A six-year-old kindergartener learning to read VC and CVC words worked with me yesterday for the first time. We met the day before via zoom. He was nervous, sitting on his grandmother’s lap for support.
I started by assessing his phonics skills. Because he doesn’t know me and has not worked online, his responses to the phonics assessment I did might not be spot on. After a few lessons, when he is more relaxed, I will have a better idea of his skill level.
But for now he was able to show me he knows letter names, consonant sounds and short vowel sounds. He can sound VC words easily. When he reads CVC words, he cannot “slide” all the sounds together to form words. So that is where my reading instruction will begin.
Yesterday we worked using letter tiles. I put before him the word “at,” and then I added one onset letter sound at a time, forming words like “fat” and “rat.” He sounded out words from several word families using short a, o, and u. After 20 minutes, his squirming became excessive, and we ended the lesson. Today I will teach him again for another short lesson.
His grandmother showed me a “beginner” picture book the boy has, but as is often true, that book is not a good “beginner” book for students learning phonics. In that book, advanced reading words are mixed in with sight words and CVC words. I recommended she set it aside for a few months.
She wondered if she should use flash cards with words printed on them to help her grandson learn. If the words are sight words which cannot be sounded out phonetically—words like “are” and “the”—then yes. But if the words are capable of being sounded out, I said the student should learn them by sounding them out. Otherwise he might think he should memorize the look of a word to pronounce it.
Should he guess at words? No. If a child learns to read following the rules of phonics, eventually he will be able to sound out almost any word, even long words like “dinosaur” and “alphabet.” Teaching a child to guess introduces a habit which will hobble him the rest of his reading life.
This student has learned to read the way phonics experts recommend, sounding out each letter. With time, almost all CVC words will become sight words for this student and he will no longer need to sound them out. But to reach that stage of reading, he needs practice sounding out words.