Teaching Your Child To Read: Decoding And Blending

After your child is comfortable with at least half of their letter-sound relationships, you can move on to decoding and blending. Decoding is recognizing that each letter makes a specific sound, and blending is putting those sounds together to read the word. This is the process of reading that you are familiar with, also known as “sounding it out.”

To decode a word, start with something simple, like mat. Point to the first letter and ask what letter that is; your child would say m. Ask what sound it makes; your child would say muh. Then move on to the next letter. Ask what letter that is; your child would say a. Ask what sound it makes; your child would say ah (as in apple). Then move on to the last letter. Ask what letter that is; your child would say t. Ask what sound it makes; your child would say tuh. Your child has then decoded each of the letters in the word.

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To blend the sounds together, move your finger slowly from the first letter (place your fingertip just beneath the letter) and repeat the letter sounds one by one, first slowly, and then more quickly. So for mat, you would put your finger under the m and repeat the muh sound, then slide your finger to the right so that it’s under the a and make the ah sound, and then slide again to the right and make the tuh sound. Eventually you will say the word clearly, mat. You will need to do this a few times, a bit more quickly each time, to show them how to blend the word. It may take your child quite a while to be comfortable blending on their own, so work with them on the decoding piece and take over the blending until they get more used to it.

Decoding and blending takes a lot of practice. It’s best to start with simple words when you are doing this process, and especially sets of word families. Word families are groups of words that have a common feature or pattern – they have some of the same combinations of letters in them and a similar sound. For example, at, cat, hat, and fat are a family of words with the “at” sound and letter combination in common. Word families are the easiest words for your child to start off with, because they provide them with patterns; their brain can latch on to the concept of decoding and blending without everything being brand new all at once.

Here are some examples of common word families:

–am (ham, Sam, Pam, ram)

–an (can, fan, man, pan, ran, tan, van)

–at (bat, cat, fat, hat, mat, rat, sat)

–ip (dip, hip, lip, rip, sip, tip)

–ob (Bob, mob, rob, sob)

–ot (got, dot, hot, lot, not)

From: http://www.literacyconnections.com/Phonograms.php

You can work on these words using tile letters, foam letters, or by just writing out the words on a piece of paper. Decode and blend the first word in the word family as described above, and then with the next word, they should be able to retain the last two letters more easily, because they just decoded and blended them. You can show them the last two letters of the word without the initial letter, and then replace that initial letter over and over again, so they are reading a new word each time but can retain that shortcut of already knowing the last two letters. For example, if you are working on the -at word family, have the -at part there, and then put a m in front of it, ask them to decode and blend it, then replace the m with an s, repeat, replace with a c, repeat, etc. Providing these shortcuts for your child will help them grow these skills with less frustration and recognize the patterns between words.



Something else you might be recognizing is that word families all rhyme. Rhyming is a very valuable skill and the next blog post will cover this extensively.

Once your child is beginning to grasp the idea of decoding and blending, start reading books with lots of decodable text, which means books with words that can be decoded, or sounded out. This chart gives an example of how to know if words are decodable.

Decodable Words
dog (d makes its regular sound, o makes its regular sound, g makes its regular sound)
bat (as above, all letters are making their regular sounds)
mug (as above, all letters are making their regular sounds)
bin (as above, all letters are making their regular sounds)
beg (as above, all letters are making their regular sounds)

My favorite series of decodable books are Bob Books by Bobby Lynn Maslen. It is a series of five boxes of books, and each book builds on the skills from the previous one. The first book contains only words from the -at and -am word families.

While reading any books with your child, start to be on the lookout for decodable words, so that even if the book is far too difficult for them to read, you can find words here and there for them to decode. A good assessment of whether a word can be decoded is if each letter makes its regular sound, as in the chart above. The best kinds of words are CVC words, which are consonant-vowel-consonant words, like cat or dog. Each of the letters in those two words make their regular sounds, which is the case for most CVC words. All of the word family words listed above are also CVC words. These are the best words for your child to begin to decode.

One thing that your child will need to learn as they read is that every rule in English is meant to be broken. Starting off with CVC words is unfortunately still not fool-proof, because what about the word kit? Why does that start with a k and not with a c? How are they supposed to know that? Your child will come across so many exceptions, and it’s important to remind them that this is going to be the case and that they will keep learning the rules as they get better at reading. Children are very rule-based and it’s important to remind them not to get frustrated when things don’t follow the rules they are rapidly trying to apply to all situations as they read. They will need to learn, for example, when does a c make a hard sound like a k, and when does it make a soft sound like an s? When does a g make a hard sound instead of a soft sound, like a j? This is part of the process and they need to be prepared to come across stumbling blocks along the way.


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