Innovative Ways to Use Segmenting, Chunking, and Blending Sounds To Make Words with Emergent Readers
Updated: Apr 30, 2022
What does it mean to segment, chunk and blend when learning to read words? These are foundational skills all emergent readers need to learn.
Segmenting Words Into Sounds
Segmenting is breaking the word into individual sounds. Cat is a great example. I would have the students tap out the sounds c-a-t . This process teaches the students to understand that each letter sound they have learned can be combined to read words. I also teach them, if they recognize a word like "at" in the word cat, they only have to segment c -at and then blend. But I definitely make sure they can segment the individual sounds and understand that first. Keep reading about moving segmenting into blending and chunking, which goes more in-depth with teaching c-at. What’s next?
Now that the students are saying each individual sound in the word it is time to teach them to blend the sounds to see if they can hear the word. When doing this, having a visual of the word segmented and a picture of the word or pictures they can match with the word might help some of them. Kids can touch the letters, or the dots under the word when they are saying each sound. They need to blend the sounds together and hear what word they are forming. One “pet peeve” I have is hearing teachers tell kids to go faster. It isn’t about how fast they say the letters but about how they blend nicely together. Some kids even benefit from blending the first two letters and then blending that sound with the last letter. Through working with struggling students I have tried different methods and some students that aren’t understanding one finally have that light bulb moment when I have them try another way. Another common mistake I hear teachers do is just blend it for the kids every time. Yes, when we first are teaching it we need to model it but we have to give the children time to practice and figure it out. Once this skill is done properly it is time for the next.
Chunking Letters to Read
When watching teachers I have seen many, many teachers use segmenting each letter for all words a student doesn’t know. This is great for a first step. But if we continue this, we have students that are only reading by sounding out each letter and then blending. As words get longer this takes a lot of time and the students won’t be reading fluently. You can start with smaller words like c-at (mentioned above) and show them how we can chunk the at together. If they recognize "at" is at then this will help them read cat without sounding out each letter. They will also quickly be able to read any word that ends with -at. But we need to practice this with longer words too. I have found that some people like to chunk it at the syllables and some chunk it with recognizable parts. In my opinion, there isn’t a wrong way as long as the students understand they don’t have to use every individual sound and then blend them together. When you are practicing chunking larger segments, visuals and pictures are still helpful. For this method, I connect the letters I chunk and then put a dot under any letter by itself. Once again the students can touch the chunks and letters as they make the sounds.
Personal Segmenting and Blending Teaching Experience
A student I tutor was sounding out EVERY letter of EVERY word he came across. He mastered the strategy of segmenting every letter and could eventually figure out most words but he took forever to read a short page and had no idea what he had read when he was done. Then when we reread a page, I realized he was still sounding each sound out and blending so he still didn’t recognize the words. After a few sessions of chunking the letter sounds into larger pieces that he recognized, he started to read fluently very quickly. The growth was amazing and quick. The best part was that he then moved up three levels so quickly because this strategy was so much easier than segmenting letter by letter.
Why Teach Segmenting and Chunking?
I think many times we hear that we need to teach students to segment and blend but we forget that they then need to learn to chunk. Some people just consider both forms segmenting, which in reality it is, but we need them to chunk into larger segments.
Segmenting, chunking, and blending can be practiced whole groups but the kids will benefit even more if this is done in small group sessions and then they can practice with partners and independently. I use segmenting and blending cards for word work practice in literacy centers and as word work in Guided Reading. Once a student has mastered the segmenting and blending cards I move them on to chunking. Using this process has really helped emergent readers become readers.
Virtual Learning Hurdles
I know some teachers are thinking, but I am teaching virtually so this is so hard right now. Yes, I will not disagree but it isn’t impossible. This can be practiced whole group or in small breakout sessions. There are also resources that can be used virtually for independent practice. A teacher I work very closely with has been having students practice these skills with Google Slides and on Boom learning and is so happy with their progress. Last year, I worked with students using the Google Slides segmenting cards and they were doing great. I know virtual learning makes everything harder, but it can be done.
Common Mistakes to Avoid with Segmenting and Blending
Using individual sound segments for all words
Skipping the practice of chunking larger segments
Always blending the sounds for the kids (not being patient while they practice)
Having students blend words faster instead of just blending them smoothly
Sticking with one method even if a student isn’t understanding it- if it isn’t working try something else