Phonemic Awareness: Teaching Young Children to Blend and Segment

The auditory ability to identify how sounds work together to make words is a crucial building block along the pathway to decoding words. That oral ability, or blending as it is officially called, is when the learner pulls together individual sounds to make a word; such as, what is this word /c/ /a/ /t/? (Cat). Segmenting is the polar opposite. It is the ability to take a word apart into individual phonemes, or sounds. Tell me the sounds in cat. (/C/ /a/ /t/).

Perquisites that must be met for optimum blending and segmenting  success are: (1) Working Memory Activities (2) Word Awareness Activities (3) Compound Word Blending, Deletion, and Segmentation (4) Syllable Awareness (5) Onset/Rime Activities (6) Beginning, Ending, and Middle Sound Activities. After all of these areas have been strategically taught, it is time to offer targeted blending and segmenting instruction.


Oral blending is a precursor to decoding or sounding out words. Developing a strong foundation in blending will help students make a faster and smoother transition when reading words. Blending should begin well before the phoneme stage, and all prerequisites listed above must be strategically taught ( ie. (1) Working Memory Activities (2) Word Awareness Activities (3) Compound Word Blending, Deletion, and Segmentation (4) Syllable Awareness (5) Onset/Rime Activities).

After successfully teaching prerequisites, it is time to blend two and three words. For your first phoneme blending experience, put the sounds in the context of a sentence or story. 

  My puppy likes to /b/ /ar/ /k/.

  He likes it when I /p/ /e/ /t/ him.

  He likes to chew on a /b/ /o/ /n/.

  He likes to chase the /c/ /a/ /t/.

Another support for oral blending is to provide visual support using picture clues. Place a set of three-sound picture cards (or objects) in front of your students. Name the three sounds of one of the pictures (objects) and ask the students find the correct picture. Limit the number of pictures for students who struggle with blending. After playing games with pictures or objects, the students are ready to try blending sounds without any clues. 

Here is a great game to play when students who are learning to blend:

Bounce the Blends

Objective:  Demonstrates understanding of spoken words, syllables, and sounds (phonemes).

Materials: Gather a small basketball or playground ball. (You can find themed balls at stores such as Target).

Today we are going to make words by blending sounds together. On your turn, I will bounce three sounds like this (model as you say the sound, bouncing once for each sound) /b/ /a/ /t/.

What is that word? When the child responds bat, throw the ball to him, and then have him toss it back.  Repeat again with a new word continuing as time allows.

*Note. When students conquer the skill of blending use this same game in a reverse manner. Have student draw a picture card and then bounce once for each sound in the word, then say the whole word as they toss the ball to the teacher.

--Each of our Thematic Units contain academic play-based learning games.


Segmentation is the flip side of oral blending. Like blending, segmenting (or breaking words apart) helps develop better readers and writers.

Although blending comes first in the continuum of reading skills, segmenting quickly follows; in the case of syllables the two are often presented simultaneously. Students should begin clapping out syllables at an early stage of literacy development.

After each level of blending is introduced (prerequisites above), segmenting of each should be presented before going on to the next level of blending. An additional step should be added before segmentation with individual phonemes in words, (6) Strategic Work with Beginning/Ending and Then Middle Sounds. 

If students struggle with segmenting, here is a great kinesthetic technique. Ask student to identify the initial consonant. Next ask if they hear any other sounds....the final or the medial sound. Finally, demonstrate a cross-body tap method to underscore the sounds in the word. For the word dog say /d/ and touch or tap your opposite shoulder with your hand. Next say the middle sound and touch the bend of your arm. Finally, say the final sound and tap the opposite hand, then slide your hand down the opposite arm from top to bottom as you say the word normally. Have the students copy you both in the cross body tapping and in saying the sounds.