One of the most important skills to support kindergarten reading words is blending phonemes. When children blend phonemes, they are literally reading the word by putting together it’s individual sounds. As children are learning their letter sounds, they are ready to start to blend phonemes, and these 5 activities can help!
Blending Phonemes Progression
Children don’t just wake up in kindergarten reading words, although the occasional student might appear to do that. Instead, they follow a standard phonics progression. Teachers should lean into that developmental progression and teach skills in this order. First, teachers should focus on phonological awareness (more on that here). Children then begin by being able to identify and hear beginning sounds of words. Once they can isolate those beginning sounds, then they can identify and hear ending sounds. After ending sounds, they can start to hear middle sounds. When I say hear, I mean only hear. I am not adding letters to those sounds yet. Once they can do beginning, ending, and middle sounds, then I start adding in letters to the sounds they are hearing. Simultaneously, I have been teaching individual letter sounds so that the children know what the sound is for each letter.
Once children are ready to start adding in letters to the sounds they are hearing and can isolate beginning, ending, and middle sounds, then they are ready to start working on CVC words, or consonant-vowel-consonant three letter words. These are words where the vowel says it’s short vowel sound and the consonants all say they typical sounds. You will see ideas below for how to work on CVC words. After children show a mastery of CVC words, then you can start introducing blends, followed by digraphs, followed by CVCe (or silent e) words. Always start with hearing and isolating the sounds before adding letters to the sounds, no matter how advanced the phonics skills are!
If you want a free phonics scope and sequence for kindergarten and first grade, grab my free guide below!
Elkonin Boxes are my favorite way to practice hearing and isolating the three sounds in CVC words. You only need three boxes next to each other to practice CVC words. There are millions of examples out there. A pet peeve of mine though is when the CVC words feature -am or -an, because those are glued sounds, and the a doesn’t sound like a typical short a. I like when there is a picture on the cards so that the children can do the activity independently by reading the picture, sounding out the three sounds, and then writing it down. You could totally stop the activity there, but the activity is even more meaningful if you add in a way to blend phonemes, not just isolate them. I tell my students that before they erase the Elkonin Boxes (I like laminating the and using dry erase for easy reusability), they have to read the word. If I know a student is just looking at the picture, I can cover up the pictures with a sticky note. This reinforces the connection between isolating phonemes and blending phonemes.
CVC Words: Beginning, Middle, and Ending Sounds
Say it, Make it, Write it
Say It, Make It, Write It is an easy game that has never-ending possibilities! The children can look at a bunch of pictures of cvc words and say the word (or you, the teacher can say the word) and then the students have to make it using either letter tiles or magnetic letters. Then they have to write the word. As they are writing it, encourage them to blend phonemes together. Remember, before they erase, have them read the word one more time to practice blending phonemes again. A great extension of this is to use nonsense CVC words to practice the skill of isolating and blending phonemes when the word is unknown to the child.
Slide it, Read it
Slide It, Read It is a game that only focuses on supporting a child to blend phonemes. They tap under each individual phoneme and then slide under the letters to blend phonemes together. The dots and arrow provide a nice visualization you can use if children are struggling in a book too. Just draw (on a sticky note) the three dots and the arrow and then have children practice sliding under the letters and blending phonemes together. It’s a great warm-up to a small reading group.
Speaking of warm-ups, I love using these digital resources as warm-ups or closing activities for my reading and writing lessons. The children love the Phonics PowerPoints because they showcase fun transitions and activities while still giving them a chance to practice blending phonemes (there’s way more powerpoints in the bundle… enough for the whole year’s worth of phonics skills!).
The students also love using the digital phonics boards, either as a whole class, or on Seesaw, to practice writing CVC words. Anything is more fun if an iPad is involved, right?!
As I mentioned above, nonsense words are a must have when working to blend phonemes. Children get very comfortable with the words they know that sometimes they can fake their ability to blend phonemes. However, as soon as you put a nonsense word in front of them, you find out what they can really do. They can’t rely on their vocabulary knowledge to help them recognize if it is a real word or not. They simply have to blend phonemes together. I always try to include a few nonsense words into whatever blending phonemes activity I am doing.
Bonus Blending Activities
Once children get proficient at blending phonemes, they need practice reading lots of words. That’s why I have all of these games for CVC words (and nonsense words!) to just practice reading words over and over again. Because they are in a game format, the children don’t realize it’s work! Go Fish is always a favorite for my students, and it can easily be turned into Kaboom by adding in a few cards labeled “kaboom!” Instead of trying to find matches, the children try NOT to get the “kaboom” card. If they do, they have to put all their cards back in the pile. The children love the anticipation of getting “kaboom!” Plus, it’s fun to say!
Another bonus activity to practicing blending activities is using decodable readers. Decodable readers are written so that students can sound out each word. Then, as they learn more phonics skills, the complexity of the words can increase.
When it is time to start in kindergarten reading words and books, teachers should focus on teaching students how to blend phonemes. These are five of my favorite ways to give students a chance to practice blending phonemes. This will help them be able to read any word that comes their way in a decodable text. Which activity is your favorite? Let me know in the comments!