Category Archives: CVC words

How to teach a child to read with little cost

If you are attempting to teach your child to read, and you go to Amazon or your local book store and find literally hundreds of instruction books, dozens of video games, and all kinds of apps and CDs, and boxes of flash cards, where do you begin?  Is all that “stuff” really necessary?

I suggest a method which includes spending time with your child but not much money.

Start with the sounds of English. There are about 42 in most parts of the US.  Say the sounds aloud, one at a time.  Let your child listen and repeat the sounds aloud.  If he can’t say one or two of the sounds, work on those sounds for a few minutes each day until he can hear and repeat all the sounds.  (Supplies you will need:  a list of the 42 sounds, available free on this website and online.)

Next, explain that we associate letters with those sounds.  Start with consonants and teach the child to match each sound with a letter.  Move on to vowels and explain that some sounds share the same letter.  (At this point, don’t try to teach digraphs or exceptions.)  Say a particular sound and ask your child what letter goes with that sound.  Show a handful of letters to choose from and add more options as the child gains accuracy.  (Supplies you will need:  a set of the ABC’s on cards, on letter tiles or written by hand on index cards.)

Once the child can associate sounds with letters accurately, form CVC (consonant—vowel—consonant) words, such as “c a t.” From years of experience I have found that letter tiles work best at this.  (I use Scrabble game tiles, but there are other kinds.)  Set the three letters an inch apart.  Say the letter sounds one by one.  Move the letter tiles together slowly and then more rapidly, saying the letter sounds so that they eventually slur together.  Help the child learn that when we put letter sounds together, we form words.  (Supplies you will need:  lists of CVC words available free online.)

At this point, your child can read many of the words in some books, such as The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham and  Hop on Pop.   Encourage the child to read the words she can and you read the other words.  If you own the books and don’t mind marking them, you can underline the words your child knows as she reads–a visible proof to the child that she can read.  (Supplies you will need:  a few early reading books available free online or for less than a dollar each at most resale stores.)

CVCC twin consonantsNext you need a plan to sequence the teaching of various types of words.   You can find plenty online.  Most plans start with two- or three-letter short vowel words like “cat” and “ax.”  Then they move on to blends, first at the beginnings of short vowel words (“blot”) and when those are understood, at the ends of such words (“blotch.”)  Adding “s” to form plurals is considered such a blend.  Then teach digraphs and sight (Dolch) words.  (Supplies you will need:  Lists of sight or Dolch words available free online.)

Some authorities suggest teaching two- and three-syllable short vowel words at this point, such as “catnip” and “tunnel.” Others suggest tackling one-syllable long vowel words beginning with words ending with a silent “e” such as “bake” and “tune” and then moving on to other long vowel combinations such as “ee” and “oa.”  There is no right or wrong sequence.  It is important to keep reviewing words the student already learned and mixing them up while you are teaching new kinds of words.  (Supplies you will need:  Lists of such words available free online.)

boy choosing right root for a prefixAt this point, you might teach prefixes and suffixes, or words which don’t follow rules such as two-syllable words with one consonant between the two vowels. Does the consonant go with the first syllable (“robin”) or with the second syllable (“robust”)?  (Supplies you will need:  Lists of such words available free  online.)

Three- and four-syllable words follow the same rules as one- and two-syllable words, but the problem is where to put the inflection so that they are pronounced correctly.  Help the child pronounce such words all possible ways until she hears the correct way.  You and your child might read books you own or library books, and when you come to long words, stop, and figure them out together.  (Supplies you will need:  Picture books, and lists of multi-syllable words available free online.)

By now your child is reading.  She might need help occasionally pronouncing a particular word, or more likely, understanding the meaning of an unfamiliar word.  But learning the sounds of English (phonemes) and linking those sounds to form words (phonics) is largely done.

When a word has a single consonant between two vowels, which syllable does the consonant go with?

When a two-syllable word has a single consonant in the middle of two vowels, which syllable does the consonant go with?

Usually the consonant goes with the second syllable.  This forms a first syllable with a long vowel and a second syllable that is either CVC or CVCe. The first syllable which ends with a long vowel is called an open syllable. Some examples include:red headed girl in easy chair reading, legs up

  • minus
  • tulip
  • pupil
  • motel
  • basic
  • humid
  • rotate
  • unite

Sometimes these words  have a one-syllable, stand-alone word as the first syllable.  Or they have a prefix as the first syllable. Helping students to recognize this tiny word or prefix can help them to pronounce the word correctly. Some words like this include:

  • beside
  • rerun
  • protest
  • defend
  • trisect
  • bypass
  • nomad
  • hotel

Some students get mixed up if the first syllable is a single vowel. They want to put the middle consonant with the first syllable instead of with the second.  If this happens, ask the child to pronounce the word both ways. Usually one way will make sense and one won’t unless the child is not familiar with the word. Some words like this include:

  • omit
  • item
  • unit
  • ozone
  • even
  • evil
  • amen

I recommend teaching children words with a single consonant between syllables after they have learned words with two middle consonants.  The latter are easier to learn because children more easily spot the CVC + CVC pattern.

One warning:  Many words beginning with the letter “a” follow the letter pattern just mentioned, but the “a” is not pronounced as a long vowel.  “Alive,” “along,” “awake,” “atone” and “apart” and dozens of other “a” words pronounce the “a” as “uh.”  Save them for a separate lesson.

How to divide words into syllables—start with words having double consonants between two short vowels

Figuring out how to pronounce words with two or more separated vowels can be a problem. However, there are guidelines which often help.

boy reading book If a word has two consonants of the same letter in the middle of the word, the split into syllables happens between the two consonants. These words are easy to segment and to pronounce. Words like this include

  • happen
  • little
  • mitten
  • ribbon
  • puddle
  • peddler
  • attic
  • minnow
  • biggest

girl on floor readginIf a word has two different middle consonants preceded by and followed by short vowels, the split into syllables usually happens between the two consonants. Usually the vowel sound to the left of the double consonants is short because the first syllable creates a CVC “word,” and the syllable after the split is short for the same reason. Words like this include

  • Hagrid
  • often
  • piston
  • Wilson
  • walnut
  • mascot
  • dentist
  • impish
  • whiplash

Seated young boy is playing a portable video game..Sometimes in the middle of a two-syllable word are three consonants composed of a consonant and a blend or a blend and a consonant.  The three consonants are preceded and followed by a single vowel. The split into syllables happens before or after the blend, in such a way as to keep the blend together. Usually these words contain short vowels before and after the split. Words like this include

  • chinchilla
  • tundra
  • umbrella
  • ashes
  • pumpkin
  • sandbox
  • liftoff
  • pigskin
  • distress

All of these two-syllable words have certain features in common which make pronunciation easy:

  • they have either two consonants or one consonant and a blend in the middle of the word,
  • and they have a single vowel preceding and following the middle consonants.
  • The first vowel is a short vowel, and usually the second vowel is short also if it is followed by a single consonant or a blend.

But what if there is only one consonant between two vowels? Does the consonant go with the first vowel or the second? It depends.  We’ll talk about that soon.

My third grader skips over long words when she reads aloud. When I ask her to pronounce them, sometimes she can if she segments them, but many times she can’t. How can I help her?

Lots of children do this, thinking they can gain enough meaning from the rest of the words. And sometimes they can. But usually this is a sign of a struggling reader.

Your daughter needs to learn strategies to figure out new words.

fingers covering parts of word, then revealing themWhen she reads aloud to you and encounters a word she skips, stop her and cover parts of the word to help her figure it out in small chunks. For example, in a word like “imitate,” cover over all but the “im” part. Ask her to pronounce “im.” Then ask her what a short i sounds like. Show her the “i” in the middle of the word and ask her to put those sounds together. Then show her the “tate” which should be easy to pronounce. Now reveal the word bit by bit as the child says it. You say it too to be sure she hears it pronounced correctly.

But she still might not know what the word means. Help her to understand it. Use it in a couple of sentences. My experience working with children is that many times they can remember the meaning of words, but they cannot use them properly in sentences. Ask her to create her own sentence using the word.

I would make a list of words she has learned this way, and later in the day or the next day, go back to them. Ask her to read the words and tell you what they mean. Return to these words from time to time to reinforce them.

I would also try to find ways to use the words in your everyday conversations with your daughter.

Perhaps your daughter needs more phonics education. You could quickly go over CVC rules of adding suffixes. You could instruct her about prefixes and what they mean and rules for adding them to root words.

Letting your child slide over long, unfamiliar words sets up a bad habit. Eventually, when she gets into middle school classes, she’ll encounter such words routinely and will need strategies to figure them out. Talk to her teacher about the situation. Perhaps there is a reading specialist in your school who could come to her classroom from time to time and help the students decode longer words.

And I will provide more information about how to decode longer words in upcoming blogs. Keep tuned.

My child is almost four. She wants to learn to read. Where do I begin? Or does it matter?

It matters, according to research. You should start with teaching her “the code,” that is, the connection between the sounds of the English language and the letter symbols we use to mean those sounds. Here’s how. (Look for more information on all these ideas in previously published blogs at comicphonics.com.)

  • children moving letter tilesFirst, make sure she can pronounce all 42 sounds of English. Listen to how she pronounces everyday words and make sure she is saying the sounds correctly. Help her with pronunciation.
  • Then connect sounds with letter symbols, a few at a time. Start with the beginning sounds of a few key words such as the child’s name, m for mom, d for dad, b for baby. Help her to hear those sounds in the beginnings of other words. For example, if you are pouring her milk, ask her what sound milk begins with. Then show her an “m” and explain that is how we show that sound.
  • Beginning sounds are always the easiest to hear, so focus on them.
  • Help her to write the initial of her name and a few other meaningful letters.
  • child on floor reading picture bookSince each vowel has many sounds, teach her to associate each vowel with a word and an image that begins with a “short” vowel sound such as apple, egg, igloo, octopus and umbrella. Later, she can compare the vowel sounds in new words to those vowel sounds.
  • In speaking, start putting letter sounds together to form one-syllable short-vowel (CVC) words she knows, like “cat” and “dog.” When she can hear how words are formed (phonics) by combining sounds, use letter tiles to show her what the combining of sounds in words looks like using letter symbols.
  • When you are reading stories to her, point out words she might be able to decipher, and help her to sound them out.
  • When she knows most of her sound – letter matches, she is ready to start reading books which use one-syllable, short-vowel words. Unfortunately, few good ones exist. We at comicphonics.com have written five humorous books for new readers. (See the links to the right of this blog.) Your librarian can point out where other books are shelved, but many labeled “first” readers contain difficult words. Margaret Hillert has written some good beginning books, and so has Dr. Seuss. Good illustrations can help the child figure out the meanings of difficult words, but she will probably need your help as she begins.

Figuring out the code of written English is how a child begins to learn to read. There are lots of commercial methods to do this, but the best I have found is the Explode the Code series. Children find its combination of goofy pictures and sequenced phonics instruction fun.

Later you can focus on other aspects of reading including fluency and comprehension. But the place to begin is demystifying the code by connecting the sounds of our speech to individual letters and pairs of letters, and then combining them to form words.

Making small words from big words—a variation for beginning readers

What if a child is truly a beginning reader still learning CVC words? Can the game of finding small words within big words or phrases still be used to improve the child’s understanding of words and spelling? Not exactly, but if you limit the letters strategically, a beginning reader can play.  Here is how.

children moving letter tiles

  • Instead of writing a big word or phrase such as “New Year’s Day,” write a handful of letters, including only the vowels and consonants which the child has learned.
  • If the child has learned only short a words (cat, ham, fad), write the vowel “A” at the top of the page followed by a handful of letters which you know can be used for form short a CVC words. B, C, D, H, R, and T might be good letters to begin with.
  • You could also use letter tiles (Scrabble letters, for example) so that the child can move letters around. Tactile experience helps young children in learning and makes the learning seem more like a game. Also, the child doesn’t have to hold letter patterns in his head; he can manipulate various letters until he finds a word which then you or he could write down.
  • Demonstrate to the child how mixing up the letters can form words. Write B A T and B A D, showing where you got those letters, and using enough examples so the child knows what to do.
  • The competition aspect of the game might be for the child to “beat” his last score, that is, to find more words than the last time.
  • As the child learns more CVC vowels, two vowels can be used with six or seven consonants. I recommend starting with A, then O, and then U.  E and I take longer to learn since they sound similar, so I would use them indeptndently (A and E, for example, or O and I) until the child is confident with all CVC words.
  • This is a game which pairs of children can play together as a team, providing one child does not dominate, leaving the other child out.
  • Restricting the number of letter choices can help the child to focus, so do limit the number of vowels and consonants for beginning readers. Once the child is an experienced reader, he can “graduate” to the longer word or phrase game we discussed previously.

If my child reads slowly, he can pronounce almost all the words correctly, but he understands almost nothing. If he reads faster, he mispronounces many words but he seems to understand a bit. Which do I go for—accuracy or comprehension?

Accuracy. But let’s backtrack a little.

At what stage of reading is your son? Is he reading passages matched to his reading level? If a child is plodding laboriously through text, the text is too difficult for his reading level. He is not achieving fluency. I suggest you go back to easy readers which he can read accurately and with understanding in order to give him confidence.boy reading book

If he is in third grade, for example, you might find some first grade reading for him. Ask your librarian for help. If he can read sight words and CVC words at a good pace, with word accuracy and with overall comprehension, you know he is reading at least at an early first grade level. Gradually increase the reading difficulty. You want to maintain the child’s confidence, so increasing the difficulty level should not happen in a matter of days but rather over weeks or months.

Some problems to listen for:

  • If a child is stumbling, word to word, he is not phrasing within sentences.  For example, all the words in a prepositional phrase go together and should be said as a unit; the subject and it’s modifiers should be said as a unit.  Practice reading aloud with you modeling how to say a given sentence, and ask your son to phrase words so that they make sense.
  • If a child is reading in a flat monotone, his reading lacks inflection.  Some languages lack inflection (Korean, for example), and children from that background might feel foolish saying some words louder and some words softer, or saying part of a word louder than the rest of a word.  If you can read with inflection, let the child listen to you and then ask him to repeat the words the same way.  If you cannot read with inflection, a child can listen and read along to books on tape.
  • If a child is bulldozing longer words rather than sounding them out, he could have problems with phonics, or be dyslexic,  or  be an impatient personality.  Cover suffixes and prefixes, discuss the root word’s meaning and the meaning of the suffixes and prefixes, and then reassemble the word.  Reread the sentence and ask the student what the word means in the context of that sentence.

Some manufacturers have a reading level on the back cover of children’s books. “RL 2.2” for example means reading level second grade, second month. Other books are color coded by the library, and still others show reading level with a lexile score. In my public library, one long wall of books contains easy readers for children learning to read. You might find an author whom your child likes. Ask your librarian for help so that your child is reading at the correct reading level and gaining confidence.

As your child progresses to higher reading levels, he will probably read with less accuracy and at a slower speed unless you actively intervene. Ask him to read aloud. When he pauses or stumbles, let him try to figure out the difficulty himself, but if he can’t, stop him and help him. Perhaps you will notice he doesn’t understand a concept in phonics; or that prefixes or suffixes confuse him; or that he doesn’t know where to make the break in multi-syllable words so he pronounces words wrong; or that a secondary meaning of a common word baffles him. Teach him how to solve his problem. Then let him continue reading that sentence or that paragraph. Now ask him to reread it. If he continues to stumble at the same spot, you know that he needs stronger intervention on a particular skill.

At the end of paragraphs or chapters, it’s important to ask your child what happened (in fiction) or what is the main idea (in nonfiction). If he talks around the idea but cannot nail it, he was focusing on individual words and missing the meaning of sentences or paragraphs. The reading was too hard. If he can retell the story or explain the main idea, he is comfortable at that reading level, and should try a slightly higher reading level.

What I see with many of my students is that they begin to have difficulty with reading once they have mastered the basic rules of phonics. It’s not a decoding problem; it’s a vocabulary problem.  As the reading level increases, so do the number of words they don’t understand. It’s not a matter of pronunciation usually; it’s a matter of having no idea what a given word or an idiom means. This is particularly true for ESL students.

That is why I say accuracy is important. If a child cannot read a given word accurately and know what it means, then understanding a sentence or a paragraph—with lots of unknown words—becomes impossible.