As students begin to read words that are longer than three letters, they will quickly encounter consonant blends. Also known as consonant clusters, these two- and three-letter blends are a good bridge between basic phonics skills and more advanced reading.
In this article, we will explore consonant blends in-depth, including explanations, examples, teaching strategies, and a couple of free printables to share with your students.
What Are Consonant Blends?
Consonant blends are two or three consonants occurring next to one another in a word. There are no vowels between them. You can hear all the letters in a consonant blend when reading or speaking a word aloud.
For example, in the word “stop,” You hear both /s/ and /t/ as distinct sounds. The letters do not join together to form a new sound.
Consonant blends usually come at the beginning of a word (initial) or the end of a word (final). They can also appear in the middle of words, as in the word “embrace.”
The Difference Between Consonant Blends and Digraphs
Kids may confuse consonant blends and digraphs because both feature letters joining together in a word. However, there are some distinct differences.
- Consonant blends are made of only consonants. Digraphs can be made of only consonants, vowels, or a mix of consonants and vowels.
- Consonant blends can be made up of two or three letters. Digraphs are only two letters (three letters would be a trigraph).
- In a consonant blend, you hear all of the sounds separately. For a digraph, the letters come together to make a new sound.
- Kids often confuse consonant digraphs and consonant blends. For example, “wr” and “ph” are examples of consonant digraphs because the letters join to make one sound.
Consonant blends tend to be easier to teach, as kids don’t have to learn any new phonics sounds, just join familiar phonemes together.
Types of Consonant Blends (With Examples)
There are many consonant blends, including two- and three-letter and initial and final. Blends can be broken down further into letter clusters, as we’ll explore below.
Two-Letter Consonant Blends
Students should begin phonics work with two-letter consonant blends as it is easier for them to hear and spell two distinct sounds.
You can teach two-letter consonant blends explicitly and go through each blend, but don’t focus on having students memorize the types of blends. The goal is for them to read fluently, not recall the blends.
Initial Consonant Blends
Initial consonant blends occur at the beginning of a word, before the vowel. Below are the most common initial consonant blends, along with examples.
|bl –||cl –||fl –|
|gl –||pl –||sl –|
|br –||cr –||dr –|
|fr –||gr –||pr –|
|sm –||sp –||st –|
|dw –||sw –||tw –|
Final Consonant Blends
Final consonant blends occur at the end of a word, after the vowel. Below are some of the most common final consonant blends and some consonant blend examples to share with your students.
|– ld||– lk||– lt|
|– nd||– nk||– nt|
|– sk||– st||– sp|
Three-Letter Consonant Blends
Once kids grasp two-letter consonant blends, they’re ready to move on to three-letter blends. These follow the same rules but are slightly more complex as there are now three sounds to attend to. Three-letter blends tend to occur in the initial position of a word.
As with two-letter blends, don’t focus on having kids memorize these blends. Continue to aim for fluency.
Initial Consonant Blends
|scr –||shr –||spr –|
|str –||spl –||thr –|
When Should You Introduce Consonant Blends?
Kids need to have a firm grasp of single-letter phonics before beginning consonant blends. They should know all consonant and vowel sounds and be able to read three-letter words fluently.
Many kids are ready to begin two-letter consonant blends in the second half of kindergarten, while others may need to wait until the beginning of first grade.
While some teachers opt to teach them in conjunction, many prefer to introduce consonant blends before digraphs and vowel teams. Sometimes it’s best to assess each class to determine what they’re ready for.
Start with two-letter consonant blends in the initial position. Move to two-letter clusters in the final position and work toward three-letter blends.
Strategies for Teaching Consonant Blends
Learning consonant blends can be fun and rewarding for your students, especially as they’ll be able to read more complex words. Below are some methods for teaching and practicing consonant blends.
How to Introduce Consonant Blends
If necessary, you may want to begin by reviewing consonant sounds, particularly those that show up frequently in consonant cluster words.
Next, you can ask the students if they know what the word “blend” means. To make the lesson more visual and kinesthetic, bring trail mix (if you have students with nut allergies in your class, make a trail mix of cereal, marshmallows, goldfish, etc.) or bring the ingredients so students can assemble their own trail mix.
As your students eat their trail mix, guide them to observe that even though they made something new with the ingredients, they can still taste the ingredients individually.
You can make the connection that consonant blends work similarly – they come together to create a sound in a word, but we still hear each letter’s sound.
Be sure to start with simple words like “stop.” It contains only a two-letter consonant blend, and there are only four sounds for students to attend to.
Before doing any written work, start with an oral lesson. Give students a chance to say the words slowly, hearing each of the sounds before they have to worry about reading.
While students don’t need to memorize all consonant clusters, you should introduce each set one at a time. For example, ensure students can read and spell words with the st- blend before moving on to the sp- or tr- blends.
If your students keep a word journal, one of the first activities you should do is decoding words with consonant blends.
Students may complete Elkonin boxes, ensuring to put one sound per box. Elkonin boxes usually use just a picture and boxes so students can focus on connecting sounds and letters.
More Activities With Consonant Blends
Once you’ve introduced consonant blends, your students will need a lot of exposure and practice. Below are some activities and worksheets to help them build a strong foundation.
Complete the Blend
This worksheet can be good practice for your students or a way to assess them. Students are given a picture and a word missing its blend. Students complete the word by adding the blend.
Give students percussion instruments or let them make their shakers using toilet paper rolls and beans or rice. Have them practice tapping out or shaking out each sound in a word.
Make a Blend
This activity is fun for more advanced learners. Give students a blend. They then have to come up with as many words for that blend as they can.
You can also make it a competition. Let your class race to see who can get the most. You can also let groups sit in a circle. Each person says a word with the blend. If someone can’t think of a word, they’re out.
Help Kids Learn Consonant Blends With Confidence
Consonant blends are just one more milestone step for kids on their way to becoming confident readers. Once students master blends, they’re able to move to more complex and exciting books, spell with more proficiency, and be ready to tackle even more challenging words.