How to Teach Consonant Blends
March 13, 2022
If you are a first or second-grade teacher, I am sure you’ve taught consonant blends to your students before! In this post, I am going to share the steps I take when teaching this phonics skill to my students. Before I dive in, I wanted to let you know that you can watch/listen to all this information in video format by clicking my YouTube video below:
To read the information instead, just keep scrolling!
What is a consonant blend?
A consonant blend, or consonant cluster is when there are 2 (or 3) consonants before or after the vowel in a word. It can come at the beginning or end of a word (and in the middle for longer words). For example, the word spin has the consonant blend sp at the end. The word last has the consonant blend st at the end. And the word clasp has a blend at the beginning and the end!
With a consonant blend, you can still hear both sounds of the consonants. They do not make a new sound like a digraph (sh) does.
How to teach consonant blends?
When teaching any new phonics skill, you want to explicitly teach them what a consonant blend is. What does it sound like? What does it look like? You can simply let them know “we will be learning about consonant blends…” and that would be just fine, but sometimes I like to switch it up. I like to use concept attainment slides to get students thinking about a skill before I teach exactly what it is.
Here is an example of a concept attainment slide I would use for consonant blends:
These are my What’s the Rule? slides and students must look at each side and determine the “rule.” On the thumbs-up side, all images would follow the rule, and on the thumbs downside, none of the images could follow the rule. They will have to use their phonemic awareness skills to guess what the skill is!
In the image above, I would display it to the class and I would say some of the images aloud while asking students to listen carefully to what is the same about all the words on the thumbs-up side (and how do they differ from the thumbs-down side?). Above you can see that the images on the thumbs-up side (space, spider, spot, spoon, sponge, spaghetti) all have the consonant blend sp at the beginning of the word.
The thumbs-down side all also start with s, but they don’t have sp and I did that on purpose so students could differentiate between just the “s” sound and the “sp” blend. Once students determine the rule, then I like to explicitly teach them that this is called a consonant blend and we will be learning to read and write all sorts of words with blends in them!
It is just a fun way to introduce a new topic and start with the sounds instead of the letters first. You can find all my What’s the Rule slides here >> What’s the Rule slides?
Step 2: Tap out the sounds
I like to focus on sounds first when teaching different phonics skills. So after teaching what consonant blends are, I ask students to listen to some words with blends and tap out the sounds they hear. This allows them to really hear those two sounds of each blend. I will simply use words from the What’s the Rule slides to do this if I have it up and we will tap out space (s/p/a/ce) and sloth (s/l/o/th) and determine that there are 4 sounds in those words.
Even if you don’t use the concept attainment slides, the steps to teaching consonant blends would be the same. 1: explicitly teach what a consonant blend is. 2: start with sounds – show students images or say words aloud and have them listen for the blend and tap out sounds! Students can use their fingers, sound boxes, and playdough, counters, anything fun to tap out sounds!
Step 3: Introduce the Graphemes
Thankfully with consonant blends, you don’t need to teach every single consonant blend students will come across since the letters retain their sound. Unlike digraphs, for example, where students will need to learn a new sound these letters make. I do, however, like to teach them the 3 different types of blends they will likely come across while reading: s-blends, r-blends, and l-blends. These aren’t the only blends students will come across while reading, but they are the most common ones they will see so I like them to be aware of that!
I explain that s-blends are blends that have s as the first letter. These can be found at the beginning and end of words (spider and list, for example). L-blends and r-blends are blends where an “l” or an “r” are the second letter in the blend (frog, flower, plant, and bright, for example).
When introducing the graphemes of consonant blends, I like to use successive blending when teaching students to decode these words. I have shared this strategy before in my Decoding Strategies video, but an example of this is below:
When decoding the word, step, I have students first say the sound of /s/. Then /st/ then /ste/ then /step/. This helps students decode the blend sounds separately and then each time they sound out a new letter (or sound) they’re only adding on one more sound at a time. This especially helps students when words have four or more sounds! It helps their working memory to “hold” the sounds in their heads instead of blending each individual sound.
I usually have students practice this a few times with me whole group with 3-4 words with blends, then I like to have students practice decoding words on their own. I like to give students word cards like these below and students can mix and match blends to decode real or nonsense words. The words below include a swoop under the blend so students can see the blend and I also recommend printing the blend cards on different color paper as another way for them to see that blend in words.
You can grab your own set of these cards for free right here >>> blending sound cards.
Step 4: read blends in sentences/passages
After students have practiced reading words with consonant blends in isolation, I like to have them move to decoding words in longer sentences or passages. You can do this with many different decodable texts, but a resource I absolutlely love is below:
These one-page decodable interventions are a favorite resource of mine because they are SO easy! For each skill, I include three different sheets for students to practice and each page has 5 different parts. At the top, you will see a simple sound review with the skill sound and some previously taught sounds. Then, students will read the skill within words in isolation. Next, they move to sentences. After that, there is a spot for students to write 2 words with that skill (as directed by the teacher) and a box for students to illustrate one of the sentences. This is to ensure comprehension of what we decode.
You can find a whole set of these one-page decodables with over 100 pages and an editable sheet here >> phonics one-page interventions.
Step 5: Use Games to Review and Practice these skills!
If you’ve been following me for a while, you will know that I love using games to review a skill! I have a bunch of phonics games I like to use with my students, but here are some of my favorites:
The game above is from my Print & Play: Consonant Blends unit which includes 6 different games. This one is called Roll, Complete, and Color and students simply roll 2 dice, find the sum, then look at the image to determine the beginning blend. They will then write the blend in the box and color in the image. Students continue rolling, completing the blend, and coloring until one player fills up their grid first!
Another game to practice consonant blends from that unit is “Spin & Find the Blend.” Here students will spin the spinner to land on s-blend, l-blend, or r-blend, and then they will look at their sheet to identify an image matching what they landed on. Students continue spinning and finding until all the images are colored in. To determine the winner, students will see who colored in the most! This one is great because they’re using their phonemic awareness skills to isolate the blend and determine which type of blend is in each picture.
I have tons more phonics games available to you in this unit right here >> Printable Phonics Games!
I also have this older freebie from my blog a few years back called “Blend it.” Here students will each have their own spinner and spin a beginning blend. They will have to take that blend, put it in their mouth first (think successive blending), then try to make a real word from the grid. When they can make a real word, they can cover up that box in the grid. Students continue playing until a player gets 4-in-a-row or you can play until the grid is filled up!
You can grab that consonant blends freebie here >> Consonant Blends Free Game
So there are a bunch of ideas I like to use when teaching my students about consonant blends. Now I think this may be obvious, but just to be clear, I wouldn’t teach ALL these lessons in one day. These would be steps in a process that I would teach over a week or so to really have students practicing phonemic awareness, phonics, decoding, encoding, real/nonsense words, etc!
If you liked this post you may like the following phonics videos:
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