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.

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