There are 26 letters of the English alphabet, but there are 44 sounds of English. Kids learn letters, but they also need to learn phonemes and graphemes. And once they’ve gotten that, they need to segment, blend, and manipulate sounds. Let’s break all that down and look at some ways to teach the 44 sounds of English.
Phonemes are basic units of sounds. There are 44 phonemes that can be blended to form additional sounds.
Graphemes are the way we write phonemes. You can have a one letter grapheme or multi-letter grapheme. For example, digraphs are two-letter graphemes that represent one phoneme or two letters that represent one sound. You can also have three- or four-letter graphemes.
Phoneme sound charts are used to teach the correspondence between phonemes and graphemes. Phoneme sound charts show the different graphemes that are used for each phoneme. For example, the phoneme /r/ can be represented by graphemes r (as in rock), rr (as in marry), wr (as in write) or rh (as in rhyme).
Phoneme sound charts also include digraphs along with long, short and r-controlled vowels. Students come to understand that there are multiple spellings of many sounds. For example, the long e sound can be represented by e, e-e, ea, ee, ei, eo, ey, i, ie, oe, or y.
Next step: phoneme blending
Knowing the sounds and how to write them is one thing. Working with those sounds to segment and blend is another. Segmenting involves pulling apart sounds, while blending requires pushing them together. These skills often go hand in hand, and students need both for reading and spelling.
You can give students practice blending using games or even in your daily instructions.
I-Spy is one of my favorite blending games. Pick an item in the classroom, such as a pen. Then say: “I spy with my little eye a p-e-n.” Ask your students to blend the sounds together to tell you what you see. You can write the graphemes on the board to help students see the grapheme as they hear the phoneme.
This works for CVC words, but also for other words. For example, you could say, I spy with my little eye a c-l-o-ck. Students blend the sounds together to tell you that you see a clock. If you write the letters on the board, they see that the word includes one digraph and there are only 4 sounds though there are five letters.
Another game that works well for blending practice is Simon Says. The rules are the same as regular Simon Says, but, as in I-Spy, you say some part of the instructions in sounds, and students have to blend those sounds together. For example, “Simon says “S-i-t” down. You can also get a little more complicated by giving the sounds for more than one word as in “T-a-p your d-e-s-k” or “C-l-a-p your h-a-n-d-s.”
Students who do the instruction when you didn’t say ‘Simon says’ are out of the game. Make it clear to those students that they are blending the sounds together correctly.
Just as in Simon Says, you can give instructions in a way that requires students to practice blending. For example, you can say S-i-t on the m-a-t. You can tell students at the beginning of the day that you will be asking them to blend your words or you can tell them right before you give a segmented instruction. Ask students to do what you ask, then ask them to say the blended words. This may take a little more time than simply telling students what to do, but it works in practice throughout the day.
More phoneme blending games
So many games can be adapted to practice phoneme blending.
One game that helps students with phoneme blending and pairing phonemes and graphemes is Which Spelling Is It?
Students have a set of spelling cards that show the different graphemes for a particular sound and another set of cards with words including that sound.
One student segments the word. The other player blends sounds together, identifies the key sound for the game, and taps the correct spelling.
I’ve put together five in the Spelling Game Challenge that can be used for practice. Some games are designed for both basic and advanced code to help students build spelling skills through phoneme blending. I use them for starting a lesson, additional practice, and assessing how students are doing.
Join the free Spelling Game Challenge: