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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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Londeka

says:

How do I segment these words Washing , cleaning , doing, baking , cooking

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Londeka,
Words with more than one syllable are segmented one syllable at a time. Then, each syllable is segmented sound by sound. So:

– washing, wash ing /w/-/ah/-/sh/ /i/-/ng/
– cleaning, clean ing /k/-/l/-/ē/-n/ /i/-/ng/
– doing, do ing /d/-/oo/ /i/-/ng/
– baking, ba king /b/-/ā/ /k/-/i/-/ng/
– cooking, cook ing /k/-/ŏŏ/-/k/ /i/-/ng/

Susan Diamond

says:

I love all your spelling words and reading tips.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Susan!

Donald Errol Knight

says:

Wonderful exposition…and practical!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Donald!

Anita Gardner

says:

Question about this download for segmenting words: p4, item #5 picture: What is this item representing? tie (meaning bundle?). I wasn’t sure.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Good question, Anita.

That bundle is a hay bale, so the word to be segmented is hay. If you look at page 8, you’ll see an answer key for the two-sound words and page 13 has the answer key for the three-sound words.

Janet Mc connell

says:

I love your program and these blogs.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Janet!

Michelle

says:

Thanks for sharing your expertise so freely. The information is helpful for anyone teaching literacy skills and I have often shared your resources with the parents and teachers I work with. (P.S. In the first sentence of this post, the word “spelling” should be “speller.”)

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I think I have read this blog post dozens of times, Michelle, I have missed that typo! Thank you for pointing it out; we’ll get it fixed right away!

And thank you for sharing the resources we offer.

rita

says:

can you segment the word estimate pleaase

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sure, Rita. Segmenting multi-syllable words is dong syllable by syllable. So, it is:
es /ĕ/-/s/
ti /t/-/ĭ/
mate /m/-/ā/-/t/

MA

says:

Can you please give an example of segmenting a phrase.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Interesting question. Segmenting is an important skill for spelling words. A phrase is made up of multiple words, so segmenting a phrase would mean segmenting each word separately. You would not segment the sounds of more than one word together.

Melissa

says:

Can you segment the word Christmas, please?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sure, Melissa! Christmas is segmented into its sounds by syllable. /k/-/r/-/i/-/s/ — /m/-/a/-/s/

(Note, when said in normal speech, not only is the T silent, but the A takes on a schwa /uh/ sound.)

Michelle Wilson

says:

Please segment the word ‘recent’

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sure, Michelle. Recent is segmented /r/-/ē/-/s/-/e/-/n/-/t/.

athariiii

says:

please segment the word “peep”

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sure. The word peep is segmented into its three sounds, /p/-/ē/-/p/.

Is there anything else I can help you with?

Martha

says:

How do you segment the word. isn’t?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Martha,
Isn’t is segmented sound-by-sound to /ĭ/-/z/-/n/-/t/. Often when pronounced there is a hint of a vowel sound in between the /n/ and /t/ sounds and that is somewhat common with contractions. Often it is better to approach spelling contractions differently than by segmenting sound by sound. Check out our How to Teach Contractions blog post.

Jessica

says:

Could you segment the words, “could’ve” please?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sure, Jessica. “Could’ve” segmented is /k/-/ŏŏ/-/d/-/uh/-/v/.

Note, the “/ŏŏ/” is the second sound of OO or the third sound of U. You can hear them both in our free Phonogram Sounds app.

Faith

says:

Please segment the word Augusta

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sure, Faith. Augusta is segmented as /aw/-/g/-/ŭ/-/s/-/t/-/uh/.

Laim

says:

can you please segment wrestled for me

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sure, Laim.

With segmenting, you divide words sound by sound, remembering that sounds only are important, not letters. Wrestled has three silent letters, so it is a tricky word! It is segmented as:
/r/-/e/-/s/-/l/-/d/

Erika Sanders

says:

When segmenting the word possible, why is the i pronounced as a short vowel when it is in an open syllable?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great question, Erika.

It is because it is in an unaccented syllable and has taken on the schwa sound. It is why the last two syllables of possible and passable sound the same, even though one is -ible and the other is -able. You’ll find more information on unaccented syllables and the schwa sound in our How to Teach Schwas blog post. However, the -ible versus -able endings are more of an advanced topic that isn’t covered until near the end of All About Spelling level 6.

I hope this helps some, but let me know if you have additional questions.

Alice

says:

Hi,
Please, can you segment the word “carry”
thank you.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sure, Alice. Segmenting the word carry is /c/-/air/-/r/-/ee/. This one is a bit tricky, as regional accents will play a part in how the AR is pronounced. It may be different where you are at. The idea with segmenting, however, is breaking each word down into its individual sounds.

Fraydoon

says:

Can you segment the word doesn’t please

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I did below, Fraydoon, but here it is again. Doesn’t is segmented sound-by-sound, /d/-/uh/-/z/-/n/-/t/.

Daniella

says:

Nice learning platform

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Daniella.

Ssebuggwaawo Robinah Catherine

says:

Can please segment for me the word “school” , one, two,
Thank you very much for sharing such wonderful knowledge.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sure, Ssebuggwaawo. School is segmented into its individual sounds, /s/-/k/-/oo/-/l/.

Is there anything else I can help you with?

Fraydoon

says:

Can you please segment the word
Doesn’t

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sure, Fraydon. Doesn’t is segmented sound-by-sound, /d/-/uh/-/z/-/n/-/t/.

Ssebuggwaawo Robinah Catherine

says:

Thank you very much. The activity is very interesting and enjoyable. This will help me so much to help those who have problem with segmenting words into individual sounds.

Durojaiye Olayinka

says:

Wonderful work….it was more than useful.thank you for sharing

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad to hear this was helpful, Durojaiye!

Jenn

says:

My 10 yr old is a struggling speller. He has done wonderful on level 1! He is having a problem with differentiating between short (I) and (e), and segmenting when the end sound blends (example: mend, front, shrimp). What can I do to help him?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Jenn,
Distinguishing between short i and short e is a common difficulty, especially for those in certain areas of the US. Check out our 6 Tips to Help Distinguish Between Short I and Short E blog post for ideas and helps.

As for segmenting words with ending blends, first, can your son say the words correctly? If you say mend, can he repeat mend, or does he leave out a sound?

Also, how does he do with reading blends? If he struggles with reading blends, you may want to take a break and work through All About Reading 1 first, and then try spelling again.

If he doesn’t have any trouble reading words with blends, then:

Have you tried the tips on page 66 in the big gray box? First you jump from square to square, and then he does it? I might try that method for a while and then go back to trying with the tokens.

My son struggled with auditory processing in a similar way at this age. Another game I played with him: I would take letter tiles for a word like mend, and mix them up–so I might have enmd. Then I would tell him, “I want to make mend. What letter comes first?” He pulls down the M. “Great! What is the next sound?” and so on. Sometimes he might make the word incorrectly. So I might say, “Oh, I would read that ‘medn.’ That’s different from mend, isn’t it? (emphasizing the d before the nnnnn). Do you know how to change this to make mennnnd?”

Another one you can do is to start with a word like med. If he can build it with tiles, great, let him do that. Then say, “Now I want to change med into mend. That one has another sound, doesn’t it? How can I make mend?” Then you could talk about med. “Med has 3 sounds, doesn’t it? Let’s count them (use the tokens). Good! Now if I change it to mend, how many sounds does that have? Let’s count them.” Try to have him say each sound. If he misses one, you could say, “Let’s try again, listen closely,” and you then say the sounds while he pulls down a token for each sound. Then after you segment a word, say, “Ok, now you try it, you say the sounds in this word,” and see if he can say them all while jumping or pulling down tokens.

Some sounds get muffled together. If the /n/ sound in mend is getting lost, make sure you really punctuate that /n/ sound when you say it. Also, have him watch your mouth while you say the sounds. Mend is a good word to pick on because you can drag out every sound, /mmmmm/ /eeeee/ /nnnnn/ except the final /d/. Give a little pause between each one, then do it again with a long slow blend, and then again blending it fast (we used to say, “say it slow,” and “say it fast.”)

Keep the lessons short & upbeat. If it’s getting to be nicer weather, you could take your lesson outside with some sidewalk chalk too & let him jump out there from square to square. Don’t be afraid to camp out on this lesson for a while nad just do a few words each day. I think it will pay off. I know my son especially had some long plateaus when he was learning to read and spell, and this one (beginning and ending consonant blends) is one we spent some time on.

I hope this helps some. I would love to hear how it goes after a week or two of working on it.

Marija

says:

This program is a wonderful tool for my 7 year old struggling reader and speller. I started AAR1 in second semester of a 1st grade. Before the program, he could hardly read a few CVC words, couldn’t spell correctly any words…..We finished AAR1 in about 8 months, started AAR2 and AAS1. I am so happy to see how my child reads now, and how successfully spells words from the program!
I also use AAS program for my 4th grader, who had trouble with spelling. He also benefits greatly from your program.
Thank you very much!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m so pleased to hear how well your child has progressed with All About Reading, Marija! He has made such great progress. Keep up the great work!

morina

says:

great program and really usefull.thank you very much.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Morina!

Marilyn Fergus

says:

I am excited to learn about this program. Not only for my dyslexic grandchildren, but for my 75 year old husband who has never learned to spell and is a SUPER SLOW reader.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad you have found our program and website helpful, Marilyn! If you haven’t seen it yet, we have a Dyslexia Resources page that I think you will find useful as well.

Let me know if you need anything or have any questions.

Amy

says:

This is helpful as we get started with All About Spelling 1!

Melissa

says:

This method has been very helpful to my son who has always struggled with spelling.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great to hear this method is helpful for your son, Melissa! Thank you.

Dacia Bergeson

says:

This is great! We love All About Spelling so far!