Synthetic phonics involves teaching kids to link sounds and symbols. In other words, students learn to connect phonemes to graphemes or sounds to letters. Synthetic phonics begins by teaching students to hear the sounds that make up words. Systematic synthetic phonics systems progress through the 44 sounds of English. There may be some variation in order of sounds in different programs, but in general, they begin with the most common consonant and short vowel sounds. Then they progress to long vowels, digraphs, adjacent consonants or consonant blends, and r-controlled vowel sounds. Over time, students will learn additional alternate spellings for different sounds.
Digraphs are two or more letters that represent one sound, such as the ch in chick or the sh in shape. You’ll need to teach students common digraphs as part of your synthetic phonics instruction. But what about consonant blends?
You don’t need to teach consonant blends. You need to teach students blending.
Blending is an essential reading skill. Students pick out sounds in words and then learn to push those sounds together. For example, they see map and identify the sounds /m/ /a/ /p/. They can say each sound separately mmmm-aaaaa-p and then smooth it out mm-aa-p, m-a-p, map.
How to teach consonant blends
Consonant blends, or consonant clusters, are groups of two or more consonants, but unlike digraphs, you can hear each sound in a consonant blend or consonant cluster. Students will need explicit teaching on consonant blends, but you should teach students to blend rather than teaching blends as separate units.
Students need to understand what consonant blends are and learn how to segment and blend the sounds. They don’t need to memorize a list of consonant blends.
Hearing the different sounds in consonant clusters can be challenging for some students, so you will want to provide plenty of practice in hearing and blending sounds.
One simple way to teach blending is to play I Spy. Choose an item in the classroom, such as a map. Then say: “I spy with my little eye a c-u-p.” Students need to blend the sounds together to tell you what it is. To work on consonant blends, choose words that include blends. For example, say “I spy a c-l-o-ck” or “I spy a p-l-a-n-t.” Students blend the sounds to tell you that you see a clock or plant. You can write the words on the board to help students see the different sounds that make up the consonant blends.
Using segmenting and blending with consonant blends
Blending is pushing sounds together, and segmenting is pulling them apart to hear the individual sounds in words. If students are struggling with consonant blends, they may need help segmenting as well as blending.
One way to practice segmenting is to count the sounds. You can adapt this activity for any level and for a variety of skills. To practice segmenting consonant blends, choose words with consonant blends in them. You can demonstrate with a word students may already know, such as a CVC word, like pop. Have students say the sounds they hear in the word pop and count them. Students mark each sound on paper or a white board or use their fingers to keep track of how many sounds they counted. You can also have students write the word and underline each sound. In this case, students should say 3 sounds – /p/ /o/ /p/ or write p o p. The same works for words such as flag. In this case, students should hear 4 sounds f-l-a-g. Note that students should identify one letter for each sound in a consonant blend, but that there might be other letter combinations that don’t match up. For example, students should find 4 sounds in clock (c-l-o-ck).
Where in the word?
In addition to being able to identify and blend sounds in consonant clusters, students should understand how consonant blends are used. They can show up at the beginning of words as initial consonant blends, as in clock or flag. But they can also show up at the end of words as final consonant blends, as in mask or sink. Students need to be able to recognize and blend the sounds in consonant clusters in any part of the word.
For practice with reading words with consonant blends, try color by code activity sheets! Students won’t even realize how much phonics practice they are getting with reading and identifying cvc words with these engaging worksheets.
Color by Code Consonant Blends & Digraphs Worksheets – COMING SOON!
Looking for some seasonal fun?
Try Easter Coloring Pages! Great for brain breaks, early finishers, or just a seasonal connection.