Teaching Beginning Readers – Nineteen Tips

• Don’t rely only on the teacher at school to teach your child to read. The teacher unfortunately has too many students in her class and can’t possibly give your child all of the attention he deserves.

• Read aloud to your child every day. Even fifteen minutes before bedtime will accomplish a great deal, such as: increase love of reading, increase vocabulary, give knowledge of other worlds and ways to solve problems, provide a time to bond with you, and perhaps even help your child to sleep better! Children love to be read to and often request the same books over and over. They are learning something new from the book, so play along; eventually you’ll breathe a sigh of relief, like I did, when, after the twenty-fifth time, my daughter finally let Mike Mulligan’s Steam Shovel lay to rest!

• Point to and let children fill in the simple words (pig, dog, cat, etc.) in the story as you read. Sound these words out for your child to begin with until they get the hang of it. [p I g — c a t]

• Be sure you’re saying the sounds–not the letters. Your child will learn more quickly by relating the sounds to the “pictures of the sounds,” than by knowing the letter names. For example, with the word “cat,” the letters pronounced, “see a T,” don’t give the child a strategy to use in sounding out the word and may be confusing.

• When you start with the sounds in the words, you are starting with something the child already knows. He knows how to talk! Our language didn’t start out with letters and then make sounds to go with them; we started out with sounds and created letters to go with the sounds. Humans have been speaking for thousands of years, but only reading and writing for a relatively short amount of time.

• Reading ought to be a progressive endeavor. It really isn’t a natural activity like talking. Your child won’t learn how to read by osmosis. Follow the simple steps (below) and your child will be enjoying reading in no time.

• Start with simple words. These are called CVC words for their (consonant-vowel-consonant) order. [For example, red, pot, bad, rug].

• When you say the sound of a consonant, try not to put a vowel sound after it. This confuses children,
because they may not be able to hear the real vowel sound. Say the consonant sounds sharp. [For example, when you say /p/ let your lips pop out, don’t say “pu.”

• Ability to segment the sounds in a word is predictive of reading success. Play simple games to teach your child how to segment each of the sounds and then how to blend them together to make a word. Say, “I’ll say some sounds, i.e. [d o t], and then you tell me what the word is…” When your child gets the hang of this, let him tell you the sounds in little words and you “guess” the word. You can also ask, “Tell me the sounds you hear in the word “fog,” for example. Make sure he is separating each of the sounds. [f o g]

• Play rhyming games as well. These are fun and will help your child to hear the subtle changes in words. “I’m thinking of a word that rhymes with fish.” Children love to fool you too, so also let them play along as they say, “I’m thinking of a word that rhymes with hat,” etc.

• After your child is somewhat successful with 3-sound words, begin teaching words that are called CCVC (consonant, consonant, vowel, consonant) words such as “stop,” “trip”, and “frog.” These words are more difficult because children may have trouble hearing the adjacent (or double) consonant sounds. Teach these sounds as separate sounds; do not teach the two consonants together as a blend! Struggling readers have more difficulty reading when they’ve previously been taught blends. When you say a blend (like /bl/ or /fr/ or /gl), it’s difficult not to put a ‘u’ sound after it. This makes the real vowel sound difficult to hear. Also, teaching blends in isolation is a waste of precious time. So, the word “frog” should be taught as four separate sounds. [f r o g].

• Another reason blends should not be taught is that one of the signs of a good reader is being able to manipulate/change the sounds in words (phonemic awareness) to make new words. This strategy can be taught when all of the sounds are separated, but not when two sounds are blended together. You can have your child work with letter tiles and say, “spell and say the sounds in tap.” That says, tap– now change it to top. That says, top, now change it to stop, etc. You can’t do this very important exercise without separating all of the sounds and avoiding blends. If you try this, be sure to make only one change at a time.

• Next teach your child to read and spell “digraphs” (words wherein two letters symbolize one sound) such as sh/ch/th/ck. This includes words such as: ship, wish, chat, that, sick, etc. This is the first time your child will learn that sometimes two letters represent one sound. Even though the words listed above all contain four letters, those four letters represent only three sounds. A good strategy, and multi-sensory approach, is to draw one line for each sound and let your child fill in the lines with the sound pictures/letters while he or she says the sounds.
___ ___ ___ [ch o p ]

• Young children like sorting things into groups. You could, for example, make lists of words containing /sh/ /ch/ /th/ and /ck/ as mentioned above, cut them out, and let your child sort them into the aforementioned groups. This helps children to be more aware of the differences as they begin to read and spell these words.

• Spend time writing with your child each day. When you’re making a grocery list, let her make one too. When you’re writing a letter, let him write a letter to his grandparents or a friend who has moved away. Don’t worry for now that he can’t spell every word correctly, or that she writes some of the words phonetically (the way the words sound). I call this process “developmental spelling,” and seeing what he knows about the sound/symbol relationships can tell you what he still needs to learn. Teach “conventional spelling” a little bit at a time, concentrating on the CVC, CCVC, and common digraph words early on. Eventually you can teach the “accepted spellings” for more advanced words. Also, the more your child begins to read, the more he or she will begin to recognize accepted spellings for words.

• Talk about ideas and meanings of words with your children from the beginning. By the time they’ve learned to decode (sound out) words, they’ll be much further ahead in the literacy game. Don’t assume your child knows the definition of words; ask your child what a word means and you may be surprised that often they won’t know. But, if they have an idea (even a little bit of an idea), give them the opportunity to try to express it. This is good practice.

• Be sure to enunciate clearly when speaking to your child. Children, especially those who struggle with reading, have difficulty hearing all of the sounds in words, and may tend to leave out or add some sounds. A third grade boy I worked with years ago, used to add the letter “a” to the end of words he spelled anytime he wasn’t sure what to do. Later on he and I had a good laugh about that. If children don’t know how to pronounce a word correctly, they will not be able to spell it or read it correctly.

• When your child wants help spelling a word, you can help him access his own knowledge by saying, “Say the word _____. How many sounds do you hear when you say ____?” For example, if the word is ‘flat,’ hopefully, he will hear and say, “4 sounds”. Next, have him write a little line for each of the four sounds, and fill them in as he says the sounds out loud. This multi-sensory strategy will help time after time.

• Taking a step-by-step approach is important in teaching your child to read. It’s important for her to read stories and books she can be successful at. Don’t encourage him to read way beyond his reading level–it will just discourage him.