. Dress the Baby
You may have noticed how some children are fascinated by babies. In this game you get to tap into this natural excitement.
Have a baby and some clothes – ideally clothes that are easy to sound out. Good examples would be boots, a hat and a coat.
Pick a child to go first. Say something like ‘Could you please put on the baby the c-oa-t.’ Basically say one of the items in sound-talk.
If you start with about three items of clothing it is much easier. You can add more if they get good.
This is a game lots of children will ask for again, or want to do by themselves.
4. Bossy Dog
Once again, pretty much any toy would work well for this. I’ve just always happened to use a toy dog. A really bossy, mean looking dog would be perfect, like an angry bulldog or something similar.
Get the children to stand up, and the bossy dog whispers into your ear, which you then communicate to the children. He will say things like ‘Put your hands on your h-i-p-s!’ One word of the order will always be in sound talk. Another example would be ‘Touch your t-oe-s! N-ow!’
Just have fun shouting orders at the children! They find it funny, and also giving the words a context makes the sound talk much easier for them to understand.
5. What’s in the Box?
This is the next step in blending when children have got good at hearing sound-talk in sentences.
In ‘What’s in the Box’ you have a box of some sort (or bag) with mystery objects inside, all of which are three-letter words.
Sing a little ditty – What’s in the box? What’s in the box – and then dramatically examine the contents of the box, but in a way that the children cannot see. Sound out an object that is in the box, e.g. ‘d-o-g.’ What could it be? If someone guesses correctly, get the object out and go on to the next object.
This game can be extended in a variety of different ways. Children who are more confident can be the ones to segment what is in the box, giving the sound-talk clue. Also, when the objects have come out of the box, the next job is to get them back in, but only through giving clues to which one to select.
6. Cross the river
This is one of my favourite games that can be adapted in so many ways.
All you need is a few simple objects (ideally CVCs) and a blue piece of material for the river. Place the river in the middle of the circle of children, and pick three volunteers to come and stand on one side of the river.
These three children each get an object, for example a pig, a can, and a cat. There is a song that goes with it. It goes to the music of ‘She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes!’ However, the words are:
You’ll be crossing the river when it’s you!
You’ll be crossing the river when it’s you!
You’ll be crossing the river, crossing the river,
Crossing the river when it’s you!
Then say, ‘Jump over if you have a d-o-g.’ Repeat for different objects and children. The more you repeat this game with the same objects, the better they get. It’s normally a good one for behaviour as well, because children want to get picked, but of course you have to be sitting amazingly for that to happen.
7. Feed the Cat!
Have a cat, a picnic hamper and some simple food items that it is reasonably easy to sound out. Good examples might be some jam, some ham and cheese.
Pick a child to go first. Say, ‘The cat wants to put in his hamper the h-a-m.’ Repeat for different foods.
This is a good example of a blending game that you can just make up yourself. It doesn’t need to be a cat. It could be a parrot or a pig, or whatever! Having a little story (like it’s going on a picnic), just brings it to life!
8. Robber game
Children love robbers and crime, and this is a game they will often ask for again and again!
Have some objects that are easy to sound out, ideally three letter words. Good examples might be a pin, a box, a pig, a dog and a can.
This is a classic memory game. (To check out the best 22 memory games for young children go here.) Cover the objects with a sheet. Then a robber is selected.
All the children close their eyes whilst the robber sneaks out and robs an item from under the sheet. The hide it behind their back. Then the children open their eyes.
There are then several options on how to play. You can:
- Get the robber to sound out the item
- Show the children the objects remaining and get them to say what they think is missing in sound talk.
And what about segmenting?
Did you know lots of the above games can be adapted to develop segmenting instead of blending?
Also, I have written a long article about my favourite 16 segmenting games that you can access via this link.
You should teach blending before going on to segmenting. The natural order should to be to develop speaking, then reading, and finally writing. Blending links to reading, segmenting to writing. Therefore, blending should always come before segmenting.
Blending is arguably the most important skill required before beginning to read words. There are many fun games you can play to make sure you teach it in a fun and systematic way.
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