Learn all about continuous blending, the research-backed way to teach the blending of sounds! This strategy will help kids learn to blend sounds effectively and read words quickly and accurately. Read, learn, and get a FREE printable practice sheet!
What Is Blending?
Blending is the ability to put individual sounds (phonemes) together in order to read words. The process of blending sounds to decode words can be tricky for many children.
💭 Think about this process:
- First, the brain must recognize the letters: c-a-t.
- Next, it must instantly match each letter to its corresponding sound: c=/c/, a=/a/, t=/t/.
- Then, kids must blend those sounds together, in the right order: /c/+/a/+/t/.
- Finally, they need to recognize the word they’re trying to read: cat.
Our brains have to do a lot of hard work in order to blend sounds together to read words! And this whole process needs to happen almost instantly for kids to become efficient and fluent readers.
A Better Way to Teach Blending
We often try to teach blending in various ways, but the research rooted in the Science of Reading is clear that the BEST way to teach blending is by using a strategy called continuous blending.
This is also called connected phonation.
Connected phonation, or continuous blending, is saying each sound in a word without stops between. For example, when they see the word map, we want them to “sound it out” like this: /mmmmaaaapppp/ = map.
There are no pauses or breaks between the sounds.
When teaching connected phonation, kids should hold each sound and connect them. We can think of it as stretching the sounds together in order to read the word.
A study by esteemed reading researchers Dr. Linnea Ehri and Dr. Selendid Gonzalez-Frey (2020), found that connected phonation is a more effective strategy than segmented phonation (tapping sounds with pauses between).
The results concluded that kids who were taught connected phonation for blending words were better decoders than the others who were taught different strategies. 💡
- You may want to start with 2 phoneme Vowel-Consonant words like ‘at’ or ‘in.’ Nonsense words like ‘ip’ or ‘en’ work well too! Once kids master blending two sounds, then move to 3 phoneme CVC words.
- Use continuous sounds at the beginning of words, so that the sounds flow easily from one to the next. Continuous sounds include: /f/, /l/, /m/, /n/, /r/, /s/, /v/, and /z/. You’ll notice how connected phonation works beautifully when stretching these sounds.
We’re sharing some suggestions and best teaching tips to help your students master blending!
Develop Phonological Awareness Skills
For kids who are struggling with blending sounds, you will need to assess their phonological awareness skills to see if they blend sounds orally (without letters).
The teacher might say, “I’m going to say a word, but I’m going to say it one sound at a time. Tell me what word I’m saying: /sh/ /u/ /t/.”
Kids should hear the isolated sounds, recognize the word, and say “shut.” If they can’t do this orally, then you’ll know they aren’t ready to try blending written words.
👌🏼 Use the Free PAST test to asses your students’ phonological awareness skills.
Because blending is one of the more complex phonological awareness skills, you may need to back up with your students and work on blending bigger chunks.
Phonological Awareness skills in order of complexity from smallest unit of sound (hardest) to largest (easiest):
- Phoneme-Level: /z/ + /i/ + /p/ = zip
- Onset-Rime: /z/ + /ip/ = zip
- Body-Coda: /zi/ + /p/ = zip
- Syllables: zip + per = zipper
- Compound Words: zip + line = zipline
Provide kids with explicit practice with each phonological awareness skill until they can get to the phoneme level.
Larger units are helpful in developing the foundation, but you really want to get kids to the phoneme level as quickly as possible.
Don’t Wait to Teach Blending
As soon as kids know just a few vowel sounds and consonant sounds, you can teach the concept of blending.
Because the current research is clear that connected phonation is the best blending strategy, use only this approach with fidelity. Use lots of modeling and use real or nonsense words!
When first introducing the concept of blending, start out using continuous sounds (f, h, l, m, n, r, s, v, z) for the initial phoneme, and stop sounds (b, d, g, k, p, t) for the final phoneme. This will make the ‘stretching’ of sounds seamless!
Then, you can begin adding stop sounds at the beginning of words.
Make It Multisensory
Because we’re stretching the sounds, there are many multisensory techniques to use with kids! Some ideas include:
- Blending boards: A blending board is a perfect way to model connected phonation. Place your hand above the blending board as you stretch the sounds continuously. If you don’t have a physical blending board, use this free digital blending board from UFLI!
- Rubber Bands: Using soft, silicone rubber bands, kids can stretch the sounds as they pull the rubber band apart.
- Matchbox Cars: Use matchbox cards along with this car-themed Elkonin box resource, which is a great visual reminder of connected phonation.
- Snake: Give each child a plastic snake and word cards, Children can rub their hand across the snake, moving from left to right, as they make each sound.
- Slinkys: Using slinkys, kids can stretch the sounds to blend the words.
- Stretchy Exercise bands: Kids bands them over their hands or thighs and stretch the sounds as they move the bands apart.
- Use Targeted Resources – Use our free printable worksheet (download at the bottom of this post) which is specifically designed for kids to blend sounds together using continuous blending. You can pair the worksheet with any of the manipulatives listed above.
👉 Check out 25 more ideas for fun, multi-modal, and multi-sensory Orton-Gilingham lessons.
Outdated Blending Technique: Segmented Phonation
Many well-intentioned teachers will use a combination of blending techniques with the hope that kids who are struggling will eventually get the hang of blending. They might try connected phonation, but also include other popular strategies like segmented phonation.
Below, we’ll explain this other popular strategy and explain why we need to steer away from it.
Segmented phonation is when kids separate the sounds. They see an unknown word and use their fingers to tap the sounds, isolating each sound by saying them separately like this:
- /t/ –pause- /a/ -pause- /p/
The problem with segmented phonation is that kids will often forget and leave off the initial phoneme, resulting in an error when blending. Or kids may not have the working memory to hold each sound in the correct order.
So they may come to the word “tap,” segment the sounds, but when they blend it back together they say ‘ap” or “pat.” We’ve all had students consistently do this, right?
🔤 Segmenting sounds is a procedure we want to teach for spelling words. We want kids to separate sounds, finger tap the sounds, and then write the corresponding grapheme.
Using the Blending Worksheet
Now that you know all about connected phonation, the BEST way to teach blending, use our free worksheet (download it below) to help kids practice reading words using this strategy.
Kids will follow this procedure:
- Touch the colored dots under the words and stretch the sounds together without any pauses in between.
- Blend the sounds together to read the word.
- Place a check mark in the box.
- Repeat this with all words until they have read each word 3 times.
We designed this printable with continuous sounds as the initial phoneme, to make this tricky skill a bit easier to first learn. This is a perfect resource to use with pre-k, kindergarten, or struggling first grade students who know most of the letter sounds.
As educators, we need to let research and science guide our instructional practices. The knowledge we gain is ever-growing and never static. Scientific evidence regarding the most effective blending technique (2020) has been found and clearly points to connected phonation.
Looking for more CVC resources to help kids learning to read and spell? Get our Ultimate CVC Word Bundle with alphabet arcs, word mapping worksheets, sound boxes, and more!
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