We know that the BEST way to teach reading in the early years is through PHONICS.
However teaching children the phonemes (sounds) for the graphemes (individual letters and their combinations) is often NOT enough.
There is a skill that also needs to be taught alongside phonics. And, it will it make all the difference.
It will make the whole process of learning to read easier and faster. Certainly in the early stages.
What is the extra skill?
Early readers need to be taught the sounds and how they are represented in print (Phonics)
eg ay, ai, a-e, eigh, et are all different ways of making the long “a” vowel sound.
Once children have started learning sounds (Phonics), they also need to be taught how to JOIN (synthesise) sounds together.
The extra skill is BLENDING all the sounds in a word.
It might seem a little similar to the old “sounding out” method. But don’t be fooled. It is definitely NOT the same thing as there is an essential difference.
What Sounding Out is
Each sound of the word is individually sounded out loud. eg “b” “r” “a” “n” “ch” then we would join those 5 sounds together to make “branch” all in one go.
What Blending is
Each sound of the word is joined as you track across the word.
“b” “br” “bra” “bran” “branch”
Blending, on the other hand, is a strategy that teaches HOW to join the sounds together.
Who needs this skill?
- most young readers
- readers with working memory difficulties
- readers with eye tracking difficulties
- readers who over rely on guessing
Most children and adolescents that come to the Starfish Tutoring centre (because of concerns with their reading progress) have a gap in Phonics knowledge. Almost invariably they also do not know how to join multiple sounds together using this blending strategy. Once taught, though (alongside phonics) often they make rapid progress in reading.
If taught blending in tandem with phonics, the learning to read process is made quicker and easier for most young readers.
Once words have more than a few sounds (eg 4 or 5 such as felt, click, drift) it becomes very difficult for younger children and those with working memory problems to “hold” that many chunks at one time, in order to join them together.
Teaching the blending strategy explicitly and repeatedly trains and reinforces left to right movement for those readers with eye tracking difficulties.
Some young readers adopt a guessing strategy and often over rely on the first letter or two of a word to help them predict (rather than decode) what the word is. Teaching the blending strategy ensures attention is given to each letter (and sound) in the word from beginning to end.
How do you teach this skill?
The solution is so logical and so simple. And it is easy to teach.
Some children will pick it up quickly, within a session or two. Even with the children that take longer, we stick at it, because it works.
I prefer to use the Educational bricks in the video. You can purchase them in our store or online here
This is how I have my educational bricks set up.
You can definitely use magnetic letters, or little letter strips or even pen and paper. But I love the bricks for two reasons:
- They’re concrete objects, and
- They clearly show on ONE brick how sometimes you need two or more letters to make one sound eg ay or ai
If you do wish to use the magnetic letters, I’ll put the link for purchasing here.
You can see two brief clips of me working with young students, using the joining strategy here.
Some tips and resources
- it is NOT necessary that children know all the sounds of the alphabet before starting to teach the joining strategy
- start with short vowel words first and CVC (consonant vowel consonant) eg cap, beg, tip, mop, bug
- progress to CVCC words, then CCVC then CCVCC
- when children begin learning digraphs, you can include those in words as well eg shrub, much
- once children master joining the single sounds in words, move onto blends, word families and rimes. This will help with fluency.
In the video I talk about my “cheat book” – it a a resource I made quite a few years ago with lists of words to use for the above.
I have loads of CVC words (for each vowel sound), heaps of CVCC words etc I made it by going through all my teaching resources and believe it or not, flicking through a dictionary twice – all to get good words for my lists!
The research supports explicit and systematic instruction of synthetic phonics for early readers. Blending is the extra skills they will need to join the sounds.
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I did not invent this technique. I first saw this technique many years ago at Dalwood *. I was observing a session between a Speech Therapist and a 9yr girl with significant reading difficulties.
- Dalwood was a program run by the NSW Department of Education for country students with significant learning difficulties.
- Read more on working memory and cognitive load theory here.
- Read more from Pamela Snow and working memory here.