Getting Started: Sound Blending

Just knowing letters and sounds was not enough for Anna to learn to decode words to read. Once Anna looked at each letter in a word and retrieved the sound, she would need to be able to blend the sounds together to identify the word. Sound blending is an example of a phonological awareness skill. Phonological awareness skills involve the ability to notice, think about and manipulate the phonemes or sounds of words; these skills are highly correlated with literacy learning.


Anna’s goal for instruction in sound blending was as follows:

Anna will blend sounds together that are presented to her orally, determine the target word, and select a picture of the target word from a field of 4 options with at least 80% accuracy over at least 2 consecutive sessions.    

Teaching Sound Blending

In this task, the instructor first presented Anna with 4 pictures as possible response options and labelled the pictures. She then said the target word slowly, extending each sound 1-2 seconds. Anna had to blend the sounds together in her head to identify the target word. She could then respond by selecting the picture of the target word from the array of pictures, by signing the target word, or by using a speech approximation where possible.

We started with short words that just included three sounds (i.e., consonant vowel consonant words such as mom, nap, mad, dog, cat, dad).

In Anna’s case, we first started with just offering her two picture choices to limit the demands of the task. As Anna developed greater understanding of the task requirements, we increased the number of response options.

angry boy

These types of phonological awareness tasks impose significant auditory processing demands. We knew that many children with ASD like Anna have difficulty with auditory processing so we provided her with visual supports for these tasks. Specifically, we provided the written word and pointed to each letter slowly as we said the sound.

When Anna was first learning to blend sounds, it was challenging for her to do so. We provided her with scaffolding support to help her learn this new skill.

  • First we modeled for her how to blend sounds.
  • Then we provided her with guided practice in sound blending
    • We said the word slowly holding each sound for 1-2 seconds
    • Then we said the word a little bit faster holding each sound for .5-1 seconds
    • Then we paused and waited providing Anna with the opportunity to blend the sounds to determine the target word and select the picture from the options provided.
  • Over time as Anna developed competence we gradually faded the support until she was able to independently blend the sounds when the instructor said the word slowly holding each sound for 1-2 seconds.
  • We always provided her with feedback on her responses.
    • If she was correct, we provided positive feedback
    • If she was incorrect, we drew her attention to the error, modeled the correct response, and provided guided practice to help her complete the sound blending task successfully. We then provided additional opportunities for her to practice.

In this video, you will see Anna in instruction in sound blending. In this video, she is learning to blend the sounds in the word, mad. Anna is very interested in emotions and she likes to act them out so you will see her making a “mad” face and you will also see the instructor modeling the emotion. In this sound blending activity,

  • The instructor presents a written word to Anna, in this case the word, mad. There is a photo of the word above the written word, but it is covered by a post it note so that Anna cannot use the photo as a cue.
    • The instructor then points to the letters and says the letter sounds in sequence slowly with each sound extended 1-2 seconds
    • Anna knows the letter sounds in this word and she tries to say them also. This is a nice opportunity for her to practice applying her letter sound knowledge, but it is not necessary for her to say the letter sounds in this sound blending task.
  • Anna must listen to the sounds and then blend them and
    • select the picture from the choices provided or
    • say or sign the word
  • Anna then uncovers the picture on the page to check the accuracy of her response.

Since Anna is still building her language skills, we also worked on expanding her vocabulary, talking about the target word and acting it out to make sure that she understood the meaning. We thought carefully about which words to introduce to Anna first making sure that they were meaningful, motivating, and functional. The word, mad, was an important concept for Anna to learn as it would provide her with a means to express her frustration rather than using challenging behaviors.

As with letter sound correspondences, we collected data for each instructional session to track Anna’s progress. We conducted error analyses to identify areas that were difficult for Anna and we provided additional instruction to target these areas.

For more information on teaching sound blending, please visit our website on Literacy Instruction.

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