Segmenting in the Early Stages of Literacy Development

Last week I wrote about the importance of blending and how to support development in this area.  This week’s post covers the complementary skill of segmenting. At its most basic, segmenting refers to the skill of separating out parts of words. In preparation for spelling, this involves segmenting phonemes in words in order to write them down.  It is the reciprocal skill to blending and should be taught at the same time. 

There are several ways to represent the mapping that allows children to truly understand how words work at the phonological level.   All three of these methods can be used before, during and after graphemes are introduced. 

Using a hand action

Using fingers – Count the phonemes in words marking them on your fingers.

Using dashes  – by writing one dash per phoneme and then writing the graphemes on the lines.

Using sound boxes

It is advised that blending and segmenting are taught as reciprocal processes. A phonics lesson incorporating these skills might following this sequence:

Children may be tempted to skip using the actions or concrete tool, but it is important that they continue to be engaged in this practice for every new grapheme they learn.  Using fingers to map phonemes is a great practice as it takes advantage of something that just about every student has at their disposal at all times. 

Supporting Vulnerable Students

Students at risk may require extra support to develop both blending and segmenting orally and with graphemes.  Consider the following adjustments:

  • Start with words with 2 phonemes then increase to 3.  Don’t move them on to 4 phonemes until they have 3 phonemes mastered.

Use the following sequence when teaching:

  1. 2 phonemes, only single letters (it, at, on)
  2. 3 phonemes, only single letters (cat, top, map, get)
  3. 3 phonemes with consonant digraphs (ship, chop, wish)
  4. 4 phonemes with starting consonant cluster (stop, trip, plum)
  5. 4 phonemes with ending consonant cluster (went, rest, hunt)
  6. 5 phonemes with complex consonant cluster (strap, split, scram)
  • Use visuals and concrete supports until they are no longer necessary rather than for a fixed time.
  • Finger mapping may not work well for vulnerable students. Some students find it challenging to map phonemes at the same time as they draw on their knowledge of phoneme/grapheme correspondence.  For these students, using counters or blocks to map phonemes may help them to track the sounds much more easily than using their own fingers.
  • Have students repeat the target word several times before attempting to segment.  It is important that words are pronounced for and by students clearly to enable them to hear every phoneme accurately.

Explicitly teaching students how to segment and linking this to phonics instruction will help your students get the most of their efforts during your literacy sessions and equip them with the skills to be successful, independent writers into the future.

Next time I will be talking about teaching blending and segmenting in year 1 and 2. To find out when this post is published, subscribe using the box below.

Are you in Perth and looking to set yourself and your students up for success in 2020? Join me as I partner with Beam Consulting to present two informative and interactive professional learning sessions at the Leederville Function Centre on January 16th and 17th, 2020. Click here to learn more and book your tickets for this PL opportunity.

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