Blending sounds: teachers' tips

Phonics blending tips
Struggling to help your child 'blend' sounds when they're reading aloud? Primary teacher Phoebe Doyle offers tips to help you support their phonics learning and early reading at home.

When most of us parents were at primary school, reading was taught in an entirely different way. We’d never heard of phonics, and neither would have many of our teachers! We learnt our ‘sounds’, had flashcards with words to memorise sent home and generally tended to learn via constant practice without much teacher input.

Fast forward to today: the majority of primary children have daily phonics sessions, 10-15 minutes of focused classroom work on reading, and a key component of phonics learning is ‘blending’.

So, what does blending mean?

Blending is a key skill, perhaps the key skill, children need when learning to read. Early in Reception year they’ll begin to learn their sounds (or phonemes) – there are 44 in total. At the same time they’ll begin to learn how to blend them together, to read words. So, /c/ /a/ /t/ can be ‘sounded out’ and they’ll blend it to read ‘cat’.

Learning to blend sounds step-by-step

Initially your child will learn to blend with simple two- and three-letter words.

It gets trickier when longer words are introduced, when sounds are spelt with more confusing spelling patterns, and when there are ‘cluster’ sounds within a word which become harder to segment and then subsequently blend. The ‘learning to blend’ journey, though, is all supported through their phonics work at school. 

Blending practice at home: how parents can help

  1. Try some fun worksheets and activities Playing is how children learn best, and learning to blend is certainly no exception to this rule. Look through all TheSchoolRun's phonics worksheets to find the best ones for your child.
  2. Start small When reading with a young child, ensure you don’t encourage or insist on them blending every single word in a book. Firstly it’ll take forever! Secondly, and most importantly, the story will be lost, reading will become a chore and they’ll begin to find the process boring and tiring and feel like a failure. Start by only looking at the two-letter words in a story book (‘it’, ‘on’, ‘is’, etc) before moving on to CVC words such as ‘tap’ and ‘bin’. Sound out each phoneme, tapping the corresponding letters as you do so, then give your child time to blend the word (it may take a minute or so for them to get it, but give them that ‘mental space’ to think!).
  3. Are we sitting comfortably? Blending is tricky. It’s working out this crazy code and piecing it all together. Make your child isn't tired; if they are, leave it until tomorrow. Insisting on them doing all the hard work of reading will only put them off – let them enjoy you reading to them regularly, too.
  4. Some children add /uh/ on the end of a sound (for example, /m/ becomes /m/ /uh/). Whispering can help with this as it can encourage them to focus on the shape their mouth should make when saying a sound. If they’re not getting the sounds right, successful blending is impossible.
  5. Don’t speak or rush them as they’re trying to blend. This skill needs their full concentration; show them you’ve got time for them to figure it out.
  6. Invest in a set of magnetic letters for the fridge, and use different colours for segmenting the different sounds in a word.

To help your child practise blending particular sounds watch Mr Thorne Does Blends (below), a playlist of 20 specific videos chosen for us by Mr Thorne himself.