Struggling to Blend Letters to Words, Help is Here

My Student Can Isolate Sounds but Struggles to Blend CVC Words

There are reasons it’s hard for students to go from isolated sounds to blending. It’s not just incomprehension, it has to do with moving from doing one task, making one sound, to now doing three things, blending three sounds and thinking about how those fit together. It’s a jump for younger kids and includes cognitive processes, memory and phonemic awareness.

Even kids with dyslexia and executive functioning challenges can get there. It requires repetition and patience.

Helpful Activities to CVC Blending

#1 Phoneme Work

First, make sure they can hear the sounds of words. It would seem, “They know the letter sounds, now just blend them together.” But this isn’t always the case.

Sometimes a student cannot distinguish sounds when blending them together as well as they can in isolation. This can be because they are not hearing the sounds, so blending them together isn’t coming easily.

One way to make sure they hear the sounds is to use phoneme activities.

Teacher or tutor asks things like, if you have the word cat and you remove the c and replace it with an m, what do you get? (Answer: mat).

Or, phoneme deletion. Teacher says, “What word do you get if you remove the /c/ sound from cat?”

Student(s): at

This is a link to a free Phonological Awareness Assessment that has phonemic exercises you can do with students (and other phonological assessments).

#2 Sound Elongation

Elongate the sounds when you are dictating or helping students learn to blend. Rather than say, /m/ /a/ /p/, say /mmm/ /aaa/ /p/. Elongate it so you are saying it more blended.

Have the student repeat the word while tracing the letters on a card and saying it at the same time with the elongated sounds.

Do this with groups of words that sound alike. Make sure you point out the phoneme changes.

For example, /c/ /aaaa/ /t/, have them write or trace the word while saying it at the same time.

Next, /m/ /aaaa/ /t/, have them write or trace while saying the word.

Isolating these smaller words and using repetition will help them catch on. If you move too quickly to other sounds, it might cause confusion.

Next use another vowel.

/c/ /oooo/ /t/

What happens when you take the /c/ and replace it with a /d/ sound?

Student: it’s /d/ /ooo/ /t/

Teacher/Tutor: great! Let’s trace the word and say it out loud.

#3 Say the Vowel

Ask students to look at lists of words and tell you the vowel sounds. Use groups of words to begin with so that all the vowel sounds are the same. Have them go through the vowel sounds of these words. Add in other vowel sounds.

#4 Hear the Vowel

Do auditory exercises with vowel sounds. You say a word. For example, big, and have the student write the vowel letter on a piece of paper (answer: student writes the letter i). Start with o, add in a, i, add u, lastly add e. Use groups of words that are alike and mix in more as the student progresses.

Make sure your dialect is not confusing. In the south, e and i can sound similar. In the north, a and o can sound similar.  Dictation of letters and words should be very clear which vowel you are using.

#5 Make it Multi-Sensory

Be sure you are using the three-prong approach in teaching CVC words. We want students to hear what they see and spell what they hear.

When you are getting a student to blend, it’s important they have been taught to see the letter (visual) know the sound it makes (auditory), and to be able to connect that kinesthetically (write/trace it).

Have a student write or trace the letters as they say the word out loud over and over. You can also use tapping out the sounds on the table or arm. Some will tap out the sounds then slide the fingers down the arm when saying the word – fingers tap (/t//a//p/ back up and slide down arm, say word out loud: tap). Another useful tool is the little bubble pad to have kids pop down a bubble with each sound then say the word.

When it comes time to read the word, it should come a little more naturally if they have been connecting mind-to-motor-coordination.

#6 Be Sure to Use NonSense

Use nonsense words to make sure students are not just memorizing words. Be sure to use non-sense words.

I know this from a personal perspective. My daughter, who is dyslexic, was in Pre-K. I was taking an Orton Gillingham course at the time and saw signs she was not on level. I told her teachers I was considering holding her back to a transition class (not only is she dyslexic, but she also has a summer birthday, so she was the youngest in her class).

“Oh no! She should not be held back, she knows everything we taught her,” they assured me.

I came home, got out my phonogram cards and began going first letter sounds. She knew only a couple. I asked her age-appropriate sight words. None. (The same words that were on their list in school). I asked her, what rhymes with cat? She said, “Shark.” She had memorized everything, and learned very little. And… she went to the transition class.

Nonsense words are important to make sure comprehension is happening.

#7 Product Support

These are a few products to help with sound blending.

Whisper Phones

Students speak softly into the “receiver” and hear their amplified voice directed into their own ear 10 times more clearly against background noise than they normally would hear themselves. It’s a good multi-sensory way to say it and hear it at the same time.

CVC Cards

I think these would be good to make sure the sounds are heard. I would use these interactively in a lesson. Have student fill in the letter, teacher says word elongating sounds, student says word elongating the sounds.  I have not personally used these.

CVC Cards

CVC Puzzle

I like this for doing something tactile and sounding out letters. I would have students trace it after putting it together while saying the sounds. I would sound it out with them. I have not personally used these.

CVC Blending Rods with Puzzle

I like this for the rods, being able to change the letters and ask the new word. It would help with phoneme work. I have not personally used this.

Bubble Popping Tool

Kids can push through a bubble and say the sound for tapping.

My Workbooks!

Scope & Sequence Workbook One has mini cards and vowel strips to help get students to where they need to be. I like to cut the cards out and put magnets on the back.

Magnet paper:

Scope & Sequence Bundle (books 1-4)
Drill Deck Book in Workbook Store.

Teachers Pay Teachers Store

Final Word

These methods for helping when students are having challenges blending CVC words should help. If your student keeps struggling, keep going – keep going until the moment they do get it. If you are a teacher or tutor, you know the feeling of seeing a student say, “Ah-Ha!” That’s worth everything!

FTC: Some links included in this article might be affiliate links. If you purchase a product through one of them, I will receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). I truly appreciate your support of my work. This article is not sponsored.

(2) Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing this. You gave me some ideas to use with one of my students who is having trouble blending the sounds!

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