Teaching Students About Consonant Clusters

A consonant cluster, also known as a consonant blend, is where two or more consonant sounds appear in a word with no intervening vowels. Unlike consonant digraphs, where the consonants represent just one sound, each consonant sound in a blend can be heard when it’s sounded out.

What is a consonant blend, and what are some examples?

Consonant blends, also known as consonant clusters or adjacent consonants, is the phonics term given to two or more consonant sounds positioned side by side in a word with no intervening vowels.

Here’s the significant bit: unlike digraphs or trigraphs, where the letters all form one sound, each of the consonants in a cluster can be heard when the blend is sounded out. For instance, we say all three letter sounds of the ‘str’ blend in the word ‘string.’ If two or more consonants represent one sound, we’d call that a consonant digraph. Some examples of those include ‘sh’ or ‘th’.

Consonant clusters are often found at the beginning or end of a word. In the front, they’re never longer than three consonants long, such as the ‘s,’ ‘p,’ ‘l’ in splash, or ‘s,’ ‘p,’ and ‘r’ in a sprain. Three-letter consonant clusters always begin with the letter ‘s.’

At the end of the word, they can be up to four consonants long. A good example is the ‘l,’ ‘f,’ ‘th’ ‘s’ in twelfths. Although there are five letters there, there are only four consonant sounds, as /th/ is a digraph.

Consonant clusters in phonics can appear at the start of a word, for example:

  • /s/ /t/in stay
  • /f/ /r/in friend
  • /c/ /r/in croak

Or at the end of a word:

  • /s/ /k/in task
  • /s/ /t/in fast
  • /n/ /t/in went
  • /n/ /d/in sound

What are some of the different consonant blends?

Now that we’ve seen some examples of consonant clusters in different words let’s look at many of these different blends themselves. There are dozens of various clusters in the English language, and children are likely to encounter many of the most common ones during their phonics education. Once you’ve become familiar with many common ones, you’ll know how to teach consonant blends more effectively.

Here are some of the most common two and three-letter clusters, as well as some example words:

Two-letter clusters:

Two-letter blends Examples
bl Blue, blob, bloom
cl Climb, cling, clean
fl Flu, flood, fly
gl Glue, glass,
pl Play, place, plan
sl Slot, slide, sly
br bread, break, brain
cr crumb, cream, crab
dr dream, dry, drop
fr friend, fry, frost
gr grow, grain, green
pr pray, price, print
tr tray, try, trust
sc scan, scrap, scoop
sk skip, skin, sky
sm smart, smug, smear
sn snake, sneak, snout
sp span, spend, sponge
st stay, star, store
sw sweet, swim, swung
tw twist, twig, twelve

Three-letter clusters:

Three-letter blends Examples
shr shrink, shred, shrew
spl splash, splat, split
squ squash, squid, square
str street, strong, straight
thr throw, three, thrill

What is the difference between consonant blends and blending?

By now, you’ll no doubt be knowledgeable about consonant clusters and some of the most common examples. But before we discuss the importance of these clusters and how to teach consonant blends, there’s the elephant in the room that we need to address, and its name is blending!

Although they’re both parts of phonics and are related, it’s important not to get blends and to blend mixed up.

  • Consonant blends, as we know, are where two or more consonants are next to each other in a word with no intervening vowels, and each one is heard when the word is sounded out.
  • When we talk about blending, though, we’re referring to one of the phonics methods through which kids learn to decode and read words. During phonics, children will learn to segment (or break down) a word into its sounds before blending them all to reform the word.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s move on and explore why blends are essential to teaching and how to teach consonant blends!

Why do we learn about consonant clusters?

Consonant clusters are all well and good – but why do we need to learn about them? There are two main reasons why consonant clusters are essential to be aware of.

Consonant clusters are essential for early readers. Learning to decode a series of consonants can be tricky for young children because it is harder to distinguish between two or more individual sounds. Singular consonants, separated by vowels, are much easier to read and spell, and children might trip up when they encounter a new string of consonants to sound out, they can trip up. This is why it’s a good idea for them to know what consonant clusters are.

The other core reason consonant clusters are an essential teaching point is for those learning English as a foreign language. Consonant clusters in English can trip up speakers of other languages, and they might not know how to pronounce them correctly. They might also get them mixed up with consonant digraphs. Making them aware of clusters, digraphs, and the difference between them can help with their pronunciation and fluency.

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