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How to Teach Big Kids Phonics: Consonant Blends

Short Vowels Sound-Spellings

Short Vowels

In most explicit, systematic phonics programs, the short vowels (our most predictable and consistent sound-spelling relationships are taught first, along with the most frequently occurring consonant sounds. So in my Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program, we start with short /a/, m, t, and s. These give us quite a few words to study: as, am, mat, sat, Sam, tam, and fat. By way of reminder, they do not give us ma, as in “ma” and “pa.” A different sound altogether!

Instructional Sequence for Consonant Blends

Consonant Blends Instructional Sequence

I will admit that these first four letter-sound correspondences don’t permit compelling reading. As much as I support connecting phonics instruction to reading, the first decodable book in my 54 Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books is not a can’t put it down page-turner even with the two sight words introduced with each eight-page book. But since this is a reading intervention program and the goal is get Tier 1 and 2 kids brought up to grade-level as soon as possible, all short vowels and consonants are taught (and learned) within the first three weeks.

By that time, our Book 7 Sam and Friends story with teenage cartoon characters and complex plots is getting pretty fun to read. But hold onto your hats: the consonant blends are going to open up a whole new world for reading. Wahoo!

To learn how to quickly teach consonant blends to big kids and adults (those who just didn’t get it the first time around), I’ll provide a working definition, and a few teaching tips, a FREE whole-class assessment with audio file, and a FREE set of five consonant blend digraph lessons with a short formative assessment. Okay, twist my arm, I’ll also include my entire phonics instructional scope and sequence and my animal sound-spelling and consonant blend cards. Your kids deserve the best!

How to Teach Consonant Blends

Definition: Consonant blends are two (or three) letters which make two (or three) sounds. We have both beginning and ending consonant blends. Remember that blends are not digraphs. Consonant digraphs are two (or three) letters which form one sound.

Diagnosis: The first step is to determine what is missing from the your students’ knowledge of the consonant blends phonics patterns. Your big kids and adults are smarter than beginning pre-K, kinder, or first graders. They can catch on quickly if taught properly. In fact, I see two mistakes canned reading intervention programs make all-too-often: 1. The program doesn’t move fast enough. Believe me, your remedial readers have heard this stuff all before. They will tune you out and lull themselves into “remedial reading sleep-state” or jump into poor behavior mode if the instructional pace is not brisk and demanding. 2. All whole-class instruction and no individual or small group gap-filling. Teachers want to be thorough. They want to teach the whole thing. I agree, but the whole-class direct instruction of sound-by-sound blending and syllabication should be coupled with concurrent, assessment-based gap-filling. Having taught reading intervention courses to grades 3-6 elementary, 7-8 middle school, 9-10 high school, and community college students, I can assure you that the most successful remedial reading instruction includes A through Z whole-class teaching of the sound-spellings and gap-filling, assessment-based individualized instruction.

Application… Use a systematic, explicit, and hurried instructional scope and sequence for phonics and syllables instruction. (You’ll get my 16-week plan with your FREE download.) Connect the instruction with reading decodable text for authentic practice. Also administer prescriptive diagnostic phonics assessments that will allow you to teach to individual student deficits while you are teaching and students are practicing the whole thing. Teachers have used my FREE reading assessments for years to pinpoint phonemic awareness, phonics, and sight words deficits. These assessments will inform your instruction. For the purposes of this article, the Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment pinpoints which consonant blends sound-spellings students have not yet mastered.

The second step is to follow a research-tested instructional scope and sequence. The instructional scope and sequence should guide both your whole-class phonics and syllabication instruction and your assessment-based individualized (or in groups) instruction. You need to teach and gap-fill by building foundations before adding on the roof. For example, teach the consonant sounds before teaching consonant blends in both both your sound-by-sound blending and in assessment-based mini-lessons, guided reading, worksheets, etc.

Teachers should layer in a mix of beginning and ending consonant blends by frequency of use and by utility. Because our task is to teach reading, not to teach phonics as our end-goal, we have to connect instruction to authentic reading practice. Now by authentic, I mean narrative and expository reading practice, not just words or sentence practice. In other words, fist teach the high utility consonant blends which are connected to decodable books. Your students need targeted practice.

The third step is to group students who have demonstrated that they have not yet achieved mastery with the consonant blend sound-spellings. Grouping is just more efficient than purely individual instruction. Teachers use a variety of small group formats. Literacy centers have become a popular option to provide remedial instruction within some centers (stations), while offering grade-level and/or accelerated instruction in other centers. Mini-lessons and collaborative or individual worksheets can work well in groups. Guided reading, if focused on targeted sound-spellings, can do the job. I like and have used a combination of approaches, usually beginning a group with quick instruction, followed by individualized practice, and ending (not necessarily on the same day) with formative assessment and re-teaching as necessary. By the way, I’m a big advocate of student self-correction of their own practice. Kids do learn from their own mistakes.

The fourth step is to develop and use formative assessments to determine mastery. Big kids and adults improve reading most when the instruction is designed by comprehensive, teachable diagnostic assessments and is adjusted as needed by the results of quick, pinpoint formative assessments. In the FREE five consonant blend lessons, the fifth lesson is a one-minute formative assessment. You’ll know whether students have or have not mastered the consonant blends. Teachers need to have back-up lessons in case the student does not master the consonant blends on the formative assessment. A solid foundation will allow students to learn additional reading skills.

Teachers who would like to use my consonant blends phonics lessons and formative assessment are welcome to download this FREE five-lesson workshop from my Teaching Reading Strategies program. Think I’ll also include my entire phonics instructional scope and sequence, plus 89 animal sound-spelling and consonant blends cards!

Get the Consonant Blends Phonics Lessons FREE Resource:

Teaching Reading Strategies Reading Intervention Program

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Tier I and II Response to Intervention groups. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, 102 remedial spelling worksheets, expository comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages (same text) with word counts and timing charts recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 reading and spelling game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice,and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and special education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum.  Plus the video training modules teach you everything you need implement the program successfully. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

“This is just what I need! I have been searching for a resource to help my middle school SPED kiddos catch up to their peers and I can’t wait to implement this incredible product in my classroom!!!” Rating: 4.0

Elizabeth Lewis

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