Those who went to school in the 1960s and 1970s would be very familiar with the words of advice when they got stuck on a word when reading…. “Sound it out”.
Using sounds, or phonics, then became decidedly “unfashionable” as Whole Language hit our Educators by force.
These days, it is widely recognized that “sounding out” is a vital strategy for decoding (or figuring out) unknown words in print.
It is not the only strategy that good readers use but it is an absolutely vital strategy to have in your kit-bag.
When prompting a child when they’re stuck on a word, I prefer to use the term “use your sounds”. However, I must point out that this is only possible IF they know the sounds and how to use them.
They must know the sounds the letters make
They must know how to synthesise (join) the sounds together.
In “the old days” we used to ask children to say all the sounds the letters in a word made.
eg trunk = t r u n k and then expect them to join them altogether in one foul swoop.
A fortunate few could manage this task, but most young children could not….often because there were too many separate sounds (items) to hold in their working memory at one time.
I have found the best way to help children synthesise when there are several sounds to join in a word is to adding one sound only at a time as follows:
t + r = tr
tr + u = tru
tru + n = trun
trun + k = trunk
I first saw this technique when observing a highly skilled teacher at Dalwood and I have used it ever since.
I have found it extremely valuable for children with processing difficulties, working memory issues and/or reading difficulties.
It is also VERY quick and easy to teach, and once children have mastered it they become quite adept. To see a demonstration check out my youtube video.
Blending strategy demonstration (Reading) .
It is my experience that young children who have a very strong visual memory rely more heavily on whole word recognition rather than blending. Whole word recognition is a valuable and useful skill (as it aids fluency), but it is impossible to “know” every single word that will be encountered in a lifetime of reading. We NEED to know how to attack words that are unknown to us or we havn’t seen before. Being able to use (synthesizing) blending as a strategy is an extremely important tool to figure out unfamiliar words..
It is also my experience that children will over use other reading skills such as predicting,using context and pictures, and guessing if they have not been taught or mastered the ability to use blending.
It is best to teach blending in a hierarchy of steps. This is discussed in more detail hereand here.
Blending is NOT the same thing as a ‘blend”.
Persistence and patience will pay off. Mastering blending leads to more proficient readers…..and they become more confident because they are better equipped to figure out unknown words.