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Segmenting: A Critical Skill for Spelling

segmenting featured graphic

If your student is a beginning or struggling speller, one of the most important things you can do is teach him how to segment words. Knowing how to segment opens up a whole world of literacy. In fact, it’s surprising that this important spelling skill isn’t taught more widely, especially given how easy it is to teach.

This blog post explains what segmenting is, how to teach it, and how to apply it to your spelling lessons.

And be sure to grab the free printable so you can start teaching segmenting right away!

What Is Segmenting?

Segmenting is the ability to hear the individual sounds in words. It improves phonological awareness and long-term spelling ability.

Think of segmenting as the opposite of blending. When we speak, we blend sounds together to make a word. In segmenting, we take the individual sounds apart. For example, say the word ham aloud and listen for the three separate sounds:

Segmenting the word "ham"

In the word shrimp, there are five separate speech sounds. Even though there are six letters, the SH phonogram represents the single sound of /sh/.

Segmenting the word "shrimp"

How Do You Teach Segmenting?

A great way to start is with this “Breaking Words Apart” activity.

download graphic for a segmenting activity

In this segmenting activity, your child will learn how to hear the sounds in short words. He’ll break apart two-sound words and three-sound words so that later he will be able to represent each sound with a written phonogram.

Segmenting can also be taught using tokens, coins, or squares of paper. You can see a demonstration in the video below.

Moving from Segmenting to Spelling

After your child is able to segment words into speech sounds using tokens, move on to segmenting words using letter tiles or the letter tiles app. It is a simple transition: the student still segments the word aloud, but instead of pulling down a token, he pulls down a letter tile for each sound.

There are three basic steps.

  1. Dictate the word, and then point to the tiles to indicate to the student that it is his turn to use the tiles.
  2. Segmenting - dictate the word "had"
  3. The student segments the word aloud, pulling down a tile for each sound.
  4. Segmenting - student spells with letter tiles
  5. The student reads the word he just spelled. Reading the word enables the student to self-correct if he has made a mistake.
Segmenting - student reads the word he just spelled

After segmenting words with the letter tiles, the student is ready to move on to spelling with paper and pencil. The student can eventually go straight from hearing a dictated word to writing on paper, segmenting the word in his head if necessary.

For More Help with Teaching Spelling

Segmenting - 20 Best Tips for teaching Reading and Spelling

Find more great tips for teaching spelling in my free report, “20 Best Tips for Teaching Reading and Spelling.”

This report gives you a glimpse into the proven strategies we’ve used to help over 150,000 amazing children (and adults) learn to read and spell.

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Dawn Lewis

says:

Segmenting was such a help for my dyslexic son, he was finally able to pick out individual sounds that he could then match to graphemes when trying to spell a word. He still struggles with spelling and I wish our local schools would use this spelling and reading program, but the help working through levels at home has given him is brilliant. And segmenting was something even his 4 yr old sister could join in with and enjoy!

Robin

says: Customer Service

I am very happy to hear that working through All About Spelling at home is helping your son, Dawn. Yes, it would be nice if all schools would implement programs that were incremental, explicit, and research-based so all children could benefit. There has been a lot of news about such things in recent years, so hopefully education is trending that way.

Justina

says:

This article is very helpful! I can’t wait to incorporate this activity with my kids!

Robin

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this is helpful, Justina!

Tracey

says:

Segmenting words in AAS has helped my struggling reader so much with sounding out words. I never dreamed how much AAS would help her reading!

Robin

says: Customer Service

Tracey,
Yes! One of my sons kept telling me how he was what he was learning in spelling in his reading. He was applying the syllable division rules he learned to aid in sounding out unfamiliar multisyllable words. Having solid skills for approaching unknown words is a huge confidence builder!

Eunah

says:

Very helpful tips! Is ‘Breaking Words Apart’ activity incorporated in AAS level 1?

Robin

says: Customer Service

Eunah,
Level 1 of All About Spelling teaches the concept and skill of segmenting words, but it does not include this specific activity.

Cindy

says:

Should a child be doing this in level 1?

Robin

says: Customer Service

Good question, Cindy. Yes. A child should be segmenting words into their individual sounds from the beginning of Level 1 of All About Spelling. In fact, segmenting words into sounds is the focus of the second lesson of that level.

Cindy

says:

Thank you. I want to make sure I’m doing this right ☺️

Robin

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome! I’m happy to help.

RS

says:

This article on segmenting is very helpful! Thank you!!

Robin

says: Customer Service

You are very welcome, RS!

Brooke Honeycutt

says:

This is a great way to help kids who struggle with sounds! My son does and I have not been able to figure out how to get thru to him! Thanks for this!

Robin

says: Customer Service

I hope this helps your son, Brooke. But if he continues to have difficulties, let me know. I’m happy to help!

Stephanie

says:

I’m looking forward to doing more oral segmenting with my struggling kiddos! I’ve done it with the letter tiles, but I think I need to go back to just the oral stuff with some of them. Thanks for the video and tips!

Robin

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Stephanie! One of the great things about working on oral segmenting is that you can do it anywhere. I often practiced such skills while driving to the store or other errands.

Kayla Ayers

says:

Thank you! Working on this with my 10 year old and it’s helping him so much

Robin

says: Customer Service

Great to hear, Kayla! You’re welcome.

Chrystal H

says:

Thanks so much for the tip! I am really looking forward to starting the curriculum with my kiddos!

Robin

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Chrystal!

If you have questions, need help with placement, or anything, just ask. I’m happy to help!

Nova S

says:

thank you for this guide!!

Robin

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Nova!

Wendy Browne

says:

Segmenting is a really interesting and helpful tool.

Robin

says: Customer Service

So true, Wendy! Thank you.

Mel

says:

Thanks for the great tips!

Kelli Ross

says:

Thank you for sharing

bn100

says:

helpful info

Bethany

says:

Thanks for all the great info!!

Justin

says:

Thanks for all the great blog posts!

Crystal

says:

This totally works! We have our kids segment words, helps me to :)

Robin

says: Customer Service

Great to know segmenting is helping you and your kids, Crystal!

Cristina

says:

Thanks for the tips!

Lauren Thornton

says:

All about reading is the best! We have not started all about spelling but my daughter already can spell with her AAR experience.

Robin

says: Customer Service

Great to hear that All About Reading is working so well for your daughter, Lauren!

Donna Kozar

says:

Great tip

Joseph Nordstrom

says:

Thanks! Looking forward to jumping into the curriculum!

Robin

says: Customer Service

Let me know if you have questions about placement or anything else, Joseph.

Amy Beth

says:

This has been so helpful to me, as the mom and teacher, who learned whole word or sight word method. But it is also wonderful for my children.

Robin

says: Customer Service

I’m so glad this is helpful for both you and your children, Amy!

Julianne

says:

This is the best reading program I have ever used! I promote it to every homeschooler I know!

Robin

says: Customer Service

Thank you for recommending All About Reading, Julianne!

Paula

says:

Thank-you!

Krista

says:

This really does help!

Melissa Mckinstry

says:

Amazing tips

Khristina

says:

We’ve really enjoyed AAR! Ty

Kristina

says:

Ive never been this best speller so I wanted to make sure my kids did not follow in my footsteps. These tips are so helpful!

Natalia

says:

love this