The Most Effective Way to Teach Blends to 1st Graders


Are you ready to teach blends but are just not sure where to start? There are so many different blends TO teach and let’s face it.. it can be hard to find the perfect word lists that don’t include long vowels, multi-syllabic words and other skills your 1st graders haven’t learned yet. Read on for step by step directions on planning to teach blends to your 1st graders.

Or… skip reading these planning tips and let my first grade phonics bundle take care of your phonics plan for the entire year!

The Most Effective Way to Teach Blends to 1st Graders The Best Activities for Blends including Phonics, Fluency, Decoding and Encoding Activities

When to Teach Blends & A Timeline for Teaching Blends

Let’s start with WHEN you should teach blends to 1st grade students!

If your curriculum is flexible, I highly recommend that this is the second unit that you teach after teaching CVC short vowels.

In American classrooms, this would be sometime in the fall, closer to September or October.

When I teach blends, I break it into a 5 week unit, with the following timeline:

  1. Week One: Teaching L Blends
  2. Week Two: Teaching S Blends
  3. Week Three: Teaching R Blends
  4. Week Four: Teaching Final Blends
  5. Week Five: Teaching 3 Letter Blends

While I try to stick to teaching blends for 5 weeks, if students are not showing mastery, then we stick with the skill for a bit longer.

I also ONLY use full five day weeks of school to teach a unit. Meaning, if we have a day off for a holiday, conferences, a field trip or any other event – I use that opportunity as a review week and save any new skills for a FULL week of learning.

The Most Effective Way to Teach Blends to 1st Graders The Best Activities for Blends including L Blends, S Blends, R Blends, Final Blends and 3 Letter Blend Anchor Charts and Spelling Lists

Important Considerations to Teach Blends to 1st Graders

The first thing you are going to want to do is to come up with your word lists to help teach blends to 1st graders.

Since most people are doing this right after a short vowel unit, you are ONLY going to want to include short vowels in your blends unit.

Adding in too many new phonics skills at once is going to confuse students and frustrate typical learners.

HOWEVER, this does NOT mean you cannot throw in some challenge words for your higher achieving students. Just remember, if you are doing this for the highest achievers, you should also provide the same opportunities for your typical and struggling students to interact with these challenge words. You never know who might surprise you!

Typically, I stick with 10 core words that become our focal phonics words for the week, and can also double as spelling words for schools who choose to do spelling tests and activities. These 10 core words should follow the blends phonics pattern you are working on that week, and should not contain ANY phonics skill you have not taught yet. In this case, avoid words with digraphs, long vowels, multi-syllabic words, inflectional endings and any other advanced phonics skill.

In addition to the 10 phonics based words I pick, I will also choose 5 slightly harder “challenge” words. Everyone practices these words and gets exposure, however, these words should not be tested or assessed with the same weight as the core spelling words.

Want to skip the trouble of having to come up with your own word lists? Grab my year long 1st grade phonics curriculum and save yourself the planning headache.

The Most Effective Way to Teach Blends to 1st Graders The Best Activities Decoding and Encoding Blends

Encoding vs. Decoding Activities

If you have been here for a while, you know I am BIG on the difference between teaching phonics patterns to help with both encoding and decoding words. This is no different when you go to teach blends to first graders.

Decoding blends is the ability to hear individual sounds or patterns in a word and sound those words out when reading.

Encoding blends is the ability to hear individual sounds or patterns in a word and to put those sounds into writing.

Students need to be able to accomplish BOTH skills in order to be proficient at learning blends.

The Best DECODING Activities to Teach Blends to 1st Graders

There are dozens of ways to help your 1st graders decode blends. This is going to be what unlocks fluent readers and strengthens their phonics skills for more difficult patterns later on.

Some of my favorite ways to practice decoding blends in 1st grade are:

Phonics Ideas to Teach Blends to 1st Graders:

  • Sounding and Blending Words – Students practice segmenting blends and then blending the phonics patterns together to read a full word. They say each sound and blend the whole word together.
  • Squish It and Sound It – Turning phonics into a multi-sensory experience is a fun way to get even reluctant learners to fluently read blends. Let students use balls of play-doh to build a representation of each sound, and then squish and say the sounds of the blends and other phonics patterns aloud. Then, they read the whole word with all the sounds blended together. This adds a sensory component that helps students visualize breaking words apart by individual sounds before blending.
  • Say It, Find It, Clip It – After students have had time to practice segmenting and blending sounds, they are ready to up the challenge. Give students opportunities to read a whole word and see if they can match the word to a picture clue. This helps lay the foundation for reading comprehension and ensures students are internalizing the sounds they are making and not just making up words or sounds.
  • Partner Phonics Games – There are so many fun partner phonics games in which students can take turns reading different blends and phonics words aloud. Some of my favorite partner phonics games are: roll and read, attach four, snakes and ladders and race to the top. The concept behind each game is the same – students take turns reading the sounds in a word and then the whole word aloud. Their partner double checks that they read the word correctly, and then they switch turns.
The Most Effective Way to Teach Blends to 1st Graders The Best Activities for Blends including Phonics and Fluency Practice - Decodable Words and Passage, Hands on Phonics Centers

Fluency Ideas to Teach Blends to 1st Graders:

  • Decoding Blends – Use picture clues to slowly segment and blend words with l blends, s blends, r blends, final blends or 3 letter blends. Then, have students read each word altogether without segmenting each sound. It is optional whether or not to use picture clues during this step.
  • Word Fluency – Have students practice reading as many words that follow the same set of l blends, s blends, r blends, final blends or 3 letter blend patterns as they can. You can see how many words students can read in a minute, or see how long it takes them to read to the bottom of the page.
  • Sentence Fluency – Use the l blends, s blends, r blends, final blends or 3 letter blends phonics words in decodable sentences to see how students are doing with reading the words in very basic context. Have students read sentence by sentence. Use the same sentences each day to build fluent readers!
  • Decodable Passage Fluency – Take reading blend words in context to the next level. See how students do with a decodable passage for l blends, s blends, r blends, final blends or 3 letter blends. Be sure the passage you use is not practicing any other phonics skill that students have not been exposed to yet – as then the passage will no longer be decodable. Remember, for fluency, accuracy is just as important as rate. It is better for students to read every single word correctly than to read fast, but make mistakes.

The Best ENCODING Activities to Teach Blends to 1st Graders

  • Write the Room – To make an easy transition from decoding to encoding, have students look at picture clues to figure out what l blends, s blends, r blends, final blends or 3 letter blend word they need to spell. Have students say all of the sounds in the word aloud as they write them down. Hide the cards around the room to bring movement and fun into your classroom!
  • Partner Games – If students are already rocking decoding their blends, let them use the same partner games you used for decoding to practice encoding. Rather than having students take turns READING the words, have them practice spelling the words instead. They can either do this out loud or in written form. Be sure that their partner or a teacher is helping to check their work so they are not learning incorrect patterns. Students LOVE to do these games together.
  • Spelling Worksheets – While it is not always the MOST fun option, sometimes spelling worksheets are absolutely the easiest options for busy teachers. Make spelling worksheets fun by doing things such as rainbow writing, bedazzling words, pyramid or sailboats to practice spelling words with blends.
  • Word Sorts – Word sorts are great way for students to see WHERE various patterns fall in words. Most blends are at the beginning, but many come at the end too. When students are done writing their words, they can also go on a word hunt and add words from books to their lists!
The Most Effective Way to Teach Blends to 1st Graders The Best Activities for Blends including Partner Phonics Games with Dice

Assessing Blends with 1st Grade Students

Just like your instruction should include assessing encoding and decoding, your assessments should test for both as well.

To assess decoding blends, you can test to see if students are able to read the words correctly. Based on how they are doing, you can test if they can read individual words, read words in a sentence or read words in a passage. These are different ways to assess fluency. If you are worried that students are not able to read whole words, have them segment or break the word into sounds to see where they need the most work.

To assess encoding blends, students need to be able to write their words correctly. This means they will have to be able to hear every individual sound in a word read aloud, and record every sound correctly onto paper. This is most easily done with a traditional spelling test. You can also add an extra element by adding words that you did NOT practice that week to the test to see if students are able to transfer what they have learned to new words.

Either way, you are ready to move on when 80% of your students are performing 80% or better with the skill you just taught. If you just spent a week teaching, and only 40% of your class is doing 80% or above on EITHER encoding or decoding, STOP what you are doing and spend a week reteaching the unit. You will not regret this time spent later down the road!

The Most Effective Way to Teach Blends to 1st Graders The Best Activities for Blends including Phonics, Fluency, Decoding and Encoding Activities

Do You Have What You Need to Teach Blends to 1st Graders?

While planning for a phonics unit can seem daunting, once you get in a routine it becomes MUCH easier.

I use the SAME routine and games all years, and just switch out the words. This consistency allows students to know what to expect and makes my planning as a teacher WAY easier. I can then focus on mastery rather than focusing on constantly changing up my instruction and risking potentially confusing my students.

What else do you need to teach blends to your 1st graders? Let me know in the comments!

Want to grab all of the fun ways to teach blends to 1st graders that you saw in this post? My first grade phonics bundle will take care of your phonics plan for the entire year! Or grab each unit below:

1st Grade Phonics Curriculum and Spelling Words for Science of Reading

You can also grab everything you need on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Emily - The Mountain Teacher

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