Tag Archives: sight words

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.

What are Dolch words? Are they the same as sight words?

Yes, Dolch words are the same as sight words.  Many teachers expect beginning readers to recognize these words by the end of first grade.

Child looking at flash cards of two and three letter words.

Click on the picture to enlarge it.

The list of 220 Dolch words was compiled by Edward W. Dolch, Ph. D. in 1936 and published in his book Problems in Reading in 1948.  Dolch listed the most commonly used words in children’s books available in the 1930’s.  He then divided them into six parts:  pre-primer, primer, Grade 1, Grade 2, Grade 3 and nouns.

Dolch thought that if a child could read the words on his list, then that child could read fluently.  Even though many of the words on the list are pronounced according to the rules of phonics, some are not and do need to be memorized.  This is why the list is sometimes called sight words.  Many kindergarten and first grade classrooms have these words posted to the walls or have flash cards of these words.

Online you can find free copies of the list by searching for “Dolch words.”  You can also find flash cards, interactive sentences which pronounce the words for a child and spelling tests based on these words.

Few story books use just the Dolch words.  Dr. Seuss in writing The Cat in the Hat, tried but found it impossible.  However, he used just 236 words, many from the Dolch list.

How can I make reading to my four-year-old a more educational experience (not just fun)?

Children pick up many foundational skills when someone reads to them frequently.  In fact, reading to children is probably the single most important way to prepare them to read by themselves.  But you could monitor your child to be sure he is learning more subtle concepts about reading in English.  Most schools expect these skills to be mastered by the end of kindergarten:

  • Knowing that in English words are read from left to right.  (You could point to words with your finger as you read to reinforce this idea, especially if you come from another language in which words are read from right to left or top to bottom.  If you read to your child in both languages, remind the child that you are reading in English.)
  • Knowing that words are read from top to bottom.  (Occasionally, ask your child where you should begin reading on a page.  Or turn the book up-side-down to see if the child recognizes the mistake.)

    child telling grandpa he is holding the book upside down.

    Click on the picture to enlarge it.

  • Knowing that pages are turned from right to left.  (Ask your child to turn the pages for you.)
  • Knowing that words are shown in print by a grouping of letters with a space before and after.  The space before indicates a new word is to begin; the space after indicates that a word has ended.  (Point to tiny words like “a” or “I” and to big words like “dinosaur,” and comment on the size of the word.  Or ask the child to count how many words are on a particular line.)
  • Knowing that words are formed from specific sequences of letters.  (Write a “word” like xxxxxxx or abcdefg and ask your child if that is a word.  Even though a child cannot read, he begins to figure out that not every grouping of letters makes a word.)
  • Knowing that words are made from combinations of 26 letters, upper and lower case.  (Make sure your child can name the upper and lower case letters.)
  • Since understanding word families helps with reading (pig, wig, big), children need to identify words that rhyme.  (Play rhyming games with your child.  Recite nursery rhymes with your child.)
  • Since English words are made of syllables, understanding the number of syllables in a word is important.  (When you are reading, stop and say “ty-ran-a-saur-us” with a pause between each syllable.  Have your child clap the syllables and count the syllables with you.  Ask your child if you should pronounce the word “ty-ran-a-saur-us” with pauses between the parts, or “tyranasaurus.”  If your child is learning English as a second language, distinguishing syllables from words can be difficult, so for bilingual children you might want to slow down a bit until the child is more fluent in English.)
  • Knowing that rhyming words are the same at the end, but different at the beginning.  (Help a child to sound out the rhyming part and the sound beginnings for words such as bed, red and sled.)
  • Knowing that words are composed of sounds which correspond to letters.  (As you read, help the child to isolate the sounds in some three-letter words, such as sad, hop or fig.  The child doesn’t need to know the letter names that correspond to the sounds at this point, but she should gain experience reproducing the sounds.)
  • Knowing that changing a letter sound creates a new word.  (Say a word like “bag” and ask what would happen if you changed the first sound to the “r” sound or if you changed the last sound to a “t” sound.  Help the child to manipulate letter sounds to form new words.  Using letter tiles helps with this skill.)
  • Knowing that each letter usually corresponds to a sound.  (Help the child to learn the most common consonant letter sounds.)
  • Recognizing that there are long and short vowel sounds, and that adding certain letters, such as an e at the end of a three-letter word, changes the sound and the word.  (This is a more advanced skill, so if your child finds it hard, ignore it for a few months and then try again.)
  • Knowing sight words.  (Help the child to recognize more and more words by sight, and sometimes, let the child read those words when you come to them in a story.  Don’t do it every time or reading to your child won’t be fun.  But as a child gains sight word knowledge, point to the words as you read, so the child can recognize words he knows and can pick up new words.)
  • Knowing that many words are spelled almost the same, but slight differences do change the word.  (Point out “rat” and “rate” or “ball” and “bell” to show what a difference one letter can make.)

    child retelling story of Goldilocks

    Click on the picture to enlarge it.

  • Hearing sentences read fluently, with pauses at commas and periods.  Children should recognize a change in an emotional tone, or a change of voice when the big, bad wolf speaks compared to when Little Red Riding Hood speaks.  They should learn that there is meaning in stories and in nonfiction.  (Ask your child what is happening on a given page, or what the story is about.  Ask the child to predict what might happen next.  Ask the child what happened first, in the middle, and at the end.)

These ideas come from the Common Core State Standards Initiative (the suggestions in parentheses are from Mrs. K), and are intended as a standard for measuring the foundational reading skills of kindergarteners.  Most states are now using Common Core Standards.  For more information, go to http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/RF/K.

Can flashcards be used with preschoolers? If so, how?

I have worked successfully using flash cards with three and four-year-olds.  The children were learning the alphabet.  I used a deck of cards with all 26 letters printed on them, plus pictures of words which begin with each letter.  Here’s how you might use the cards:

Child holding a pile of flash cards that she's studied and now knows.

Click on the picture to enlarge.

  • Use flash cards to recognize the names of the A, B, C’s.  For very young children, start with just a few cards (such as the letters in family names, Mom and Dad).  Later increase the number of letters until all 26 could be identified.
  • Use flash cards to recognize the sounds of the A, B, C’s.  Start with a few cards whose sounds the child already knows and add more until all 26 letter sounds can be identified.
  • Use flash cards to pair letter names and sounds.  Once the child knows the names of the A, B, C’s and the sounds individual letters make, shuffle the cards and pull them one at a time for the child to identify both names and sounds.  Resist the urge to place all the cards face up on a table.  For some children, seeing all 26 cards at once is overwhelming even though they know the letters and sounds.  Showing one card at a time is not so intimidating.  Start small.
  • Use flash cards to order A, B, C’s.  Taking a handful of cards at a time (A to E, for example), place them face up in mixed order on a table.  Let the child arrange the cards in order.  Sing the ABC song slowly with the child if she hesitates.  Then add another set of cards (F to J, for example) until all the cards are in proper order.
  • Use flash cards to identify a letter and its sound with a word.  It’s important for the child to memorize a word which comes to mind immediately for each letter.  This will be useful when the child is beginning to sound out words.  When learning with vowels, choose words that begin with short vowel sounds.  For example, A is for apple, E is for egg, I is for igloo, O is for octopus and U is for umbrella.
  • Flash cards are also useful for learning sight words.  Not all tiny words follow the rules of phonics (the, as, of, is, was and they, for example).  Yet children need to be able to recognize these words to read.  In many kindergarten and first grade classrooms, teachers have lists of these words on the wall for students to use when writing.  Manufacturers sell boxed sets of commonly used sight words too.