Tag Archives: syllables

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.

Kids learn sounds from big to small

Little children who are learning about the sounds in words move from larger units of sound—phrases and words—to smaller units of sound—sounds within syllables.

Take the word “elephant,” for example.

Word: elephant
Syllables: el-e-phant
Onsets/rhymes e-l e f-int
Phonemes e l e f i n t

children pronouncing elephant

First, children learn that sentences are composed of words. (I can remember being in first grade and learning that “of the” is two words, a revelation at the time).

Next, children learn the sound of the whole word. They might mispronounce “elephant,” saying it as a two-syllable word (el-phint) as they grow accustomed to it. Eventually they say it right.

Children then learn to break the word into parts (syllables), pronouncing each syllable distinctly.

With a teacher’s or parent’s help, they learn to identify sounds within the word.

Later, they learn to match those sounds to letters.

This sequence—from a phrase to whole words to syllables to the smallest distinct sounds—provides a useful guide for adults teaching reading to preschoolers. We should make sure a child can hear the sounds of a word and can reproduce them properly before we begin to break a word into parts and associate letters with those parts.

What are some activities that help a child to master the phonological awareness sequence?

• Say a two or three-syllable word, leaving pauses of a second or two between syllables. Ask the child to combine the syllable sounds into a word.

• Ask the child to break a two or three-syllable word into its parts. This is a harder skill than combining.

• Ask the child to say (not spell) the sound before the vowel sound in a word (the onset sound). For example, in the word “dog,” the onset sound is the sound a “d” makes.

• Say tongue-twisters and ask the child to identify the alliterated sound. For example, in “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,” the onset sound is the sound a letter “p” makes.

• Sing songs with rhymes. Ask the child to identify the rhyming sounds.

• Ask the child to say the rhyme part of a word or syllable. The rhyme part is all the sounds beginning with the vowel. So in “dog,” the rhyme is “og.”

• The hardest activity is for the child to break down a syllable into every sound (phoneme). American English has 42 phonemes, or sometimes more depending on regional pronunciations. (Sounds made by “th,” “sh” and other digraphs are considered distinct sounds, which is why English has more phonemes than alphabet letters.)

While learning the ABC’s is a skill most preschools stress, the other skills explained need to be learned first. Some kids are ready to break a syllable into phenomes at four years old, but many more are not ready until part way through first grade. Don’t rush them. Instead, spend time on all the preliminary steps.

For more details on this sequencing of learning sounds, go to http://www.naeyc.org/files/yc/file/200901/BTJPhonologicalAwareness.pdf. While you are there, check out the list of read-aloud books that emphasize sounds, and the additional activities you can do with a child who is learning sounds.

My child is a reluctant reader. How can I encourage him?

First, commit to working with your child every day for many months or even years.  He will not become an eager reader without your help, or the help of a dedicated tutor who works with him several times a week.

Boy at mailbox discovering skateboard magazineNext, find reading material that your child enjoys.  Boys—and most reluctant readers are boys—prefer nonfiction—how an engine works, for example, or how to build a bird house, or sports stories.  Nonfiction offers certain pluses:  illustrations (photos, charts, and diagrams), subheadings, a separate introduction, and maybe a summary.  Tempt your child with a skateboard magazine or a comic book or graphic novels.  Find online sites too.  Then:

  • Build on past success.  Ask your child to reread material he has mastered, but which he couldn’t read a short time ago.  Remind him of his gains.
  • Introduce new reading material which you suspect your child can read with 90% success.  Increase the difficulty level in tiny, tiny increments so the child has a growing feeling of success, not failure.
  • If a child stumbles through a sentence, focusing on individual words and not on the sentence, repeat the sentence for him with fluency, so he knows what the sentence means.
  • Stop the child after a passage and ask what it means.  Don’t let him move on until he knows the meaning of what he has already read.
  • Take turns reading.  You read one page; he reads one page.  Or for older students, you read one paragraph; he reads one paragraph.
  • Let him read to you without distractions.  No TV calling from another room.  No cell phone in your hand, or tablet in your lap.  No brother on a video game in another room.  Give him your undivided attention.
  • Read to your child—maybe at bedtime?—without any expectation that he will join in.  Let him enjoy reading as pure entertainment.
  • If he has only one reading strategy—such as guessing at a word—model other strategies.
  • Cover part of the word to show a part he can read.  Reveal more of the word.
  • Point out prefixes and suffixes, and cover them so the child can see the basic word unit.
  • Ask him to read a sentence leaving out a difficult word.  Together discuss what that word might mean.
  • Ask him if a word looks like any other word he knows.  Talk about word families or rhyming words which often sound the same.
  • If the child’s attention span is short, have more reading sessions but limit their time, and use a timer so the child can monitor how long the reading session will go on.
  • Praise his efforts.  Point out successes like
    • Knowing a word he missed in the past.
    • Sounding out a word.
    • Pronouncing a word using correct syllable breaks.
    • Putting inflection into his reading.
  • Talk to your child’s teacher.  She might know appropriate reading materials to recommend.  She can keep you abreast of reading skills the class is working on so you can work on them at home.  She will carefully watch your child for reading problems or successes if she knows you are working with him too.

My son was a reluctant reader, way behind at the end of first grade.  I consulted an expert and followed his advice.  I worked with my son for at least a half hour every day over summer vacation, asking him to read lists of words (for phonics) and easy reading books (for comprehension).  He hated it.  Every session was a struggle.  Yet he started second grade reading on grade level and was an eager reader after that.  By sixth grade he was devouring a chapter book a week, anticipating the publication dates of books in series he enjoyed.

The sooner you can intervene with a reluctant reader, the more likely you are of success.  Analyze your kindergartener’s or first grader’s reading habits.  If he is a reluctant reader, commit yourself to working with him now, before he becomes discouraged or evasive.  –Mrs. K

More tips to help a child read bigger words

  • The same rule that applies to CVC/CVC words applies to CVC/CVCE words; that is, to words of two syllables which have (usually) a short vowel in the first syllable, two consonants in the middle of the word, and a long vowel in the second syllable controlled by a silent “e” at the end of the word.  The syllables split between the middle two consonants unless there is a blend, in which case the syllables split before or after the blend.
  • To teach these words, it might be easier to find some compound words that form this way, such as “tadpole,” “backbone” and “pancake.”  Make a list and let the child circle the two separate words which form the compound word.  Then ask the child to put the separate words together to form a new word.  Some words you might use are
    Two words that together make one word
  • When these words are mastered, move on to CVC/CVCE words which are not compound words such as “membrane,” “umpire” and “pollute.”  The same rule applies as above.  Have the child divide the word between the syllables.  If the child has trouble deciding where to divide, remind her that usually one syllable ends and another one begins between the two middle consonants.  Help her to identify blends that need to stay together in the same syllable.  Some words you might use are
    two syllables divided by middle consonants
  • When your child understands the pattern, you might explain that some bigger words follow the same pattern.  Introduce three syllable words with the CVC/CVC/CVCE pattern, such as “illustrate,” “vaccinate” and “indispose.” But if the child is struggling to understand the previous CVC/CVCE words, hold off on three syllable words.  Some words you might us are
    Introduce three syllable words.

Our blog will continue to teach multisyllabic words in the near future.  Let us know if you find this information useful or if you have particular problems teaching your child reading.  We will investigate for you and offer the best advice we can find.  –Mrs. K and Mrs. A

Can dyslexia be identified in a preschooler?

By definition, dyslexia is a learning disability characterized by difficulty reading.  There are secondary characteristics—difficulty spelling, and illegible handwriting, for example—but until a child has attempted to read, it’s probably too early to identify dyslexia.

Even so, the National Center for Learning Disabilities has listed several warning signs for dyslexia, shown in the chart below, and some of them apply to preschoolers.

Dyslexia is the most common learning disability, affecting about five percent of American children.  Its cause is unknown, although scientists think it probably has more than one cause.  About a quarter of the children who have dyslexia also have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, though most children with dyslexia don’t exhibit ADHD.  If an older child in the family or a parent has dyslexia, then the younger child has an increased chance of having it too.

Children diagnosed with dyslexia have normal intelligence and vision, yet they cannot figure out how to read by first grade.  Eventually they do, but they often require intervention from the school system, a tutor or a dedicated parent.

Dyslexia affects information processing in the part of the brain controlling language.  Usually children without dyslexia begin to realize that sounds combine to form words or parts of words, and that those sounds can be represented by letters.  Children with dyslexia have difficulty making these connections.

Children with dyslexia do learn to read, but it takes longer.  Teachers need to repeat the phonemes or basic sounds of English (about 44) and help children recognize these sounds in words and in syllables.  “Go” for example, has two phonemes, g and long o.  Then teachers need to connect these phonemes to letters, and the letters to tiny words which follow the rules of pronunciation.

If you are concerned about dyslexia, the National Center for Learning Disabilities website offers a 40-page toolkit about dyslexia, including several pages about characteristics of children pre-K to second grade and strategies to help them learn.  Your right to have your child tested by the public schools, the type of testing done and a video from an educator who has dyslexia are included in the toolkit.

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.