Using a continuous blending process can help early readers having difficulties blending individual sounds. You might have students who, upon saying /b/ … /a/ … /t/, respond with “butterfly”, “tan”, or even “cat.” Most teachers teaching decoding of CVC words have had this experience teaching students. This likely indicates that their working memory is reaching its limit, causing them to impulsively guess a familiar word starting with the first letter, rather than accurately decoding the sounds.
Reading words can be incredibly taxing for young students with phonemic awareness deficits.
We all know that struggling and beginning readers may have a bumpy road on their journey toward reading fluency. It’s not uncommon for them to encounter twists and turns as they wrestle with words and stumble over sentences. As a result, their spirits may be dampened, and you might hear them say things like, “I can’t read” or “Reading is just too tough for me.” But fret not! We can help our students learn to blend words with fluency and create confidence in these students.
The Importance of Continuous Blending
First, the research. In one recent study by Gonzalez-Frey and Ehri, students who were given explicit instruction in continuous blending were able to decode words more accurately and fluently than those who were taught to sound out words in a choppy way (segmenting phonemes). Think “ssssssaaaaaad” instead of /s/ – /a/ – /d/. Continuous blending was the clear winner.
It turns out that continuous blending of sounds without pausing makes it easier for kids to remember the sounds they started with and read the word accurately. Plus, the more success they have in reading, the more motivated they’ll be to keep learning and develop positive feelings toward reading. Give it a shot and see the difference it makes in your student’s reading journey!
Slide Sounds Instead of Tapping
Let’s help our students read words by teaching them a fun connected phonation technique! Encourage them to smoothly stretch out and hold onto individual sounds in a word as they progress. Begin with continuous sounds such as /m/, /l/, and /s/ as the first letter in a word as you teach blending and how to read words. Surprisingly, research shows that this continuous blending strategy improves their reading skills, even with words containing tricky stop sounds like /b/ or /d/. So, let’s get ready to make reading a breeze for our young learners!
Not a New Decoding Strategy
When I began teaching first grade I began teaching students to decode words with DISTAR and then Reading Mastery. In both programs, children were encouraged to hold each sound before blending it into the next sound and it is was a continuous blending process that helped children read more smoothly by putting sounds together with successive blending. I began with continuant consonant sounds like the sound /m/. Even my special ed students and struggling readers had very few blending challenges even with CCVC words.
But many traditional phonics instruction programs have children tap out (segment) one sound at a time separately as they read words. Many teachers teach blending with this one sound at a time process.
There is nothing wrong with segmenting sounds in fact, it is necessary for understanding the alphabetic principle and is quite helpful for spelling. Children need to hear each sound separately to spell words. So we need both skills but continuous blending is exceedingly helpful for students struggling with auditory memory deficits.
The Continuous Blending Strategy
Try out the super fun continuous blending strategy, as you teach students the blending process where students excitedly blend each letter sound into the next letter sound. The students blend the two sounds and then add the last sound and read the word for a CVC Word. It is often helpful to hide the last sound as you are teaching students continuous blending.
Begin with words with continuous consonants and avoid stop sounds
When teaching decoding with the continuous blending strategy, the teacher should model the technique of blending the first two sounds. It may be better to start with words beginning with continuous consonants like /m/, /l/, /s/, and /v/ that are easier to blend, rather than words beginning with stop sounds like /p/ or /d/.
Have the student copy you:
hold that vowel sound to emphasize it/
Then reveal the last sound in the word and have her add the 3rd sound in the word,
The child does not say the sounds in isolation such as (i.e., not /s/…./a/……/d/). Rather, the student blends the first 2 sounds in the word, emphasizing the short vowel sound, and then adds the last sound to decode the word.
Then I have the students write the words and say the sounds as they write. This creates a connection between spoken language (individual sounds) and letters (symbols). This is important to develop the alphabetic principle. then underline the word and read it. Then have them use the word orally in a sentence.
Why Continuous Blending Works
Helps the auditory memory
By combining sounds without gaps the students naturally chunk the sounds and this gives them less to remember. For inexperienced readers, words look like unrelated letters. Their brains have not mapped spelling patterns yet. If you ever tried to memorize an unrelated string of letters you know it is challenging.
It takes the brain time to map orthographic patterns
It’s because our brains struggle to combine the chaotic arrangement of characters into recognizable words. This difficulty intensifies for children or individuals with weaker auditory memories and working memories, adding an extra layer of complexity to their journey of mastering reading skills.
Give struggling readers the practice they need
Some students who struggle to read the same words over and over again because they lack phonemic awareness skills just need extra practice blending sounds until their brains can orthographically map word patterns and sounds.
Make the Reading Practice Multi sensory
It is okay if students need to keep blending the same CVC words but make sure you teach them continuously blend the first two sounds and then add the last consonant and read the word. Then let the students say the word and say each individual sound as they write the letters and then blend and read the word again. Also, make sure you give students practice using their successive blending in the context of connected text
Continuous Blending Flip Cards
Use my continuous blending flip cards as a tool for teaching this decoding strategy with CVC words and CCVC words. The first letters are revealed the two sounds are blended then fold over the last consonant and read the word. I also made onset rime cards for students who are struggling with short vowels. Onset rime cards are a great resource for any CVC word or CCVC word.
Teaching Continuous Blending Helps with the comprehension of words
When students have more space in their working memory they can also spend some of that brain power on comprehension. So they can think, “Did the word I just read make sense?” If a student with blending challenges reads a sentence and puts in a nonsensical word that confuses us. We say “Where did that come from it doesn’t make any sense?”
Giving Extra Support to Short-Term Memory
But when the student has a very limited auditory memory they can’t spend any more brain power on comprehension. Since continuous blending lessens memory burden the student will eventually be able to focus on meaning as well as comprehension.
Scientific Studies on the Continuous Blending Strategy
Discover the fascinating insights on teaching blending with the continuous blending process, revealed in 1990 by Dr. Paul Weisberg and his team through a captivating study “Decoding Words: The Facilitative Effects of Saying the Sounds in a Word— Without Pausing”. The study concluded that struggling readers can overcome problems blending sounds with a “no pause” between sounds blending process.
One Article in 2020 shared that continuous blending should transform our literacy lessons. The study in question highlights the power of blending sounds successively, as opposed to the traditional method of segmented decoding, in improving comprehension and boosting learning outcomes. This finding is nothing short of a game-changer for the world of literacy education.
Review of the Continuous Blending Procedure
- Introduce a simple three-letter word (preferably a CVC short vowel word, beginning with continuous sounds such as “sat” or “mad”) to the child by writing it on a whiteboard or paper.
- Observe as the child attempts to read the word. If they struggle or misread it, guide them and model the process towards holding the sounds and continuously blending. To teach blending, reveal the first two letters and conceal the last letter(s). Model and encourage the child to blend the initial two sounds while gradually revealing the next letter. By modeling and elongating the vowel sounds, you will be teaching the blending of letters and sounds. Make sure to tell your students to read it fast after they blend it slowly. Then use the word in a sentence orally.
- Write and Sound-using a small whiteboard, encourage them to write out the sounds of the word “sat” while saying each sound aloud. As they write, each letter they say the sound associated with the letter. Then they blend and read the word again.
- Erase and Sound- If you do this activity on a small whiteboard the student can erase each sound from left to write saying each sound again for cementing phonemic awareness skills and the sound symbol relationship.
Uncover the secrets to help teach students reading and blending sounds skills by teaching them the art of seamlessly blending sounds, as opposed to a segmented approach. Witness the power of continuous blending in helping students decode words by freeing more working memory and helping beginning and struggling readers to use this strategy independently to become fluent readers.
Download Continuous Blending Flip Cards Sample