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Word Work and Segmenting Sounds

Do you use word work activities in your classroom? I’m a big fan of word work in the first-grade classroom since it offers so many engaging ways to begin diving into the fundamentals of reading and writing, like segmenting. If you’re brand new to word work or in need of some new ideas to try, you’re in luck! Today I’ll be sharing some of my best tips for segmenting sounds in word work.

What is Word Work?

In case you’re brand new to word work, let’s chat for a minute about what it is and how it can be used. Word work refers to a variety of hands-on activities focused on letters, sounds, and words. Word work activities are often used during small groups, for focused instruction time. These activities are also great for center time once children have a basic understanding of the concept.

Word work is made up of activities that work on letter sounds, blending sounds, segmenting, and sound manipulation. Today, we’re going to focus specifically on how to target segmenting sounds in word work sessions.

What Is Segmenting?

Segmenting is a key strategy in developing phonemic awareness. Segmenting refers to the process of identifying individual sounds, or phonemes in a word.

Students can practice segmenting sounds with this fun hands-on word stamping activity.

Let’s think about the word “cat” as an example. This word is easily split into 3 individual sounds, /c/, /a/, and /t/. While 3 letter words might come easily for students, word work will also involve working with letter blends and digraphs like the word “shop”. While this word has 4 letters, it only has 3 sounds, /sh/, /o/, and /p/.

Why Is Segmenting Important?

Mastering segmenting sounds is essential for developing strong phonemic awareness skills. The ability to spell unknown words lies in the skill of segmenting. Once students have the basic knowledge of letters and their sounds, they connect that knowledge with segmenting as they learn to write. Our youngest students will use segmenting to phonetically spell.

Learning to segment sounds also opens up the ability for students to effortlessly decode words by breaking them down into the sounds or chunks that they know. Children who are able to decode words effectively will have better comprehension and overall reading fluency over time. In other words, learning how to segment is essential for success in reading and writing!

Getting Started With Segmenting

When it comes to learning to segment words by each sound, it’s a great idea to start with hands-on learning activities. If you teach in a primary classroom, I’m sure you already know the value of working with hands-on learning! Opportunities for hands-on learning in word work mean that students can visually see what is happening in front of them and use tactile materials to make the connection. I have found that using materials like manipulatives during word work activities is a key piece to successfully learning to segment.

Hands-on activities to help students identify the number of sounds they hear will help them develop strong segmenting sounds.

When it comes to teaching how to segment, I’m a big believer in using some kind of manipulative to illustrate each sound. You can use mini erasers or small magnets on a whiteboard. You can also draw a box for each sound or draw small dots under each sound when the word is written out.

Step-by-Step Segmenting

To get started, say a word or show students a picture card. Have them repeat the word aloud. Then start the segmenting process by having them pull a manipulative for each sound they hear. In this example, the student pulls four tiles to represent the four sounds in the word slide – /s/, /l/, /i/, and /d/. Once students have identified the number of sounds, then they can go back and fill in the letter that coordinates with each sound.

I always begin by modeling the segmenting process for the students. Then we move to completing the activity together before students start working on the skill independently. You can follow this same process using a variety of words that relate to what you are working on. You can target CVC words, digraphs, vowel teams, or any specific phonemic skill you’re working on. Having a set of picture and word cards for your target phoneme or skill is an easy way to have a ready-to-go word list.

Letter Tiles for Segmenting Sounds

Once children have started understanding the idea of what it means to segment by sound, we use letter tiles to continue working on this skill.

During small groups, I provide students with a set of letter tiles. Using either picture cards or saying a word orally, students will build the word with their letter tiles. To get started, I guide children in segmenting the word into sounds orally and then building the word with the letter tiles.

Using letter tiles to teach students about segmenting sounds.

For example, if I said the word ‘make’ I would expect to see students pull out the letter tiles for /m/, /a/, and /k/. The /k/ sound could be made by pulling the letter ‘c’ or the letter ‘k’. At this point, both would be acceptable.

From here we would review the phonics rule for making the long A vowel sound with an ‘e’ at the end. I would have students pull down the letter ‘e’ tile to build the word. This would also be the time I would change any letter ‘c’ tiles to ‘k’ so that students see the word spelled correctly. We would finish up by saying each sound and blending them together to say the word.

Teacher Tip: If you’re working with digraphs, it’s a good idea to have children group the letter tiles together to show that they represent only one sound. If you don’t have letter tiles that show them together on one tile, you can draw lines or boxes for each sound and put both letters in one space. For example, let’s use the word “shop”. Students would segment this word into “sh-o-p” so their “s” and “h” tiles would be grouped together.

Using Picture Cards To Segment

Aside from word tiles, I love to use picture cards to teach segmenting. Since segmenting is done aloud, picture cards can be a great way to illustrate whether or not your students have an understanding of this.

To get started, I like to choose a few picture cards to focus on at a time. I will hold the card up and have the students say the word aloud. Then, we will say it slowly, breaking it down by each sound. Drawing a line or box for each sound will help students make sure they identify all the sounds in the word. Next, we say the word again sound by sound, this time writing the letter for each sound on the line or in the box.

But segmenting sounds doesn’t have to include spelling the entire word. This short ‘a’ and long ‘a’ sorting activity gets students segmenting in order to identify the vowel sound they hear.

You can extend this activity even further by having children group their phonics flashcards by sound after segmenting. For example, you might provide students with words that end in “-ing” and “-ang”. Once children have broken these words down by sound, they can sort the card into the correct category.

Try Word Work In Your Room

Ready to try some new word work activities in your classroom? Here is a free word work resource to try in your classroom! This resource includes picture cards and letter tiles so you can target segmenting sounds in your lesson! Also included are a few other fun activities that are perfect for building on those segmenting skills! Grab the freebie and get your students segmenting today.

Help Your Students Master Segmenting

If you are ready to help your students master segmenting and other skills, I’ve got you covered. With my Word Work resources you can have everything you need right at your fingertips. Not only will you have everything you need for segmenting, but you will have a full word work program. Choose the resource that best connects with the phonics skills your students are working on.

Short Vowels, Blends and Digraphs Word Work
Long Vowels, Silent E and Vowel Pairs Word Work
R Controlled Vowels and Dipthongs Word Work

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