Last week we looked at teaching children the essential reading skill of blending and why that is important. Segmenting is another essential reading skill. And if you have kiddos who are doing OK with their reading, but struggling with spelling, segmenting can help them improve their spelling.
On the other hand, if you’re not specifically teaching children the skill of segmenting, then your students will find accurate spelling difficult.
Why practicing segmenting helps improve spelling
While blending requires readers to push sounds together, segmenting is the ability to pull apart individual sounds in words. For example, sat: /s/ /a/ /t/.
Students must be able to separate and identify sounds, before they can understand how the sounds and letters work together for proper spelling. And according to Catherine Snow et al. (2005), “Spelling and reading build and rely on the same mental representation of a word. Knowing the spelling of a word makes the representation of it sturdy and accessible for fluent reading.”
Here are 3 ways to practice segmenting words to help students improve their spelling (and their reading).
1. Say the sounds
Last week I described an activity called talking in sounds to help develop blending. You can also use this idea to develop segmenting.
Materials: a bag with objects in that the children are familiar with. These objects should have 3 phonemes (sounds) and generally be CVC words.
Have one child come to the bag and pick one of the items without showing it to the others.
Ask that child to say the separate sounds in the object to the other children in the class. For example, if they picked the duck they would say the sounds: /d/ /u/ /ck/.
This activity also practices blending as the other children blend the sounds together to determine what object the child picked. Then the child that picked the object can reveal if they were correct.
2. Count the sounds
You can use this activity with all levels of students who are having trouble with spelling.
If you provide your students with spelling lists or you use focus words you can complete this activity with those words.
Pick a word. For this example, I’ll use bat. Get your students to say the sounds they hear in the word bat and count them one by one. Encourage younger students to use their fingers to keep track of how many sounds they counted. They should tell you they hear 3 sounds – /b/ /a/ /t/.
For older students, you may have words with more sounds, such as bumblebee. Ask students to say each of the sounds and count how many sounds they hear. For this word they should tell you they hear 7 sounds – /b/ /u/ /m/ /b/ /le/ /b/ /ee/.
Remember it’s the number of sounds heard, not the number of letters or syllables.
You can use this technique once students have written a word as well. Get them to say the sounds in the word and underline each spelling that represents that sound. This will then help them work out any possible errors made with spelling. So our bumblebee example would look like:
b u m b le b ee
3. Tap it, map it, zap it (TMZ)
Cheers to my lovely friend Donna for this idea, which I absolutely love. TMZ helps students to first segment each sound in a word and then write the spellings that we use to represent those sounds.
Here’s how it works:
Tell your students one of the words, for example little. Then follow these three steps:
Get your students to tap a square as they say each sound in the word.
Have students write the spellings for each sound as they say it. One sound for each square.
Finally zap the word by writing the whole word at the end.
This activity is also a good way for students to focus in on the ‘tricky’ part of the word.
Generally students have trouble with spelling one part of the word, rather than the whole word. Focus in on that tricky part and provide lots of practice and repetition of words with that spelling.
Below is an example grid that you can easily make yourself and use with your students. The boxes can be any size to suit the needs of your students. But I like to have them a bit larger, so then they can be cut apart and used as puzzles.
Try to keep it fun. Games like What Sound Next, that I described in How to Make Phonics Fun for Students work really well to practice segmenting. And if you want more games and activities to help develop confident readers and accurate spellers, here’s your solution:
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