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Phonics and Segmenting: The Essential Guide

Updated: Jan 12

Here we take a look at early phonics skills, the meaning of segmenting and some fun and easy-to-set-up ideas and activities. Phonics games and activities to download and use straight away can be found here!

What is Segmenting?

Segmenting teaches children to recognise the segments that form a word. It is when children ‘stretch’ out a word and then break it up into sounds, e.g. dog = d-o-g. This enables them to spell words. Segmenting is the opposite of blending.

phonics segmenting activity

Oral Segmenting Tips

•A child should begin with oral segmenting, i.e. saying the sounds in a word out loud. They don’t even need to know what the written letters and sounds (graphemes) look like at this stage.

•Begin by segmenting words made up of two phonemes, such as in (i-n), then three phonemes, such as cat (c-a-t) or shop (sh-o-p), before moving on to longer words. Teach children to listen for the sounds in words by asking them to stretch or chop up the word. They can use their fingers to count the number of sounds which they can hear.

•You should frequently model how to segment a word and encourage children to look carefully at your mouth. This will help them to see the sounds being articulated clearly.

•To orally segment, children need to:

say the word several times > stretch the word out > say the sounds > put the word back together (blend) to check that they have used the right sounds.

Segmenting to Spell Tips

•Once a child can confidently ‘sound out’ (orally segment), they can begin to represent the sounds with letters (graphemes).

•The simplest way for children to see the written word is by using magnetic letters. Initially, you can just give them the letters that they will need to make the word.

•Check your school’s phonics programme to see which order they teach the sounds in, as this can vary from school to school. You should only focus on the sounds that your child has been taught so that they aren’t overwhelmed. For example, if they have been taught s,a,t,p,i,n, they can build words such as in, it, is, sit, etc.

•Once a child is getting to grips with handwriting, they can then begin to write the words.

•Make learning hands-on and engaging!

•To segment to spell, children need to:

say the word several times > stretch the word out > say the sounds > write the sounds down (graphemes) > put the word back together (blend) to check that they have used the right sounds.

Phonics Segmenting Ideas

stretching a word to segment to spell


•Cut a rubber band so that you have one long piece.

•Cut squares of card and write a grapheme on each to make a word.

•Tape the squares of card onto your rubber band.

•Stretch the word to see which sounds it is made from.

phonics segmenting clipcards


•The child says the word in the picture, e.g. sheep.

•Say the word again but stretch it out.

•Clip a peg for each sound onto the picture, e.g. sh-ee-p.

•Segment to spell: make the word using magnetic letters.

slinky toy used to segment to spell words


•Show the children an object or picture, e.g. a block.

•Use the slinky toy to stretch the word out slowly so that you can hear all of the sounds, b-l-o-ck.

•Repeat with different words.

•Segment to spell: write the words in damp sand.

fun hammering activity to help children learn to segment


•Make 3 or 4 holes in the cardboard box, with small slits so that a polystyrene ball can be pushed through.

•Say a word to the children, e.g. hat.

•Hammer and say each sound in the word, h-a-t.

•Segment to spell: write graphemes on each ball. Can the children select and hammer the correct balls to spell the word?


Tricky Word Spelling Tips

•TRICKY WORDS are also known as common exception or irregular words. Check out 'Tricky Words, Simple Activities'.

•They are used often in reading and writing.

• Tricky words contain letter-sound correspondences that the children have yet to learn, for example, ‘was’. The ‘a’ corresponds to the phoneme /o/ which is unusual for children who are just beginning to learn to spell.

•With tricky words, focus on the sounds that children know first and then look carefully at the tricky part.

•Highlight the tricky part of the word using a different coloured pen or a highlighter. Alternatively, you could underline the tricky part.

•If there are other words with the same tricky pattern, then it makes sense to teach these at the same time, e.g. he, she, we, be or would, should, could.

•You could encourage the child to draw a picture in the tricky part of the word, to make it easier to remember.

•The tricky words and order in which they are taught will vary from school to school. Refer to the scheme used in your (child’s) school and then use the following activities to supplement your spelling work.

Tricky Word Spelling Activities

loose parts spelling


Use a tactile approach to build tricky words:

•By rolling playdough to form the letters

•By arranging small blocks to make each of the letters

•By arranging loose parts such as shells, beads, buttons, etc. over each of the letters in the tricky word

collage of a word


Make tricky word art by:

•Doing rainbow writing – use felt pens or crayons to write over the word in lots of different colours

•Writing the tricky word in white crayon and then using watercolour paints to reveal it

•Writing the tricky word on a big piece of paper and decorating with feathers, felt and other collage materials

multi-sensory tricky word spelling


Practice spelling tricky words on a variety of different writing surfaces, such as:

•Using chalk on the ground

•Using a feather, paintbrush or finger in sand/glitter/oats

•Using a stick to write the words in mud

using a UV light pen to spell


Spy Spellings

•Ask the children to write their tricky words using an invisible ink pen

•Can they use the UV light in the pen to reveal the words?

•Shine the light on the easy parts and then the tricky part


The ideas above are taken from this collection of over 60 engaging, yet easy to set up segmenting and early spelling activities.


phonics activity book

Learn to read and write the phase 2 high frequency words with this fun phonics activity book! Reception-aged children will enjoy cutting and sticking to complete the phonics activities, whilst also developing their fine-motor skills at the same time!

Click here for a great selection of hands-on phonics resources. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

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