Blending and Segmenting Games

Children who can segment and blend sounds easily are able to use this knowledge when reading and spelling. Segmenting and blending individual sounds can be difficult at the beginning. Our recommendation is to begin with segmenting and blending syllables. Once familiar with that, students will be prepared for instruction and practice with individual sounds.

How to use: Individually With small groups Whole class setting

What are blending and segmenting?

Blending (putting sounds together) and segmenting (pulling sounds apart) are skills that are necessary for learning to read and spell. When students understand that spoken words can be broken up into individual sounds (phonemes) and that letters can be used to represent those sounds, they have the insight necessary to read and write in an alphabetic language. Blending and segmenting games and activities can help students to develop phonemic awareness, a strong predictor of reading achievement.  

Why teach blending and segmenting?

  • Teaching students to identify and manipulate the sounds in words (phonemic awareness) helps build the foundation for phonics instruction.
  • Blending and segmenting activities and games can help  students to develop phonological and phonemic awareness.
  • Developing phonemic awareness is especially important for students identified as being at risk for reading difficulty.

How to teach blending and segmenting

Segmenting and blending — especially segmenting and blending phonemes (the individual sounds within words) — can be difficult at first because spoken language comes out in a continuous stream, not in a series of discrete bits. Beginning with larger units of speech can help.

Early in phonological awareness instruction, teach children to segment sentences into individual words. Identify familiar short poems such as "I scream you scream we all scream for ice cream!" Have children clap their hands with each word.
 
As children advance in their ability to manipulate oral language, teach them to segment words into syllables. For example, have children segment their names into syllables: e.g., Ra-chel, Al-ex-an-der, and Rod-ney. Likewise, have them blend syllables to make words. 
 
Once in kindergarten, the focus of blending and segmenting instruction should shift to the phoneme level. This work can be challenging for students, so it can be useful to know which scaffolds can help students make the leap.

  1. Start with words that have only two phonemes (for example, am, no, in)
  2. Begin with continuous sounds (phonemes that can be held for a beat or two without distorting the sound). Have students practice blending and segmenting words with continuous sounds by holding the sounds using a method called “continuous blending” or “continuous phonation.”  (e.g., “aaaammmm ... am”)
  3. Then, introduce a few stop sounds (phonemes that cannot be held continuously). Ensure that students articulate the sounds cleanly, without adding an “uh” to the ends of sounds such as /t/ and /b/. Stop sound at the end of words (eg. at, up) are easier to blend than those that have stop sounds at the beginning (for example, be, go)
  4. As students are ready, progress to words with three phonemes, keeping in mind that words beginning with continuous phonemes (for example, sun) are easier to blend and segment than those with stop sounds (for example, top). 
  5. As students become more skilled at blending and segmenting, they may no longer need to hold sounds continuously, transitioning from “ssssuuunnn” to sun.

It can be helpful to anchor the sounds students are working with to visual scaffolds. Elkonin boxes, manipulatives (such as coins or tiles), and hand motions are popular supports. It’s important to remember, however, that the goal of blending and segmenting games is literacy and there is no better visual representation for a phoneme than a letter.  

Counting words in sentences using magnets (whole class) 

In this sentence segmenting activity, the teacher works with students to count the words in sentences they generate using a magnet to represent each word. Notice that the activity is heavily scaffolded. With practice, the students will be able to segment sentences with increasingly less support.

Helping children clap or tap syllables in words (small group)

In this syllable segmenting activity, the teacher has the students clap out the syllables in the names of animals using picture prompts.

Blending syllables to make a word (whole class)

In this syllable blending activity, the teacher says the two syllables of each word and the students repeat and orally combine the syllables to make words. Hand motions help reinforce the concept.

Blending sounds in words (small group)

Collect resources

Blending

Guess-the-word game

This activity, from our article Phonological Awareness: Instructional and Assessment Guidelines, is an example of how to teach students to blend and identify a word that is stretched out into its basic sound elements.

Objective: Students will be able to blend and identify a word that is stretched out into its component sounds.

Materials needed: Picture cards of objects that students are likely to recognize such as: sun, bell, fan, flag, snake, tree, book, cup, clock, plane

Activity: Place a small number of picture cards in front of children. Tell them you are going to say a word using "Snail Talk" a slow way of saying words (e.g., /fffffllllaaaag/). They have to look at the pictures and guess the word you are saying. It is important to have the children guess the answer in their head so that everyone gets an opportunity to try it. Alternate between having one child identify the word and having all children say the word aloud in chorus to keep children engaged.

Robot talk

Talking in "Robot Talk," students hear segmented sounds and put them together (blend them) into words. See robot talk activity 

See all Blending/Segmenting Activities from the University of Virginia PALS program

Blending slide

The "Reading Genie" offers teachers a simple way to teach students about blends. Teachers can use a picture or small replica of a playground slide and have the sounds "slide" together to form a word. See blending slide activity 

Oral blending activity

The information here describes the importance of teaching blending skills to young children. This link provides suggestions for oral sound blending activities to help students practice and develop smooth blending skills. See oral blending activities

Sound blending using songs

This activity (see Yopp, M., 1992) is to the tune of "If You're Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands."

If you think you know this word, shout it out!
If you think you know this word, shout it out!
If you think you know this word,
Then tell me what you've heard,
If you think you know this word, shout it out!

After singing, the teacher says a segmented word such as /k/ /a/ /t/ and students provide the blended word "cat."

Segmenting

Segmenting cheer activity

This link provides teachers with information on how to conduct the following segmentation cheer activity. See segmenting cheer activity 

Write the "Segmentation Cheer" on chart paper, and teach it to children. Each time you say the cheer, change the words in the third line. Have children segment the word sound by sound. Begin with words that have three phonemes, such as ten, rat, cat, dog, soap, read, and fish.

Segmentation Cheer

Listen to my cheer.
Then shout the sounds you hear.
Sun! Sun! Sun!
Let's take apart the word sun.
Give me the beginning sound. (Children respond with /s/.)
Give me the middle sound. (Children respond with /u/.)
Give me the ending sound. (Children respond with /n/.)
That's right!
/s/ /u/ /n/-Sun! Sun! Sun!

Segmenting with puppets

Teachers can use the activity found on this website to help teach students about segmenting sounds. The activity includes the use of a puppet and downloadable picture cards. See segmenting with puppets activity

Differentiate instruction

for second language learners, students of varying reading skill, and for younger learners

  • Incorporate print into blending and segmenting the individual sounds in words with students who know the spelling-sound correspondences in the words.
  • Use picture-centered activities to support English-learners and younger students.

Related strategies

Find more activities for building phonological and phonemic awareness in our Reading 101 Guide for Parents.

See the research that supports this strategy

Chard, D., & Dickson, S. (1999). Phonological Awareness: Instructional and Assessment Guidelines.

Clemens, N., Solari, E., Kearns, D. M., Fien, H., Nelson, N. J., Stelega, M., Burns, M., St. Martin, K. & Hoeft, F. (2021, December 14). They Say You Can Do Phonemic Awareness Instruction “In the Dark”, But Should You? A Critical Evaluation of the Trend Toward Advanced Phonemic Awareness Training

Fox, B., & Routh, D.K. (1976). Phonemic analysis and synthesis as word-attack skills. Journal of Educational Psychology, 68, 70-74.

Gonzalez-Frey, S. & Ehri, L.C. (2021) Connected Phonation Is More Effective than Segmented Phonation for Teaching Beginning Readers to Decode Unfamiliar Words. Scientific Studies of Reading, 25:3, 272-285.

Sensenbaugh. (1996). ABCs of Phonemic Awareness.

Smith, S.B., Simmons, D.C., & Kameenui, E.J. (February, 1995). Synthesis of research on phonological awareness: Principles and implications for reading acquisition. (Technical Report no. 21, National Center to Improve the Tools of Education). Eugene: University of Oregon.

Yopp, H. K. (1992). Developing phonemic awareness in young children. The Reading Teacher, 45 , 696-703.

Children's books to use with this strategy

I'm Number One

I'm Number One

By: Michael Rosen
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

When the humans are away, a toy soldier named A-One becomes demanding, calling the other toys names. When they begin playing with the sounds and letters of the words, insults become silly to make everyone smile and reform. In addition to playing with the sound of words, this humorously illustrated book just may start a discussion of bullying and behavior.

A Huge Hog is a Big Pig

A Huge Hog Is a Big Pig

By: Francis McCall, Patricia Keeler
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

This rhyming words game is illustrated with crisp photographs and is sure to tickle the imagination as another rhyming description is sought. For more experienced readers (grade 2-3), try Eight Ate: A Feast of Homonym Riddles by Marvin Terban — just what the title indicates.

Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook

Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook

By: Shel Silverstein
Genre: Poetry
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Runny Babbit talk is created by spoonerisms, switching the first sound in a pair of words, so a "silly book" becomes a "billy sook." Kids build their phonemic awareness without even trying! The audio book narrator's slightly gravelly voice is ideal for sharing these funny poems (completed though not published before the popular poet's death in 1999).

Snow Music

Snow Music

By: Lynne Rae Perkins
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

The whisper of snow and the jingle of dog tags set a wintery tone in this story of a boy and his friend in search of his lost dog on a snowy day. Music is everywhere in the rhythm of the language and patterns of the illustration in this unusual and memorable book.

Comments

Both of these strategies would not work with special ed students who have speech difficulties. And learning disabled with vowel on top and consonants below.

Really helped me to rethink.....will be a perfect road map to make my child understand sounds and blend it....

I have been working with a seventh grader with the same problem. I conducted a phonological awareness assessment. The student was missing several phonological awareness skills. As the student master the skills, her gaps are becoming smaller.

Does anyone have suggestions for individual instruction with 5th graders who have blending challenges with reading? I need phonemic activities that support blending skills.
Thanks!

Thank you for this wonderful resource on phonological awareness! I love the children's list of books to accompany this strategy. This year I am working as a Mentor/Lead/ Coach Literacy, and this will aid in the success of my students reading development, I'm sure!

thanks for the great resources. I have got a lot of idea and teaching strategy.

Your phonological awareness approach is simply beautiful. It makes me think of teaching early reading skills differently now. Thank you!!!

Thank you for the ideas. Although I've finished my coursework for a Reading Endorsement in Oregon, I feel as if I'm learning authentic reading instruction for the first time. (Post-graduate programs can also be poorly-thought out.) I especially appeciate the presentation of the body-coda blending approach, rather than the onset-rime. I can predict that the blending slide would be very engaging for young students.

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"What an astonishing thing a book is. It's a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person ..." —

Carl Sagan