Category Archives: phonics

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.

Is my child on schedule to read?

The US Department of Education has put together a list of accomplishments* relating to talking and reading for children from birth to six years old.  This list shows the growth of typical children developing normally, but variations exist.  By seven years old, most children are reading.

From birth to age 3, most babies and toddlers become able to

  • Make sounds that imitate the tones and rhythms that adults use when talking.
  • Respond to gestures and facial expressions.
  • Begin to associate words they hear frequently with what the words mean.
  • Make cooing, babbling sounds in the crib, which gives way to enjoying rhyming and nonsense word games with a parent or caregiver.
  • Play along in games such as “peek-a-boo” and “pat-a-cake.”
  • Handle objects such as board books and alphabet blocks in their play.
  • Recognize certain books by their covers.
  • Pretend to read books.
  • Understand how books should be handled.
  • Share books with an adult as a routine part of life.
  • Name some objects in a book.
  • Talk about characters in books.
  • Look at pictures in books and realize they are symbols of real things.
  • Listen to stories.
  • Ask or demand that adults read or write with them.
  • Begin to pay attention to specific print such as the first letters of their names.
  • Scribble with a purpose (trying to write or draw something).
  • Produce some letter-like forms and scribbles that resemble, in some way, writing.

From ages 3-4, most preschoolers become able to

  • Enjoy listening to and talking about storybooks.
  • Understand that print carries a message.
  • Make attempts to read and write.
  • Identify familiar signs and labels.
  • Participate in rhyming games.
  • Identify some letters and make some letter-sound matches.
  • Use known letters (or their best attempt to write the letters) to represent written language especially for meaningful words like their names or phrases such as “I love you.”

At age 5, most kindergartners become able to

mother works with child reading story book

  • Sound as if they are reading when they pretend to read.
  • Enjoy being read to.
  • Retell simple stories.
  • Use descriptive language to explain or to ask questions.
  • Recognize letters and letter-sound matches.
  • Show familiarity with rhyming and beginning sounds.
  • Understand that print is read left-to-right and top-to-bottom.
  • Begin to match spoken words with written ones.
  • Begin to write letters of the alphabet and some words they use and hear often.
  • Begin to write stories with some readable parts.

At age 6, most first-graders can

Young child writing C-A-T.

  • Read and retell familiar stories.
  • Use a variety of ways to help with reading a story such as rereading, predicting what will happen, asking questions, or using visual cues or pictures.
  • Decide on their own to use reading and writing for different purposes;
  • Read some things aloud with ease.
  • Identify new words by using letter-sound matches, parts of words and their understanding of the rest of a story or printed item.
  • Identify an increasing number of words by sight.
  • Sound out and represent major sounds in a word when trying to spell.
  • Write about topics that mean a lot to them.
  • Try to use some punctuation marks and capitalization.

*Based on information from Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children, a report of the National Research Council, by the Committee on the Prevention of Reading Difficulties in Young Children, 1998; and from the Joint Position Statement of the International Reading Association (IRA) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), 1998.

Can dyslexia be identified in a preschooler who can’t read yet?

Yes.  Check this list of indicators developed by Decoding Dyslexia, New Jersey.  But keep in mind that a child exhibiting one or two of the indicators isn’t necessarily dyslexic.  For example, almost all children learning their letters mix up b and d.  But a child EPSON MFP imageshowing several of the indicators might foreshadow problems learning to read or spell.  That child should be tested.

Dyslexia is defined as a neurological learning disability.  Children having difficulty with word recognition, fluency, poor spelling or decoding might be dyslexic.  The sooner it can be identified in a child, and the earlier intervention can begin, the better the chances that the child will learn to read.

A key indicator is family history.  If a parent or a sibling has had trouble learning to read, there is a greater chance that another member of the family will have trouble.

According to Decoding Dyslexia, New Jersey, Language indicators could include:

  • delayed speech
  • trouble learning the alphabet, numbers, and days of the week
  • difficulty rapidly naming people and objects
  • lack of interest in stories and books
  • mispronouncing words
  • difficulty using new vocabulary words correctly
  • trouble distinguishing words from other words that sound similar
  • struggling to identify or produce words that rhyme

Reading indicators could include:

  • difficulty naming and recognizing the letters of the alphabet
  • problems matching letters to their correct sounds
  • scoring below expected reading level for his/her age
  • trouble understanding the difference between sounds in words
  • difficulty blending letter sounds within words
  • trouble recognizing and remembering sight words
  • confusing letters and words that look similar
  • losing his/her place—and skipping over words—while reading
  • avoiding reading tasks

Writing indicators could include:

  • problems copying and writing at an age-appropriate level
  • confusing the order or direction of letters, numbers and symbols
  • spelling words incorrectly and inconsistently most of the time
  • a tendency to spell phonetically
  • poor ability to proofread and correct written work
  • handwriting which shows poor letter formation and placement

Social / emotional indicators could include:

  • Lack of motivation about school or learning
  • lack of confidence in learning
  • negative self-image compared to grade-level peers
  • expressing dislike for reading and other academic tasks
  • exhibiting anxiety or frustration

Other indicators could include:

  • poor sense of direction/spatial concepts, such as left and right
  • performing inconsistently on daily tasks
  • appearing distracted and unfocused

If your child shows some of these characteristics, don’t be discouraged.  Most children show some of them.  And if your child is dyslexic, there is so much you, as a parent, can do to prepare your preschooler to read fluently.  In the next blog we’ll identify some of those activities.

 

Should my kindergarten son read aloud to me? How about my third grade daughter?

Reading aloud to a parent or teacher has two purposes:  to show that the child can decode words properly and to show that the child can read with fluency.  If the child is learning English as a second language, showing proper pronunciation is also a purpose.

child with adult helping to read

First decoding.  Probably your kindergarten son is at the decoding stage, that is, learning how to link language sounds with letters to form words.  If he is at this stage, then yes, he should read aloud.  That way you can tell what he knows, what he needs more practice on, and what he needs instruction on.

If you know from previous reading aloud that your third grader has mastered decoding, then your daughter needn’t read aloud for that purpose.  You might sit next to her as she reads.  If she has questions about pronouncing an unfamiliar word or if she asks about the meaning of a new word, you can help.  Occasionally you might ask her to tell you what she has read to be sure she has understood.

If your older child comes to English from a second language, she might be able to pronounce words perfectly yet have no idea what they mean.  If so, ask her to underline words she doesn’t know so you can talk about them.  If there are context clues, you might help her identify them.  With such a child, you should work on vocabulary development.

As for fluency (reading at a normal speed with voice inflection, pauses for punctuation and emotion in the voice) the kindergartener and ESL child should read aloud.  Some readers who are at the decoding stage spend so much energy on decoding that they miss the meaning.  By listening to how you say a line and then mimicking the way you say it, the child can pull together decoding and fluency.

Your third grader should be able to read fluently within her head.  However, if you notice that your child has trouble with comprehension even though she can decode well, then her reading aloud could help you to figure out why.  Is she ignoring punctuation and lumping parts of one sentence with another?  Is she sliding over longer words without decoding them because she is lazy or in a hurry?  Does she have short term memory problems, allowing her to forget the beginning of a sentence or paragraph before she gets to the end?  Is her emotional voice flat?  Is she missing inferences?  Some of this you can tell by listening to her read aloud, and some by asking her about what she has read.

In general, newer readers should read aloud with instruction and monitoring while experienced readers should read silently.

Are digraphs the same as blends?

Blends are combinations of two or three consonant sounds in which the original sounds are clearly heard.  For example, in the word “friend,” the “f” and the “r” are pronounced the usual way and sound as they normally do.  Blends are also called consonant clusters.

child musing about confusion over so many letters

Digraphs are combinations of two or three consonant sounds too, but the original letter sounds change.  For example, in the word “thin,” the “t” and the “h” are not pronounced in the usual way.  When together in a word, they are pronounced in a new way, to create a new sound.

Digraphs can also be combinations of two or three vowel sounds which create a new sound.  For example, when “o” and “i” are together, as in the word “void,” the vowel sound created is neither an “o” sound nor an “i” sound.  Vowel digraphs include ai, au, aw, ay, ea, ee, ei, eu, ew, ey, ie, oi, oo, ou, ow, and oy.  Vowel digraphs are rarely called by that term; instead they are called diphthongs if they are called anything at all.

In the US, almost always a digraph refers to a consonant digraph.

When I was in school, my teachers didn’t use the word “digraph.”  Instead, they called all consonant letter combinations ”blends.”  And they didn’t use the word ”diphthongs” either.  But today American children are expected to know those words, and more importantly, how to pronounce digraphs and diphthongs.

Turn car rides into educational opportunities

Spring break is almost here.  For many kids, that means road trips to Disney World, the Grand Canyon or maybe to Grandma’s house.

cars in travvic

Those long hours in the car might mean movie time, video game time or time playing on the phone.  But they also offer great learning opportunities.

  • For preschoolers learning their letters or numbers, make a game of finding a particular letter on a billboard, license plate or directional sign.
  • Say a letter sound (not a letter name) and let your child identify which letter matches that sound.
  • If it’s dark, you can say two words and ask the child which word begins with a particular letter. Stick to letters the child knows so she can feel successful.
  • For kids learning rhymes (sometimes called word families), suggest a word which the child can then rhyme once, twice or three times. Or go back and forth, first you, then the child, then you, then the child, until no one can think of another word.  The last one to think of a word could decide what the first word of the next round is.
  • For kids learning how to put letter sounds together to form words, sound out a CVC word and ask the child to identify it.  Then let the child sound out a word and see if you can identify it.
  • Another rhyming game is for the adult to say a nursery rhyme and ask the child to name the words which rhyme. (Hickory, dickory dock, the mouse climbed up the clock.)
  • Sequencing is a skill kindergarteners work on. You could say three activities—not in time order—and the child could put the events in the correct order.  (Mom filled the car with gas.  Dad put the suitcases in the car.  Billy packed his suitcase.)
  • Cause and effect is a skill third graders work on. You could name both a cause and an effect, and the child could identify which is which.  (Sleeping Beauty slept for 100 years.  Sleeping beauty pricked her finger.)
  • Categorizing words is an elementary school-aged skill. For example, you could say blue jay, cardinal and bird.  The child needs to find out which one in the category word.
  • Comparisons are another easy word game. You say that the answers are bigger than, smaller than or the same size.  Then you say, “An elephant is something than a mouse.”  The child tells the correct relationship.  You could use longer than and shorter than, heavier and lighter and older and younger.
  • Working memory is a skill children need to extend. Start with two words (or numbers or letters) which the child needs to repeat.  Let the child add another word and you repeat all three words.  Then let the child repeat all three words and add a fourth.  For some children this skill is incredibly difficult, so for them you might want to cap the list at four words.  For other children, seven or ten words might be possible.
  • This is a great time to review math facts. If your third grader has just learned multiplication, review the facts.
  • For older children or children learning English as a second language, car time can be vocabulary review time. You give the definition and the child gives the word.  Or let your child throw out a word meaning, and you have to identify it.  Children love stumping their parents.
  • Older children encounter idioms all the time, but they don’t always understand them.  Throw out an idiom–Jason is blue–and let your child explain what it means.

Of course these educational moments could also happen on your long flight to India or Taiwan.  They could just as easily happen on the way to school in the morning or on the way to soccer practice in the afternoon.  There are so many times you can exploit one-on-one education with your child.

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.