Blended Sounds & Multi-Syllabic Words

syllablesThis post combines two topics: blended sounds and multi-syllabic words. How are they related? Well, in the case of blended sounds, children sometimes try to sound out the blended letters separately–and end up saying a single-syllable word as a multi-syllable word. On the other hand, in the case of multi-syllabic words, children sometimes try to blend the whole word into one syllable! Let’s take a look at each situation.

Blending letters/sounds together:

Many children have difficulty “sounding words” because they tend to sound each letter separately and distinctly–but that is not how we talk, and so it doesn’t sound like the words they hear people say. So the important thing is to stretch the sounds out and blend them into each other. This will help children understand how letters work together. And it will simply be easier for them to “read” — as, after all, they do not hear people say “c-a-t” but “caaat.” Initially stretch all the sounds, then stretch the vowels out longer that the consonants, and finally, say the word normally.

A related issue is when children try to read words which have blended consonant sounds, such as sh, ch, th, lk, nk, bl, cr, and so on. You can help your children learn to “blend” these consonants by presenting them with groups of frequently used words that use a particular combination. When they see and say these groups of words, they quickly learn the pattern for that blended sound, and will not have difficulty with other similar words they encounter in their reading. As an example, for “bl,” you could list words like “blue, black, blink, block, blend.” When the child is easily recognizing and correctly saying these blends, introduce a few other examples in which the blend is found part way through a word or at the end of a word: cobblestone, able. The sound of the blend may be slightly different in other positions but the concept of blending is the same.

Multi-syllabic words:

Sometimes with multi-syllabic words, a child is not sure where the syllable break (or word/chunk break) should come, or may even try to pronounce the entire word in one syllable.. For example, for “gather” a child might try “gat” and “her” (thinking of “her,” an already-known word), but it won’t make sense. Or if trying to say it in one syllable, it might sound like “gatr.” Here are some suggestions on how

  • Ask the child if he sees any sound chunks he already knows. Again with the example of “gather,” if he points out “th” in “gather,” say, “Yes! Now you know that you need to make the break after the “h” and not before it. Do you see another sound chunk you know?” “Er?” “Yes! Since these are both chunks, there is a good chance we divide the word between them. I am going to draw a line between ‘gath’ and ‘er.’ Can you figure out the word now?” “Gather!”
  • Ask the child if she sees any small words she already knows. Underline the “mini-words” she points out, or write the word on a piece of paper with the “mini-words” in capital letters. Then have the child say the word in separate syllables. For example, PENcil, oPEN, DENtist, RENTal, TENder, enCOUNTer, SEVEN/TEEN, GENTLE/MAN, ENTER/tain. You’ll notice that in words like “seventeen” or “entertain,” you might have to do further divisions, referring to sound chunks, prefixes and suffixes. Speaking of which…
  • Look for beginning prefixes (like re- or de-) and ending suffixes (like -ing or -ed or -ly). These word chunks are often very common, and it is a good idea to teach them in groups of words so the child easily recognizes them in other words. Learning prefixes can be a fun dictionary activity for the child; open the dictionary to a common prefix such as “re” and look together at the dozens of words that start with “re.” For suffixes, you’ll probably have to make up your own lists, or you can google “suffixes” and find lists like this one. You will also want to teach some common word endings such as: -ing, -ed, -es. Once you’ve taught your child a variety of prefixes, and suffixes and other word endings, it will be easy for the child to figure out how to divide words that contain them. Examples: openING, sensaTION/AL, tenderLY, ENjoyMENT, ENcountER, DImenTION. Note that sometimes there will both a prefix and a suffix (like ENcountER). Also, once prefixes and suffixes are found, you can see if there are any little words or sound chunks your knows (like enCOUNTer).
  • Look for double letters in words. Divide the words into syllables between the doubled letters (at/tached, syl/lables, suf/fix, hap/py, fuz/zy, med/dle, wed/ding, ched/dar, etc.).
  • Point out to the child that for words with suffixes like -ed or -ing, if the vowel in the main part of the word has the short sound, then the final consonant is doubled and the suffix is added: bed/ding, wed/ded). But if the vowel is long, then just add the suffix: bead/ed, weed/ed).
  • Compound words: look for little words you know, and divide the big word between the little words: red/head, under/fed, sun/shine, sail/boat.
  • When there is a vowel in the middle of a long word, it often has the short sound, and the word is divided before and after the vowel: ed/i/tor, med/i/tate, sed/a/tive, sed/i/tion, med/i/cal, ped/e/stal, ped/i/gree. If you are reading with your child and spot a word like this, tell the child that the vowel in the middle has the short sound and is sounded out by itself. Again, introducing the child to a group of these kinds of words is a great way to help the child learn the pattern and begin to recognize it in other words.
  • When a word ends with “ly,” leave off the ly and see if you recognize the rest of the word: friend/ly, happi/ly (from happy). You can do the same with other endings.

Obviously, you won’t sit down and teach all these “rules” at once. The best thing to do is keep an eye and ear out for multi-syllabic words your child is having difficulty with, and at that time determine the “rule” for that word, and then teach the pattern with a group of words, and/or teach the suffix, prefix, or other ending.

I hope you’ve found these tips helpful.

Looking for other useful tips on helping your child read and write? Check out the list of topics in the second half of our Tutoring Tips page.

Posted in Phonics, reading, syllables, vowel sounds | Leave a comment

Long Vowel Sound Tips





“Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O!” Or is that “e – i – e – i – o”? Long sounds or short sounds? Vowels can be so confusing–especially the long vowel sounds!

One of the difficulties with “long vowel sounds” is that in English we have a variety of ways to “spell” those sounds. For example, the “long a” sound may be made with the “magic e” at the end of the word (as in “make”), with “two vowels walking; the first one doing the talking and says its name and the second is silent” (as in “mail” or “Donna Mae”), with “eigh” (as in “weight, eight”), with “ay” (as in “pay, say”), and if you’re a good Canadian … “eh!”

If your child is struggling with these differences, here are some tips you can try:

Create a chart with rows of the different combinations for a particular vowel. For example, create a chart with the “long a” combinations as above (magic e, ai, ae, eight, ay),  Then as your child reads and spots “long a” words, he can put them in the correct columns. Soon he will be easily seeing the patterns, and in future readings will recognize when he needs to sound “long a.”

Make rhyming word lists of all the words you can think of that have a particular vowel sound and spelling. As an example, for “long i” as in “igh”: bright, fight, light, might, night, plight, right, sight, slight, tight. (You’ll need to make  separate lists for other words that also rhyme with these, but are spelled with “eigh”: height, sleight; or with “magic e”: bite, kite, mite, quite, rite, site, trite, white).

Create interesting phrases or sentences that the child is likely to remember: “I saw lightning at night a mile in height.”). Underline the part of the word that makes the long vowel sound, and stress the “long vowel sound” as each word is said aloud.

Illustrate “magic e” word changes: Is your child having trouble with the “magic/silent e” rule for long vowels? Children love to write and illustrate the changes that occur when an “e” is added to the end of a simple word. If it is written as an “addition equation” they like it even better! First, write the “equation” with words; then under the words draw little sketches to illustrate the “before” and “after” words (and also again use the plus and equal sign). Be sure to have your child read the equation aloud, so she also “hears” the difference between the short and long vowel sounds.
– pin + e = pine
– kit + e = kite
– tap + e = tape
– cub + e = cube
– mop + e = mope (make a sad face emoticon)
– cap + e = cape

(If you’d like a print-out of these kinds of illustrations, here is a PDF: magic-e )

Your child may get really enthusiastic about this and start adding “magic e” to other words which don’t have “magic e” equivalents. For example, “cab + e = cabe.” This is alright–it simply shows that your child is understanding the “rule.” Use this “teachable moment” to have her read the equation aloud, then ask her, “Is ‘cabe’ a real word?” She’ll probably realize it isn’t, and you can discuss how the equation works for many words but not for all words–but congratulate her for understanding the vowel sound change that “magic e” makes.

Another thing that can happen is that she may write, for example, “ran + e = rane.” This is a great chance to explain that there are other ways to make the “long vowel” sound — such as using “ai” for “rain” — the “two vowels walking” rule. You can show her other examples of this (train, drain, afraid, hair, etc.).

Homonyms: One other thing that can happen is that your child comes up with a “homonym” word. For example, she may do “pan + e = pane.” Ask, “What does ‘pane’ mean?” If she says it means something hurts, you have another “teachable moment” in which you can explain that sometimes there are words that sound the same, but have different meanings and are spelled differently. You can show her that the “ai” in “pain” refers to something that hurts, while the “magic e” in “pane” refers to a “window pane.” Both have the “long a” sound but have different spellings and different meanings!

Summary of long vowel combinations:

If you would like a print-out of long-vowel combinations with sample words for each combination, click here: long-vowels

Looking for other useful tips on helping your child read and write? Check out the list of topics in the second half of our Tutoring Tips page.

Posted in freebies, Phonics, spelling | Leave a comment

Ways to Read a Difficult Word in A Sentence

reading togetherIf your child is having trouble reading a particular word, but is able to read the rest of the sentence, here are some tips to help her figure out the difficult word:

  • Skip the word, and come back to it when she is finished reading the entire sentence. Then sound out the first couple letters, and “guess” the word through the combination of the beginning sound and the context (meaning) of the sentence.
  • Instead of just telling her to “sound it out,” take a look at the word. Are there “chunks” she is having trouble with? She may be trying to sound out the word letter by letter, and having no success because she runs into chunks like “th” or “ch” or “gh.” You may need to review (or teach) these kinds of chunk sounds and then have her try the word again. Similarly, long vowel sounds are often written in a variety of ways, and you may need to review or teach them (“long a” may be written as “a__e” or “eigh” or “ay” or “ae” or “ai”).
  • For multi-syllabic words, help your child divide them into syllables and sound out each part. If she has difficulty with this, write the word on a piece of paper, and use a pencil to try out different divisions. Remind her that every syllable must have at least one vowel. Have her look for “sound chunks” she recognizes. These may be sound chunks (“th,” “sh”), word endings (“ing,” “ed”), suffixes or prefixes, or words within words (compound words like “sunshine” or words that have a smaller word in them like “sunny”).
  •  Also, with multi-syllabic words, have your child look for “double consonants.” A fun way to teach that syllables often are broken at double consonants is to write the word “Mississippi” — and divide it: Mis/sis/sip/pi. Then watch for other (easier!) words with double consonants, and see how many have syllables divided that way. If your child continues to have difficulty with a particular word, you can first write the word with slashes or dashes between the syllables and have your child read them that way, then just with spaces between, and finally write the words normally. You can also use magnetic or foam letters, and have the child “feel” the different syllables and say them at the same time.
  • Look at the picture on the page to see if it provides a hint.
  • Find or recall other words she has already figured out that are very similar. The new word may be just a different form of the same word (for example: dance, dancer, dancing, danced).
  • If your child is getting frustrated, it doesn’t hurt to say the word for her, and then show her how you figured it out.

You can help your child avoid frustration with difficult words if you do a bit of preparation before having the child read. Look through the book (or other item to be read) before your child reads it, and pick out words you think he will have trouble with. Write them as individual words on a piece of paper or on index cards. Then do these kinds of activities with your child before reading the book:

  • Together, analyze the words (sound them out).
  • If the words are vocabulary your child does not know, be sure to discuss the meaning of the word, rather than just sound it out or whatever. You can together look up the word in the dictionary, or you can look at pictures in the book, or discuss the context (the sentence/paragraph in which the word is found) for hints about the word’s meaning.
  • List the words in groups of similar sounds (for example, “th” words, or “short vowel sound” words). Compare them to similar “sound” words your child already knows.
  • Or, if the book or other item to be read has a lot of words that are about a particular topic (animals, sports, etc.), divide the difficult words into sub-groups. For example, for sports, you could divide names of sports into sub-groups such as racquet sports, team sports, or other subdivisions. Learning words in groups like this often helps a child recognize and remember the words.
  • Use mnemonic (memory) tricks to help your child remember new words. If your child is involved in creating these tricks (rather than you creating them yourself), the memory will be even stronger. Here are some ideas:
    • Draw little sketches of “problem” words. The sketches do not have to even particularly “look like” the word. The child is simply making a visual connection.
    • Make up a funny little sentence or rhyme or riddle using the word
    • Write the word with magnetic letters, or finger paints, or in sand, or whatever helps your child. “Texture” writing can be very helpful for some children.
    • “Write” the word on your child’s back or on the palm of the child’s hand with your finger. “Feeling” the word can work well.
    • Find out lots more Memory and Learning Strategy Tips and Tricks from this booklet.

Once your child feels confident with the words, he can then read the book easily–and the confidence he has gained by knowing these “hard words” may well work wonders in overcoming anxiety.

What methods have you used that you’d like to share with other parents who are helping their children read difficult words? Be sure to share your tips in the comments below. Thanks!

Looking for other useful tips on helping your child read and write? Check out the list of topics in the second half of our Tutoring Tips page.

Posted in home learning, Phonics, reading | Leave a comment

Teaching sounds spelled in a variety of ways

grrrGrrrr! One of the frustrating aspects of English spelling is that similar or same sounds can be spelled in a variety of ways. On the other hand, the same spelling combination can make different sounds! This post will provide some teaching hints to help children with these spelling issues.


For sounds that are made in different ways, such as the “rrrr” sound, write the main sound in the middle of the paper (for example, rrrr). Then divide the page into halves, thirds, or however many sections you need. For the “rrrr” sound, you would need sections for rer, ir, and even or and ar (though those two can sound a bit different). Within each section, write a list of words that have the rrrr sound, and are spelled with the specific spelling combination.

Vowel sounds:

You can do the same with vowel sounds. For example, write an “a” in the middle of the sheet, in a square. Then divide the sheet into as many parts as you want to work on–“short a” words, and “long a” words with “ai“, with “silent/magic e“, with “eigh“, and with “ay“.


Spellings with alternate sounds:

Keep in mind that some chunks, blends, and digraphs have alternate sounds. You will also need to teach these alternate sounds, and again, the easiest way is to teach a group of words that have that same sound. Some examples:
– “ow” as in “cow” (cow, bow, how, crown, frown)
– “ow” as in “blow” (blow, crow, slow, snow, grow)
– “oy” as in “toy” and “oi” as in “boil”
– “ew” as in “blew” and “ue” as in “blue”
– “ow” as in “cow” and “ou” as in “thou” … and “ough” as in “plough”!

– “ed” endings that are pronounced as “-ed“: lifted, hunted, landed
– “ed” endings that are pronounced as “-t“: jumped, walked, asked
– “ed” endings that are pronounced as “-d“: happened, cared, soared

That tricky end-of-word “y”:

– “y” at the end of words when pronounced as “i“: sky, by, my, fly, cry, try, sly (note that these words are usually short single-syllable words)
– “y” at the end of words when pronounced as “e“: happy, marry, bunny (note that these are usually two syllables, and have a double consonant in the middle where the syllable break happens)

And then there are those multiple pronunciations of sounds like “ough”:

though and thorough … cough and trough … through  and slough … tough and rough and, yes, that’s enough!

What other tricky sound spellings can you think of? Add them in the comments! Thanks!

Looking for other useful tips on helping your child read and write? Check out the list of topics in the second half of our Tutoring Tips page.

Posted in Phonics, spelling, vowel sounds | Leave a comment

Tips on Choosing Books For Your Children

childrens booksSummer holidays are a wonderful time for children to spend lots of time simply enjoying  reading. And with the new school year starting in a few weeks, this is also a good time for them to practice and build their reading skills in preparation. But as you take your child to the library, bookstore, yard sales, exploring online, or digging through your own collection of books, you may be wondering how to choose the best books for your child’s personal needs and interests. This post quotes tips which I have provided to the parents of my tutoring students.

Choose books that are fun, interesting, and enjoyable:

While we want to encourage our children to read books that give them a bit of a “challenge” and encourage them to try new sounds, longer words, and deeper understanding, we also want them to continue to read books that are “easy” and enjoyable for them. Often these are “favorite” books, which make reading a “happy” experience. Encourage them to share these “favorites” with younger siblings, neighborhood children–or even the cat or dog or a beloved stuffy or doll. If they don’t have favorites, look for easy-read books that are on topics of interest to the child, have lots of repetition and rhyme, have common sight words (frequently used words) they easily recognize,  are humorous,  and have great illustrations.

Choose books that are great read-alouds:

As your child reads aloud, encourage her to read smoothly and with expression. If you can find books in which there is simple dialogue (conversation), that is especially helpful, as you can encourage the child to make her voice sound like the character who is speaking. You may also want to “take parts” as in “Readers’ Theatre” where each of you reads the words of a different character. Point out “exclamation” marks (and words with strong feeling), and “question” marks, and demonstrate how to “sound excited” or to “ask a question” when reading. All these simple methods will help your child develop fluency as she reads–and will at the same time really develop their ability to think about and understand the story on a deeper level!

Choose a wide variety of reading materials:

You can also add other reading materials to the child’s reading list–not just fiction books, but homework books, practical reading (newspaper articles, grocery lists, etc.), the information on a cereal box, pamphlets and brochures, greeting cards, recipes, emails or letters, comics, photo-essays, websites, and whatever else your child tries to read. Children’s magazines, such as Chickadee, are excellent for early readers. They are not only colourful and fairly easy to read, but they also have many practical, hands-on activities. Your child can add each article, set of instructions, etc. to the growing reading list. Just as in math, practical-application-reading makes learning the “theory” of reading more interesting to many children.

Keep a record of the books your child reads:

As your child reads each book, have him list the title and the author on a chart. He may also like to record the genre (adventure, science fiction, mystery, etc.) and the reading level  or type of book (picture book, chapter book, fiction, non-fiction). You may even want to add a column for the number of pages (so he can see how his reading is developing), and list 2 or 3 new words he learned in each book. You can also have a column to record the number of minutes for each reading session. Most children will also like to assign each book a rating. One fun way to do this is purchase star stickers of different colours; the child can decide which colour will represent a rating level.

Graph your child’s reading progress:

When your child starts to read simple “chapter books,” you may want to create a simple graph, with the reading days listed on the x axis, and chapter numbers on the y axis. Each day the child can draw a dot to show the day and what chapter they got to that day (or a bar instead of a dot), to keep track of progress. (You can also use a graph for picture books that are too long for a child to read in one sitting, but in this case, use page numbers on the y axis).

Involve your child in choosing books:

Of course, the #1 piece of advice for choosing books for children is to let them be involved in making the choices. You can direct them to particular sections of the library or bookstore if you want them to read a certain level or type of book, or you can even narrow the choice down to perhaps half a dozen books that meet the purpose you have in mind. But do let them have the final choice(s) and they will be far more likely to be interested and engaged in their reading. And when you’ve chosen the books together, then allow the children to choose at least one book totally of their own choice (as long as the content is suiable for children, of couse). Comic books, magazines, how-to books, workbooks–even if you think the material is too easy or too difficult, personal choice always encourages reading!

What tips or questions do you have related to choosing books for children? Be sure to share them in the comments below. Thank you!

Looking for other useful tips on helping your child read and write? Check out the list of topics in the second half of our Tutoring Tips page.


Posted in children's books, home learning, reading | Leave a comment

Site changes

time for changeUp until now, this Pen and Paper Mama site has covered all my business. That includes tutoring, editing, and writing. Now I have started a new site, Norma J, on which I will feature writing and editing material. This Pen and Paper Mama site will continue to feature information on tutoring, as well as continue to be my hub site for all my websites and blogs.

Over the next while, I will be making changes to this site. There will be a lot more posts that deal with tutoring and learning. I had a goal for the summer to improve all my sites. And I still want to do that, but unfortunately I fractured my elbow, which is really slowing me down. I am using Windows Speech Recognition software to help me type faster–and I think it will help as I get used to it, and as it learns to understand me! So please be patient and bear with me. Thanks!

Posted in Editing, writing | Leave a comment

Tips on working with an editor

editingBe clear and open about your editing needs:

Tell the editor exactly what you want done with your manuscript, your timeline, what you can afford, and any other similar details. Talk all your requirements and questions over with your editor upfront, and request a written contract that covers all these details. If the editor has different ideas, listen to them carefully, and consider how those changes could improve your manuscript. But if you really disagree, you are better off to find a different editor. And likewise, a good editor will also let you know if a different editor would be better for you to work with.

Discuss fees, and get an estimate and contract:

Discuss the fees up front and get an estimate in writing, which includes what will be done, the estimated time, and the estimated final cost (most editors will provide a minimum and a possible maximum estimate). If you have a cap which you can pay, say so. In that case, if the editor realizes the manuscript is more complex than expected,  he or she can stop and discuss what you want to do–for example, find more funds, do more self-editing first so that the editing job will be less complex, or end the job.

Ways to save editing costs:

The length of time it takes for the edit, and the cost, will depend on the quality of the work you submit. Make your piece as polished as you possibly can before submitting it to the editor (and don’t be surprised if it still needs a lot of work). Another possibility is to have the editor do the first couple chapters, then return it to you. You can examine the types of errors you are making in your writing, and then do another revision of your manuscript to be edited. This often saves you time and money, and is also a valuable leaning experience. If you have friends who are good readers and writers, and are willing to do “beta reads” and give you advice, ask for their input if they are willing. Many communication formats use editors: film, video, magazines, newspapers, blogs, books, fiction, non-fiction, technical writing. Be aware that depending on the format, editing time and deadlines may range from a few minutes to a year or more.

On the other hand, if your piece of writing clearly needs a great deal of work, the editor may choose, rather than doing a full edit, to return it with an overall summary of what they have seen as ongoing issues (for example, a weak beginning and ending, plot problems, language, point of view, mechanical problems, plagiarism), and ask you to do a rewrite. You will pay for that initial edit, but in the end it will be the best for you and your piece.

Be realistic about editing time:

Editing will quite likely take longer than you expect. You will almost always need more editing than you expect, because there will be more problems with your work than you think. Then you will almost certainly need to revise and resubmit for more editing. A good edit almost always requires at least 2 to 3 full read-throughs by your editor, with you doing revisions each time. And don’t forget, once your book has been set up for printing, there will need to be a final proof-read. So when you are planning your timeline—and your costs—keep this in mind. Remember, too, that your editor also has other editing jobs to do, and other personal responsibilities, and cannot be expected to do “rush jobs.” If you demand a rush job, you will either be turned down, or you will be charged extra, usually from 30 to 50% more than regular rates.

Working with publishing house editors:

If you are working with a traditional publisher, including book publishers, magazines and newsletters, websites, and other publishers (and printers), you must follow their rules, their in-house style guide and standards, the “look” of their products, the type of content they are looking for, and their deadlines. A book published through a traditional publisher often has a timeline of 1 ½ to 2 years; magazines often require submissions up to 6 months to a year before the publishing date. And for every kind of publisher, you must know their vision, their needs, and their reader’s needs. Carefully check out products they have already published that are similar to what you are writing; check out their websites; and check out sources of information such as Writer’s Digest manuals.

If you are publishing through a traditional publishing company, your work may go through edits by several editors specializing in different aspects. Check each of their edits, and learn from them. Don’t just check the “overall edit.” But before you even think of sending your manuscript to a traditional publisher (directly or through an agent), make sure you have self-edited it, had beta-readers go through it, and even had a freelance editor go through it. It is very difficult to get manuscripts accepted by traditional editors, so it is essential that it is already as good as you can make it before you submit it. Of course, you should also do the same before submitting to a freelance editor. It’s your pocketbook—and your reputation as a writer—at stake.

Follow all rules and deadlines:

Even simple works, such as submitting poems or short stories to an anthology or a contest, require you to follow their deadlines and their rules (for example, the type of software they require, the font and font size, margins, spacing, and the style guide they require). If you break even the simplest of their “rules,” you may well lose the opportunity to be published. Furthermore, if there is a specified length (in words and/or number of pages or columns), never try to “squeeze” your piece into the given space by single-spacing, widening margins, making the story into one large paragraph, or joining dialogue conversations into one paragraph. You expect your editor and publisher to be professional—and they expect you to be professional, too. Even in “practice” writing and publishing experiences, such as school assignments and anthologies for writers’ camps, write as a professional.

What other tips can you share about working with editors? We’d love to have you share them in the comments below. Thank you!

Posted in Editing | 2 Comments