Students are taught two important beginning reading skills: letter names and letter sounds.  With these skills, it is often enough to ignite the students’ understanding of reading.

But what about the other students who don’t understand? The 1 in 5 students struggling to make since of letters, sounds and words?

These beginning readers may need three additional key skills to understand how reading works.

The First Key:  Blending – No letters required

A few years ago, I had the opportunity of working with a delightful 15-year-old, non-reader named Sarah. Throughout her school years, teachers had given up on teaching her phonics and reading skills because of her lack of progress.

Sarah was missing the first key, blending skills.  Not understanding this abstract concept, Sarah was stuck and labeled a ‘non-reader’ for years.   Using pictures to demonstrate, Sarah began to understand the concept of blending and she was thrilled!

Teaching blending is easy using compound words, 2 syllable words and 2 phoneme words.

  • Compound Words – When teaching the concept of blending, compound words are introduced first because they are the easiest to understand and blend.  The compound word ‘butterfly’ is a good place to start.  Print out  picture of a ‘cube of butter’, a ‘house fly’ and a ‘butterfly’.  Then the adult is ready to teach blending.  Adult says, “We are going to blend some words together to make something new.” (Show the first picture of a cube of butter)  Adult says, “Butter.” (Then show a picture of a fly) Adult says, “Fly.”  The student should reply “butterfly.” Additional compound words to practice: sea-horse, snow-man, pony-tail, jelly-fish, bird-house .
  • Two Syllable Words -Words with two syllables are a little more challenging, but follow the same blending format.  Print out a picture of a tiger. Then cut the tiger in half.  Adult says: “We are going to blend some syllables together to make a word.” (Place the first piece the tiger upside down)  Adult says, “Ti.”  (place the second piece upside down)  Adult says, “ger.”  When the student replies “tiger” flip the cards over to reveal the picture of the tiger.  Additional 2 syllable words: po-ny, bas-ket, la-dy, gir-affe.
  • Two Phoneme Words – Lastly, words with two phonemes are the most challenging and are closely related to actual reading. Many words have only two phonemes (two units of sound).  Print out a picture of a cow.  Cut it in half.  Adult. says: “We are going to blend some sounds together to make a word.  (Place the first piece of the cow upside down)  Adult says, “/c/.”  (place the second piece facing down) Adult says, “/ow/.”  When the student replies “cow,” flip the cards over to reveal the picture of the cow.  Additional two phoneme words:   b-ow, sh-e, t-ie, h-ay, ow-l.

Hint: The student may not blend the sounds together correctly on the first try.  Move the cards closer together and say the sounds closer together until the student gets the word correct.

The Second Key:  Blending – letters required

After Sarah understood the concept of blending, I placed the two letter cards in front of her.  She immediately became anxious until she realized it was the same blending concept she had practiced earlier with pictures.

Blending letters follows a similar procedure. Print out picture of your student.  Cut the picture in half.  Turn the first piece over and place the letter “m” on the paper. Turn the second piece over and place the letter “e” on the paper.

Adult says, “We are going to blend some sounds together to make a word.  (Place letter side up.)  Adult says, “/m/.”  (place the letter side up.) Adult says, “/e/.”  When the student replies “me,” flip the cards over to reveal the picture of the student.

Additional 2 phoneme words, h-e, u-p, i-n, w-e.

The Third Key:  Improve Working Memory

Sarah soon moved on to blend words containing three phonemes (sip, web), but became stuck blending 4 phonemes (slip, melt).  After taking the Alloway Working Memory Assessment, Sarah was identified with a working memory deficit.  While blending 4 phoneme sounds together, her working memory became over-loaded; not allowing her to sequence or blend sounds correctly into a word.

Once Sarah’s working memory challenges were identified, she began the Cogmed Working Memory Training program.  Sarah was able to strengthen her working memory and began blending 4 and 5 phonemes together.

With the last key in place, Sarah was on her way to becoming an independent reader.

Please contact Skills for Success Learning to learn more.