“How do I teach my grandson to read remotely?” asked a grandmother. She plans to use Zoom, Facetime, and ready-to-go reading materials for an hour daily. After testing the boy informally, she believes she needs to start from scratch to fill in any gaps in basic phonics.
Here is what I advised her:
First, buy two copies of “Why Johnny Can’t Read” by Rudolph Flesch. Send one to your grandson and you keep one. Go to the back where there are lists of words. Start on page one, asking the boy to pronounce the sound of each letter shown. When he can do that, move on to the page of short a words. Have the boy read the short a words, or a portion of them.
Reading lists of words is tiring, so do maybe ten minutes of such work and ask the boy’s parents to do another ten minutes at night. Or read from the list at the beginning of the lesson, then do something else, and then come back to the list. Move through the lists at whatever pace indicates that the boy is mastering the words.
Why use “Why Johnny Can’t Read” a 65-year-old resource? The simple answer is because I know it works. I have used this phonics-based resource for almost 35 years with native born children and with immigrant children. All of them hated it, true, but all of them learned to read quickly. There are other reading primers, but for me this is a tried and true resource. It’s available in bookstores and online.
Second, buy two copies of “Explode the Code” workbooks 1, 1 ½, 2 and 2 ½. (Eventually, buy the next sets in this series, but for starts, these workbooks are enough.) This series teaches reading using a phonics-based approach. Kids like it because of the silly illustrations. Have the child start reading while you follow along on your copy, noting and correcting mistakes. Eventually, the child might do some of the pages for homework or with his parents.
“Explode the Code” reinforces the harder work of reading lists of words. It does not follow the exact sequencing of skills in “Why Johnny Can’t Read,” but you can adapt one to the other easily.
Why “Explode the Code”? I have used this series with dozens of children, and all have liked the silliness of the drawings. For children whose vocabulary is limited, the drawings and distractor words offer opportunities to develop new vocabulary. There are other workbook series, but because of the humor and sequence of phonics development in “Explode the Code,” I like it.
Third, buy a set of letter tiles. You can use the tiles from a Scrabble game or from Bananagrams. Or use a keyboard. What you want to do is to introduce, teach and review new concepts. using tiles or computer words. If you are teaching short a, for example, manipulate the tiles so the child can see them to form “cat” and then “hat” and then “fat,” etc. Changing the first letter while keeping the ending vowel and consonant is easier for beginning readers to decode. Using tiles or computer-generated words enables you to go quickly. Later, you can move from “mat” to “mate” or from “mick” to “mike” and back and forth quickly to show differences in spellings and sounds.
Fourth, recommend to the child’s parents that the child watch the Netflix series “Alphablocks,” an animated series using silly letter characters to teach phonics. This British series offers tiny segments of three or four minutes to teach particular phonics skills. Even three-year-olds will learn to recognize letters from watching this series. Older children will be able to read words as they pop up on the screen.
All of these materials are readily available, allowing you to start teaching immediately. Young children need variety, so move from one resource to another every 10 or 15 minutes. The younger or more distractible the child, the more necessary it is to have a variety of approaches—as well as learning materials the child can manipulate, like the tiles.
Reading lists and reading tile-made words or computer-screen words does not require the fine motor coordination some beginning readers lack. When I use “Explode the Code,” for some children I allow drawing lines from words to drawings rather than writing words. Keep in mind you are teaching reading, and even though it would be nice for the child to print the letters, or to spell correctly, that is not necessary to read. For particularly uncoordinated children, I will write or draw or encircle providing they do the reading. Anything to keep them reading!
Start each lesson with a quick—two or three minute—review of past work, slowing down if the concepts haven’t been learned. Then introduce new work or repeat old work if that is needed. At the end of the lesson, review the new work of the lesson. Review, teach new, review again.
Finally, FYI, I am not being paid to suggest these particular products. I am suggesting them because I know they work, they are available and they are affordable.
Please share your experiences teaching reading online. That is the kind of information we are all wanting right now.