Turning c-a-t into ‘cat’ – or how to teach blending

Kids have a lot to do when they’re learning to read. Over forty sounds (the alphabet plus sh, ch and lots of others) to learn to read and write, sight words like ‘said’ and others that beginners can’t sound out…

…and blending.

Blending’s the skill of taking those sounds that they’re learned and putting them together to make words.

Sometimes blending is sounding out and reading a word and sometimes it’s making a word of your own.

Either way, it’s a whole new skill for little humans to master and they need to learn it to unlock the meaning of all those groups of sounds. (I.e. words)

Words that you can’t read aren’t much use.

So how can you teach your child to blend?

Like most skills that they have to learn (peeing standing up, getting dressed?) kids get better with practice.

It’s only fair to say here that some kids get better a whole lot faster than others – and unfortunately you don’t know how your child will get on until they try.

But if they’re at school and you know they’re learning to blend, here are some practical things you can do to help them.

If you’re a watcher more than a reader, I explain the whole thing in this video and you can speed me up if you like.

Same tips but in a video

Practise the sounds first

If your little person is new to blending (and for quite a while after), they’ll need to practise the sounds in the words their about to read right before trying to decode the word.

Sound cards or magnetic letters are perfect for quick review of those familiar sounds – but you can point to them in the word too.

It’s also worth saying that it’s best only to try to sound out words with sounds your child knows quite well.

Later on, they’ll be able to learn new sounds and try to use them in words right away, but for now they’re holding a lot in their little head already so go for familiarity.

Let’s say you’re going to sound out ‘pat’.

How to sound out a word using blending

Tell your child that you’re going to try and read some words now.

This is exciting because up to now they’ve only been able to read sounds, so get excited with them.

Now, have the word written in nice, big letters in front of them.

Point to each letter and say its sound, ‘p-a-t‘.

Do it again and have them join in with you, ‘p-a-t‘.

Can your child blend the sounds together?

Repeat the sounds a few more times if they don’t say ‘pat’ right away.

Then say it for them if they don’t say it themselves, “P-a-t, pat!”

Ask them to say it too.

This is a big step, so give them lots of encouragement to keep trying – and praise when they get the word.

We’re going to talk about what to do if that’s not enough to get your child blending, because there’s more you can do to support them if they need it.

But first, what next after they successfully read that first word?

Blending more words

Now that they’ve got one word right, let’s try another.

If you chose ‘pat’, then the easiest thing to do is swap the consonants around.

They’ve already practised those sounds – so it’s less for them to do – but now they’re in a different order.

Repeat the steps as above, encouraging your child to read the sounds out loud in order and then try to blend the word.

Join in if you need to.

‘T-a-p’

‘T-a-p’

‘T-a-p, tap!’

And that might be enough for today because they’re using a lot of brainpower to blend those sounds together.

If you’d like to keep going, stick with familiar sounds and swap one at a time.

Change-one-sound blending practice

If you can keep the sounds that you’re using nearly the same, but swap around the order and switch out only one sound at a time, you’ll make the whole task easier on your child.

Instead of having to hold a whole new set of sounds in their head each time, there’s only one change to remember.

That frees up their brain to focus on the new skill they’re working on – blending.

So after working on pat and tap, try pit and tip, or pan and nap, or sit and sip.

(You can find out which sounds your child knows by checking their reading folder if they have one or asking the teacher.)

I have a different video here that shows you how to pick words for blending without overwhelming your child.

And if you practise a few words a day using small groups of sounds and slowly introducing more letters, it’ll get easier.

But what if it’s just not easy at all?

Then you need to try supported blending.

How to support your child to blend sounds into words

For some children, squishing those sounds together into words is very hard work.

In the video, I talk about this just after the two minute mark.

How can you help them?

I have two tips for you.

Easier blending tip 1

Firstly, make sure you’re only saying the sound of each letter and nothing else.

What does that mean?

Well, maybe like me you learned to say your sounds like this,

a, bu, cu, du, etc

Instead of just saying ‘b’, we often add that little ‘u’ sound afterwards – and that sound doesn’t exist in the word.

It can make sounding out so much harder – and you probably don’t even know you’re doing it.

Instead of sounding out bad as b-a-d, you might find that you’re actually saying bu-a-du.

Try to get rid of those ‘u’ sounds and it’ll be easier to find the word in amongst the sounds.

And if that’s not the problem, then it’s time for tip 2.

Easier blending tip 2

The skill of blending is in taking those separate sounds and saying them as one whole, unbroken word.

If putting the sounds together’s hard for your child, do some of the work for them until they start to get it.

How? By showing them how to stretch the sounds out and blend them.

So instead of saying s-a-t with a break between each sound, you’ll say sssssaaaaat (because you can’t stretch ‘t’) with no breaks at all.

As you say it, run your finger under each letter slowly, saying ssss while it’s pointing to ‘s’, then switching to ‘aaaaa’ while you pass the ‘a’ sound and finally saying the short ‘t’, also without a break.

I know I’ve said it already, but I recommend you watch the video of this bit.

Then have them do the same, slowly sliding their finger along below the word saying each sound and moving seamlessly to the next one.

It might feel like you’re helping too much (my son told me I was telling him the answers) but if your child’s not getting the word from repeating the letters separately then it isn’t.

All you’re doing is showing them how to blend those sounds together.

Try it and see if it helps – and remember that you don’t need to keep doing it once they get the hang of blending.

After a few weeks (or sooner) they might be able to go with ‘s-a-t, sat!’ when they couldn’t before.

That’s great progress – but it’s fine to support them until they get there.

Final thoughts on how to teach blending

Like any tricky new skill, blending a few words often is the best way to get results.

Agree that you’ll read 5 words every day – and make it easy by putting a word on the fridge in magnetic letters or having them read one or two words of the bedtime story.

That way, if they only have the energy for a couple of words after school, they’ll still hit the target.

And on good days, they might blend a lot more than five words before they get fed up.

Check out my free phonics & numbers board games for a blending game with dinosaurs >>

10+ ways to teach letter recognition without a worksheet in sight >>

How to teach your child new sounds >>

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