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Phonics : Question No 170207.

“Could you explain the mb at the end of lamb?”

mb (as in lamb) is a consonant team for the sound /m/. I suppose we could teach it as a phonogram, much like we teach the phonogram gn (as in sign). However, unlike gn which occurs in about 375 common words, –mb only occurs in about two dozen common words. So, rather than teaching it in isolation, I would examine the sounds and explore its use through word encounters.

Part 1.
Examine its sounds.
To understand this consonant team, consider first some things about the production of the separate sounds /m/ and /b/.

  • The sounds /m/ and /b/ are bilabial, meaning that the point of articulation is between the two lips.
  • Both are voiced (vocal cords in throat are vibrated during sound production).
  • /m/ is nasal (airflow goes through nasal passages; pinch your nose shut and you cannot make the sound).
  • /b/ is a stop (the vocal tract is blocked, the airflow ceases)

Perhaps at one time both m and b carried their individual sounds. It is easy to see how the sound of /b/ could be lost over time since the point of articulation is the same for both sounds; hence, the team mb sounds as /m/.

Part 2.
Explore its use through word encounters.
List 1:  Here’s a list of base words that use the mb consonant team

iamb (poetry; also, enjambed / enjambment)
jamb (door, window)
rhomb (a crystal)

Notice –mb is at the end of the word.

List 2: Here’s a sampling of words derived from these base words, retaining the mb consonant team in the “new” word. Notice some take inflectional suffixes (grammatical: e.g., -s, -ing, -ed, -est); others take derivational suffixes (lexical: e.g., -ment, -less, -ly);  a few take prefixes; and some form compound words.

bomber, firebomb
climbing, climber
combing, combed, beachcomber
dumber, dumbest
lambskin, lambswool
limbs, limbless
numbly, numbed, numbskull
succumbed, succumbing
thumbnail, thumbprint, thumb drive (open compound)

List 3: Take note of words that appear to be similar, have the letters m and b side-by-side, however, do not form the consonant team. Rather, the m and b each carry their individual sounds.

Note: I am sure there are more of these, but these are a few that come to mind right now.

How would this “learning” look in my classroom?

Explore the sound.
When students have their first encounter with one of the base words, explore the letters and sounds using the information from Part 1 (above). At this time, if you are charting English phonograms, list it with the other uncommon phonograms at the bottom of Chart 7 of Johnny Can Spell. Include a word example on this chart.

Record words.
Encourage students to find words that use the consonant team. Students can keep a record of ___mb  words that they find during reading, writing, or word discovery activities. (Part 2. List 1)
If students do not find these many of these words, you can put the words on cards for them to draw. Students would then research information about their word to contribute to a classroom word map (below).

Create a classroom word map.
Provide classroom space to collect -mb words. Use a thinking map (graphic organizer) to do this on a large sheet of butcher paper (larger than chart paper). Allow students to use various tools –markers, pencils, sticky notes. The consonant team -mb will be your focal point to which all entries will connect.

Encourage notations around each word: its meaning in student’s words, a copy of the sentence in which they found the word or a sentence they create using the word, a drawing or image to represent the meaning of the word, a non-example, i.e., what it is not. These are the typical ways we engage students with new words. Any student can contribute information to any word once that word has been posted.

I mount the “map” in a convenient place so students can easily access it to randomly add information and to look at what has been added and share with friends the information that’s been charted.

In my classroom, this activity is not an assignment; it is not a center or station. Students are not required to participate. When students add information to the “chart,” they put their name or initials in small print beside their contribution(s). On occasion, I add information I’ve learned, participating as one of the learners.

Students record personal learning.
In time, I pull the chart off the wall and we gather around it to talk about what we have learned. Students identify what part of the learning is personally significant. They can enter notes from the discussion or from the “chart” into their Word Study notebooks.

Extend the learning.
It is a natural next step to begin to notice and record words derived from these base words (List 2), and to make note of words that have m and b together when they do not form mb (List 3).

Backstory to this post.

I received an email from a teacher.

I sent a brief reply.

And she sent more questions.

I wrote this blog post in response.

Feel free to comment — share your ideas, questions, examples.