252

Helping Kids Sound Out Words

When you read, you probably don’t spend much time decoding the individual words. You just read, and as you get to each word, you instantly recognize it. But beginning readers don’t have that kind of instant recall yet, so it is important to teach them how to sound out words.

What Does “Sounding Out Words” Mean?

When you sound out a word, you say each sound in the word slowly (s…i…t), and then say the sounds together more quickly (sit). The technical term for this process is blending because sounds are blended together to form a word. Here’s a quick demo:

Our free Blending Procedure PDF has complete step-by-step instructions for both one-syllable and multisyllabic words.

Blending Procedure Downlaod

Why Is Sounding Out (or Blending) Important?

When a child can say the sounds of the letters in the order in which they appear, and can then blend those sounds into a recognizable word, she is able to read thousands of phonetically regular words.

Because it unlocks so many words, blending is an important step toward the goal of reading comprehension. In fact, research shows that learning to sound out words has a powerful effect on reading comprehension.1

Arrow graphic showing blending as a step toward  the goal of reading comprehension

What Kids Should Know Before Sounding Out Words

Before you attempt to teach your child to sound out words, check to see if he is ready. Here’s a free Reading Readiness Checklist for you to download. If you discover that your child isn’t quite ready for reading instruction, you can use the All About Reading Pre-reading program to prepare.

After you’ve used the checklist to ensure that your child is ready to learn to read, it’s time to teach the letter-sound correspondences of several letters of the alphabet. The letters M, S, P, and A are a good place to start because the sounds are easy to pronounce and several interesting words can be formed right away.

Graphic showing that with the sounds of a few letters kids can read words!

Before we get into the four easy steps for teaching blending, let’s discuss a problem that many beginning readers encounter. Recognizing this problem will help you better understand the steps for blending.

Short-term Memory Issues Can Affect Blending

When kids first learn how to decode three-letter words, they have to juggle several cognitive processes simultaneously:

  • They must recognize the letters.
  • They must retrieve the sounds of those letters.
  • They must hold all three sounds in the memory while they sound out the word.

There is a lot going on in their brains! In fact, it is very common for beginning readers to have difficulty with standard blending procedures. Just about anyone who has taught blending has encountered a situation like this:

Comic strip showing that short-term memory issues can affect blending.

What just happened there? Here’s the problem: by the time the child got to the third letter, he had forgotten the sounds of the first two letters, and then had to resort to guessing. But it’s not that kids can’t remember three things in a row—it’s just that there are too many competing processes going on in their heads at once.

It’s easy to understand the problem. But what can we do to help?

“Cumulative Blending” Solves This Problem

Cumulative blending is quite simple. Start by building a phonetically regular word with the Letter Tiles app or physical letter tiles and then follow the steps below. We’ll demonstrate with the word map.

  1. Touch one letter at a time and say the sound of each letter.
Blending the sounds m-a-p into the word map-Step 1
  1. Go back to the beginning of the word and blend the first two sounds together.
  1. Start over at the beginning of the word. Slide your finger under the letters and blend all three sounds together.
  1. Finally, say the word at a normal pace, as we do when we speak.

This is called cumulative blending because there are successive additions of the letter sounds. First we blend the first two sounds (/mă/). Then we start at the beginning of the word again, this time blending all three sounds (/măp/). If there were more sounds in the word, as in split, we’d start at the beginning of the word for each successive addition:

/sp/

/spl/

/splĭ/

/splĭt/

Cumulative blending provides the extra support, or “scaffolding,” that beginning readers need. When you feel your student is ready, he can try blending all three letters without this additional step, but don’t try to withdraw the support too soon. These steps and the support they provide help memory issues immensely.

Download a Free Blending Lesson

Teaching blending - download a sample lesson

Would you like to see how we teach blending in the All About Reading program? Download this sample lesson!

This is the first lesson in AAR Level 1. The blending activities start on page 4 of the PDF.

The All About Reading program walks you through blending and all the skills your student needs to become a strong reader. The program is multisensory, motivating, and complete. And if you ever need a helping hand, we’re here for you.

All About Reading Product Line

What’s your take on teaching kids to sound out words? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

___________________________________
1 University of Royal Holloway London. (2017, April 20). Phonics works: Sounding out words is best way to teach reading, study suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 1, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com

helping kids sound out words pinterest graphic
< Previous Post  Next Post >

Leave a Comment

Jennifer Elizabeth Hartnagle

says:

I love the scaffolding that this system employs. It solves so many reading mishaps from my first go round!

This approach really has been phenomenal for my girl… together with letter sounds learned from a different curriculum.

Sally villarreal

says:

This program has me intrigued!

Stacy

says:

It’s nice to find programs to help parents teach their kids. Keep up the great work! :)

Mary Lauritzen

says:

So thankful for the way you have figured all this out for us! Makes teaching our kids a lot easier!

Kristin Windmann

says:

Thank you so much for this! I actually just sent a link to this to my sister, who is working with a student struggling to blend. I have another friend who might find it helpful, and I’ll be sending it her way, as well.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Kristin,
How thoughtful of you to think of your sister and friend! Some children struggle with blending because their phonological awareness skills are weak. Phonological awareness is the ability to identify and manipulate sounds in language. Your sister and friend might find this page helpful for building these skills, How to Develop Phonological Awareness.

Melanie Williams

says:

Thanks for this reminder! I have a 5 yo who is eager to sound out words, but has a hard time blending the sounds. I am going to start slow with AAR 1. My older two did not start as young, so we’ll see how it goes!

Laura Wright

says:

My 5 year old struggles greatly with blending and reverts to guessing every time. I’ve wondered about only trying to blend two sounds at once (ie /ma/ or /sa/ etc but never making it to the full word) just so there is less for her brain to hold. Any thoughts on this technique?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Laura,
You could try working on just blending two sounds together for a while and see if your child can have success with that.

How does your child do with phonological awareness skills? How well can she rhyme? If you asked her to tell you the first or last sound of a word, could she do it? For example, if you orally asked her to tell you the first sound of the word fan, could she tell you /f/? Not the word built with tiles or written, just spoken. There is a correlation between a student’s phonological awareness skills and their ability to blend sounds into words. Our Pre-reading level works on these skills, and it may be beneficial for your student to do that level even if she already knows all the letter names and sound. If she struggles with the phonological awareness portion of the All About Reading 1 Placement Test, then she would benefit from the Pre-reading level.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Laura,
You could try working on just blending two sounds together for a while and see if your child can have success with that.

How does your child do with phonological awareness skills? How well can she rhyme? If you asked her to tell you the first or last sound of a word, could she do it? For example, if you orally asked her to tell you the first sound of the word fan, could she tell you /f/? Not the word built with tiles or written, just spoken. There is a correlation between a student’s phonological awareness skills and their ability to blend sounds into words. Our Pre-reading level works on these skills, and it may be beneficial for your student to do that level even if she already knows all the letter names and sound. If she struggles with the phonological awareness portion of the All About Reading 1 Placement Test, then she would benefit from the Pre-reading level.

Carrie

says:

When I was teaching my oldest two to read, we had a little trouble of the sort described in the cartoon. I would have them sound out the word again, then I would repeat what they sounded out so they could focus on the sound. It didn’t take long before they could listen to themselves.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Carrie,
Repeating the sound that the student has sounded out is a great scaffolding technique, helping the student to get to the point when he can do it all himself. Thank you for sharing this.

Kristina R.

says:

This program is what broke down the barrier for my son and reading! We are both so grateful!

Margaret Goss

says:

Thanks! Both programs have been wonderful!

Erica Bancroft

says:

Teaching your child to read can be simple and rewarding! This tutorial is so very helpful in demistifying the ‘how-to’ by breaking it down into some simple first steps. Once a child has be introduced to the sounds the letters of the alphabet make, just take it one baby step at a time! Be patient with your child… & with yourself! You can do this!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you for being so encouraging, Erica!

Shonda

says:

I think I need to slow down with my daughter. She completed the Pre-reading curriculum. She knows all her letters and sounds and we are halfway through level 1 with AAR, but she still is struggling with blending which makes reading so slow (and painful for me). I am going to relax with her a bit more, but try some of these techniques. She does not enjoy reading at all right now and that is not my intention.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Shonda,
Your plan to slow down is a good one. She needs to find blending comfortable and not a struggle at all before moving further into All About Reading 1. It may be helpful to go back to the beginning of AAR 1, both as a review and to build up her skills in this area. You want her to be proficient at blending before moving beyond the first few lessons.

Please let us know if you have further questions or concerns. We would love to help you help her succeed with blending.

Julie K.

says:

I appreciate AAS and what your program has done for my son!

Amy

says:

Love this!

Brenda

says:

I’m glad to see that I actually am doing something right!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Oh, I’m sure you are doing many things right, Brenda! However, I am glad to know this particular blog post was encouraging to you in this way.

Victoria R.

says:

I have found that tapping out the sounds on my arm is really useful when I teach blending.

Diana

says:

Being able to blend words is so important

Rebekah H.

says:

I used this procedure with my oldest son and it worked great. It did take lots of practice before he could do it on his own all the time. I also didn’t have him read with anyone other than me until he was confident in blending.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great points, Rebekah! Blending is a difficult skill for some children to master and it can take lots of reviewing and help until they get it.

Kim

says:

Can’t wait to start this program!

Anna

says:

This helped both my boys so much!

Elaine Swartz

says:

Thank you. This is the way I was taught. I have no problem reading etc. I a now gping to work with my grand daughter. Thank you SL much. God bless

Sara

says:

My son and I were just working on this with AAR Level 1 Lesson 1 today. We worked through it just like this. Although he seemed to understand, I think we’re going to have to repeat the lesson a couple more times before moving onto Lesson 2. Thanks for providing such a fabulous resource to help parents teach their kids to read!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sara,
Spending two or three days per lesson is very common for students. While some children can master the material in a lesson in one day, most need time. This blog post, Reading: How Much Time Should I Spend?, has more information about this.

Sarah

says:

Thank you so much. Mr 5 has been having so much difficulty with sounding out, nobody has ever explained it like you did. We won’t be getting so frustrated now.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sarah,
I’m happy to hear this will be helpful to you and your son! If he continues to have problems with sounding words out, however, please let us know. We have many helps and tips up our sleeves!

Tracie

says:

Looking forward to trying this with my son.

Rebecca

says:

Great info!

tara

says:

Great advice

Dawn

says:

Thank-you for the great descriptions. The cumulative blending Explanation makes sense and really explained a lot to me; something I’ll have to try. I would love to win a free set to get started.Thanks!

Laura France

says:

This is excellent information!

Fam

says:

If A child is learning English for the first time what will be the programs that i can use first?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Fam,
Our programs assume the child already understands and speaks English well enough to be able to follow simple directions and be understood by his teacher, in English. Once a student can speak and understand English that well, we recommend beginning with our Pre-reading level, even if the student is older. It has a focus on learning to listen to and manipulate the sounds of English, and that can help new English learners be ready for reading.

For learning to understand and speak English, the best method is to immerse the child in an English environment. A caring adult should bring the child along side them as they go about their day and talking about what they are doing, seeing, thinking, hearing. Read picture books. Work together. Do crafts Name objects. Have fun. Older children typically learn English in much the same way babies and toddlers do, but they do need to be surrounded with the language for a good portion of each day for the best progress in acquiring it.

I hope this helps. Please let us know if you have further questions.

Leave a Comment