After letter names and sounds, what do you teach your child next? Learning to blend CVC words is an important step in reading.
One of the top five questions I am asked:
“My child knows their alphabet and letter sounds. Now what?”
First, you need to make sure your child has good phonemic awareness skills. But what’s the next skill to teach your child to read?
It’s time to teach your child to blend CVC words.
But like most parents, you’re not sure where to start. So check out the step-by-step explanation on how to teach your child to blend CVC words.
How do you blend CVC words?
Blending CVC words is pretty simple for a lot of children. All it means is saying the sounds in a word and then putting them together into a one word unit.
Blending the word “cat” would look like this:
- Child sees the word “cat.”
- Child decodes each individual sound as /k/ /a/ /t/.
- Child exaggerates the sounds as “kaaaaaaaat.”
- Child states “cat.”
Strong readers with solid phonemic awareness skills usually need little help with blending CVC words. But children with reading disabilities or delays will need more support.
What is the difference between blending and decoding?
Decoding is the ability to break apart a word into its individual sounds. It is matching the written letters (graphemes) with their sounds (phonemes).
In the example cat above, a child decodes that the letter c represents the /k/ sound. In the word shack, a child would need to decode the digraph ck as spelling the /k/ sound.
Blending is then putting all those individual sounds into one word. It’s when your child announces, “Cat!”
Why do some children struggle to blend?
Blending is a complex skill. It can take a lot of time for children to learn it.
But there are a lot of reasons children can struggle to blend CVC words:
- Working memory problems
- Letter sound knowledge
- Phonemic awareness
Working Memory Problems
When blending CVC words, your child has to hold three sounds in their working memory. This means their brain is trying to hold new information while staying focused on the task at hand.
I like to use the analogy that it’s like having a bunch of browser tabs open at once. Your child slows down with two tabs open but the task might require 4 tabs open.
This is a common challenge for students learning to blend.
Letter Sound Knowledge
Your child needs to recognize the shape of the letter and connect that to the correct sound. Then your child has to verbally produce that sound.
If this is not yet automatic for a child, they will struggle to blend CVC words. Some parents are eager to rush ahead into blending without making sure this knowledge is solid.
So take a step back and make sure your child’s letter-sound knowledge is strong.
Poor Phonemic Awareness Skills
Some children can produce sounds in isolation. But then get stuck putting them together into a word.
This could be because their phonemic awareness skills need more development. They could still be really confused about how sounds put together to make a word.
If this sounds like your child, go back to developing phonemic awareness for a few months while practicing blending.
If your child seems to struggle with all these skills, it is possible they could have dyslexia. It affects 1 in 5 children and is widely underdiagnosed.
What to do when a child can’t blend CVC words?
When a child is struggling to blend CVC words there are some things you can try. Each of these strategies is considered a good scaffold, or a step towards, for learning to blend automatically.
These are four strategies when your child struggles to blend:
- Start with oral blending without text
- Read the rime first
- Try successive blending
- Use the vowel first method
Oral blending means you take away the written word. You do this with your child or student without any words in front of them.
Instead, you break a word into its individual sounds and ask your child to blend them together. This is a phonemic awareness activity.
It sounds like this:
- Adult: repeat these sounds /k/ /a/ /t/
- Child: /k/ /a/ /t/
- Adult: /k/ /a/ /t/ is what word?
- Child: Cat
You’ll want to progress from three sound words to five sounds words like plant over time.
Read the Rime First
Words are made up of an onset and a rime. The onset is the first consonant sound or sounds. The rime is the vowel and any additional consonant sounds.
So let’s use the word “dog” as an example:
- the onset is “d”
- the rime is “og”
For some children reading the rime first is incredibly powerful. David Kilpatrick (2016) says this about rimes:
“Rime units can play a key role in early reading but also support more advanced fluent word recognition” (p. 55)
The rime is often a chunk they can hold in their memory better. With time, children recognize rimes as units immediately rather than individual phonemes.
So with reading the rime first:
- Cover the onset with a post-it note.
- Show your child a rime in the word.
- Decode the rime.
- Go back to the beginning of the word.
- Decode that sound or those sounds.
- Blend the whole word.
Successive blending is a scaffolded approach to blending. Your child takes a more gradual approach to blend.
First, they say the first letter sound, and then the second sound. Then they say those two sounds blended together. Finally, they add the third sound.
For example, your child would read cat as:
- /k/ /a/
- /ka/ /t/
Another form of successive blending is pyramid blending. Your child would read like this:
Learn more from my friend Reading Rachel.
Start with the vowel
My personal favorite way is to start with the vowel. The vowel is usually the trickiest part of a word.
So if a child can decode the vowel first, it becomes easier to sound out the whole word.
This is what you could say:
- Put your finger under the vowel.
- Say the sound.
- Go back to the beginning.
- Blend through.
I learned this method through the Slingerland Approach, an Orton-Gillingham method for dyslexic students. What works for dyslexic students, works for most children when learning to read.
What comes after blending CVC words?
Hooray! Your child can blend CVC words.
There is no set scope and sequence for phonics. It depends on what your child’s or student’s needs.
After CVC words, I like to teach:
- Consonant digraphs like ship
- CVCe words like gate
- Beginning and ending blends
I generally choose three sound words like chop and cake when I teach digraphs and CVCe words first. Blends have at least four sounds.
However, some educators prefer to teach:
- beginning blends (CCVC)
- ending blends (CVCC)
- long vowels
So this is one of those things that just depends on your learner. There isn’t necessarily a wrong way or a perfect phonics scope and sequence.
So just make a choice, and start teaching your child to read them.
CVC Word Blending Worksheets
If you need a step-by-step way to teach your child to blend CVC words, check out the Successive Blending Worksheets.
Your child will:
- Decode the first letter while tapping the dot.
- Repeat with the second letter.
- Blend those two sounds together.
- Repeat those blended sounds.
- Decode the final letter while tapping the dot.
- Blend the whole word together.
- Dab, dot, cover, or color the circle that has the picture that matches the word they read.
This activity is best done one-on-one with your child to check for accuracy. But as your child gains some skill, they can practice on their own.
The picture serves as an assessment for you. If shows if your child accurately read the word.
You can use my personal favorite supply: dot markers. But if you don’t have them, regular crayons or markers work, too.
But like my preschool busy binders, you can put them in plastic sheet protectors and use plastic counters to cover the circles. This way they are reusable. Your child will get a lot of practice with blending this way.
You can also find CVC Blending on Teachers Pay Teachers.
Recapping Blending CVC Words
Here’s how to blend CVC words:
- After learning the alphabet and letter sounds, children need to develop phonemic awareness skills.
- Then children can learn to blend CVC words.
- Decoding is identifying the correct sound for each letter.
- Blending is putting all the letter sounds into a word.
- When children struggle to decode, they could have issues with working memory, knowing their letter sounds, having good phonemic awareness skills, or they could have dyslexia.
- You can try alternate forms to help your child learn to blend.
- Start with oral blending without letters.
- Read the rime first, successive blending, and starting with the vowel can all help develop blending.
- You can use Successive Blending CVC Words Worksheets as a structured way to teach your child to blend.