Do you have students in your class that are poor readers and spellers? Or are you a parent who is concerned that your child isn’t where they should be with their reading?
In the past I’ve had students in my class that had very poor phonemic skills (being able to hear, identify and manipulate sounds in words). I had one boy, in Year 5, that didn’t know how to identify the individual sounds in words. I spent many hours of one-on-one time with this student to help him with being able to read. Some of the activities I tried with him included using mastery folders, flash cards, looking for patterns in words, finding words in magazines, LSCWC (look, say, cover, write and check) and I’m sure many more…..But this was to no avail….by the end of the year he could still only read a handful of words. As a classroom teacher I felt like a failure and I didn’t know what to do in order to help students that had reading difficulties.
If you’ve come across this problem in your class too, you’re not alone. Since then I have made it my mission to learn all I can about teaching the essential skills needed for reading and spelling.
I think the reason why I had no real success with this student was that I didn’t provide this student with the essential skills needed in order to read. I was never taught this at University and as a whole language teacher this was not part of the teaching programme. Many of the activities, techniques and strategies I used were mainly based on using students’ visual memory. Looking at flashcards, using a mastery folder, LSCWC all rely on recalling from visual memorisation. There is a limit to how much we can retain and then recall when needed. If students are not taught about decoding, then even for words that are easily decodable they can struggle.
I’ll share with you some of the strategies that I now use to improve the essential reading skills of segmenting and blending. These ideas are great for parents as well as teachers. Some of them are appropriate for younger children who are just learning about the sounds in language, while the other techniques are good for students who may be experiencing difficulties or who have missed being taught the skills needed for reading and spelling.
Firstly, it’s important to know what the essential reading skills are.
What is blending?
Blending is being able to push sounds together to build words. For example, /s/ /a/ /t/ = sat
What is segmenting?
Segmenting is the ability to be able to pull apart individual sounds in words. For example: sat: /s/ /a/ /t/.
What is Manipulation?
Phoneme manipulation is being able to insert and delete sounds in words. This skill is important as it allows readers to test alternatives for spellings that represent more than one sound.
If your students are demonstrating poor segmenting and blending skills then try these ideas:
1. Listening for sounds in words
This is a really great activity to use with younger children who are just starting out with the concept of reading. I use this activity informally with my Little Miss Three when we’re driving or at the dinner table. For example, when we’re driving I might say, “I see the ‘sun’, what’s the first sound you hear in the word sun”. When starting out with activities such as this it’s important to choose words that start with a sound that can be held, such as the /s/ in sun. You may also need to really hold the first sound to emphasise it to younger children. When children are able to identify the initial sound, then move on to try the end and middle sounds. Again, sun is good to use as you can hold the final sound to emphasise it. Other words that you might like to try could include: sat, sit, mat, man, map, nap. Think of short 3 letter words that have a consonant, vowel and consonant (CVC)
You can also play games like ‘eye-spy’ with younger students. Again I use this with my little girl. Quite often I’ll say: “I spy a mmmuuugg”. She needs to then blend the sounds together to tell me the word. Choose words that also have sounds that can be held as it makes it easier for the little ones to be able to hear for the word.
2. Reading books
I am a very big advocate of reading with children from when they are little bubs. I have always read to my little girl and even though she is only 3 and cannot read many of the words, I often find her sitting in her room, surrounded by books and reading them. I also pick words from the book and talk about them with her. Rhyming books are good for this, and I will pick the words that rhyme and get her to listen to how they sound the same.
3. Sound Deletion
Being able to delete or add sounds in words is also important for reading. Many students who have problems with hearing sounds in words will struggle to be able to do this at first. For this activity students will practice saying words by deleting some of the sounds. For young children or those who haven’t had much practice with this, start with deleting the initial sound in words. For instance, get students to say a word without the first sound. Again, you can start with your simple CVC words. Say ‘mat’ without the ‘m’. Say ‘Tom’ without the ‘t’. If you have older students use words that have 4 or 5 sounds (CVCC, CCVCC, CVCCC, CCCVC etc). Say ‘slump’ without the ‘s’. You can also move on to removing sounds either in the middle of the word or at the end of the word. Say ‘clump’ without the ‘l’ or say ‘print’ without the ‘t’.
4. Sound Substitution
The above activity can be extended further by getting students to change sounds in words to make new words. To include writing practice you can get your students to write the word down, I like to use small whiteboards (dry erase boards) for this. If you have one for each student then it’s a simple way to get students to write the new word and hold the board up to show you. You can then quickly scan to see if any students may have difficulty.
Ask students to change ‘mat’ into ‘sat’ or ‘spend’ into ‘spent’. Change ‘spent’ into ‘pent’. Before they go ahead and make the new word you may like to discuss which sound they are changing. Is it the first, second or third sound? When doing this activity it’s important to only change one sound at a time. The words don’t always have to be real words either. This is really fun to do with made up words. For example, change ‘block’ into ‘blon.’ This helps students really listen to the sounds in the words.
5. Brainstorming and grouping
If you’ve been working on a particular sound with your class you may like to get the students to brainstorm other words that have that sound. Students help to make the word lists, rather than the teacher always providing the words. For example, you might have been looking at the digraph ‘sh’. As a class have your students share all the other words they know that have the sound ‘sh’.
If you’re moving on to one sound, but different spellings (such as sound /ae/), then you could group the words according to their spelling. E.g. ‘a-e’: cake, ‘ai’: train, ‘ay’: say, ‘ea’: break. Highlight to your students that they all have the same /ae/ sound but that it can be spelt in these different ways.
Below are some examples of how my students have grouped particular sounds.
6. What sound next?
This is a game you can play with your students where they are looking at each of the sounds that make up the word. Students will guess individual sounds in the word to eventually build the whole word. For example, the word might be: plump. On the board you would have the number of dashes to match the number of sounds: _ _ _ _ _. Also have on the board 2 columns: Could Be or Couldn’t Be.
As students guess the first sound, if it is not the correct one say, “It could be /t/, but it’s not”. Then write the letter ‘t’ under the Could Be column. If students say the letter name, then remind them to say the sound for that letter. For the word plump, when the students have the first letter and you move on to the second letter, if a student says a sound that is not plausible, such as /q/, then you say, “Do you know any words that start with the sounds /p/ /q/?” The student will not be able to think of any, so then that letter combination is added to the Couldn’t Be Column. If a student says a combination that is plausible, such as /p/ /a/, then you say, “It could be, but it’s not” and add that letter combination to the Could Be column. The game continues until the word is revealed. Your board would look similar to the below picture.
When you have words that have one sound but two letters, as in ‘chick’ _ _ _ , let students know when they get there that this is one sound but has 2 letters.
I hope these activities have given you some more practical ideas that you can use in your class or with your children.
More Activities and Ideas
If you’re after additional ideas to introduce and teach phonics and digraphs to your students then you might be interested in The Ultimate Digraph Teaching Kit.
This is a complete kit that will provide you with all the necessary activities to teach the digraphs: sh, ch, th, ck, wh, ng, qu, ai, ay, a-e.
The kit is now available and for a short time only when you purchase the kit you’ll also receive a FREE copy of my Spelling Activities – A Learning Center Using The Three-Story Intellect.