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Supporting Emergent Readers Through Successive Blending  

Helping Students Make the Sound-to-Print Connection

hand touching letters

What is successive blending?

Successive Blending is an instructional technique that provides a scaffold for students who are unable to sequence more than two sounds. For example, a student who would benefit from this technique might read the word “tag” as “tap”, “ag”, or “got”, among other possibilities.  This suggests that the student is unable to remember all three sounds in order, thus requiring further support.

When using successive blending, children say the first two sounds in a word and immediately blend those two sounds together.  Then, they say the third sound and immediately blend that sound with the first two blended sounds.  This process is less taxing on short term memory.

The following are the steps for reading the word “pet” using successive blending:

  • The reader looks at the first letter and says /p/.
  • The reader looks at the next letter and says /e/.
  • The reader blends the first two sounds together and says /pe/
  • The reader repeats /pe/, looks at the last letter and says /t/
  • The reader blends /pe/ and /t/ together to make “pet”.

No more than two sounds should be held in memory.

 The following video demonstrates an introduction to the process of successive blending using letter cards.

This video depicts a gradual release of responsibility.  The scaffold of teacher modeling has been removed.  The student is now using this strategy independently.

Why should I teach successive blending?

It is difficult for some students to make the connection between a seemingly random string of phonemes (sounds) and an actual word.  Because these sounds initially appear random, reproducing the sounds in sequence taxes working (short term) memory.

For example, when decoding (reading) the word, “pet”, a student might be able to identify the individual sounds as /p/…/e/…/t/.  However, because the student views these sounds as random, he is relying completely on his working memory to recall the sounds in sequence.  As a result, he may produce a word that contains some of the sounds (i.e. et), additional sounds (i.e. pent), or sounds out of sequence (i.e. tep).

This procedure is less demanding on working memory and helps students blend words accurately.

How can I implement this strategy?

Prior to teaching successive blending, students should know most of their letters and sounds.  This technique is not difficult to teach with the right materials.  Once students are able to read words using successive blending, they can then progress into reading sentences and, ultimately, books.

Decodable Reader Short Vowel Bundle

Our engaging decodable reader packs include detailed lesson plans that explicitly outline the process of teaching successive blending.  Each book also includes two “Sentence Scrambles”; an interactive component that develops print concepts and assists readers in distinguishing between high frequency words and decodable words.  They are perfect for guided reading instruction in K-1 as well as reading intervention.  We use these readers with our own students and are always thrilled when the “reading lightbulb” clicks on!

What do I do once successive blending has been mastered?

Once students become consistently accurate with successive blending, it is time to remove this scaffold and begin tapping/blending three sounds.

For example, when reading “pet”, the student says:  /p/…/e/…/t/; pet.

The next step toward independence is “keeping your voice on”.  Rather than tapping individual sounds, the student blends the sounds without pausing in between.

For example, when reading “pet”, the student says:  pehhhhhhhhht.

Levels of Implementation:

Fundamental skill of blending

It is quite possible that within a Kindergarten or beginning First Grade class, there will be students at each stage of mastery represented in this post.  Careful observation of students will provide valuable information regarding where best to begin instruction.

Individual readers  progress at varying paces.  Some may need to remain at the successive blending stage for quite a while.  Sometimes it can seem as though these students may never progress beyond it.  Remember, patience is a virtue.  Eventually the light bulb will click on and illuminate the magic of reading.

Providing emergent readers with access to a variety of decodable texts is imperative.  It keeps the reading dream alive and within reach while students become adept at practicing this crucial skill.  In time, the cry of triumph will be heard, “Reading is easy!”


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  1. Definitely going to use this for the K-1 reading group I lesson plan for! We’ve been working so hard on CVC words, but many times they can say the individual sounds but can’t seem to put them together into a word. I can’t wait to try this strategy!

    1. Thanks so much for your comment! It is so fun to watch students’ faces light up when they finally understand what blending is all about! Please keep us posted!

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