*Strategies for Teaching Beginning Readers*
Reading is the single most important educational skill your children will ever learn. Once they learn to read they can teach themselves anything else. Understanding the organization and meaning of text and instruction in both phonics and whole language literature is essential to helping young children read. By understanding the prerequisite skills for reading, parents can build a solid foundation for their children to learn and succeed, either later in public or non-public school or as a successful home schooled young adult.
How does one go about teaching reading? Think about it – unless you learned to read as an adult most of you do not remember learning to read. Learning that marks on a piece of paper translate to sounds and those sounds can be combined into language to convey meaning for a four-year-old is a VERY tough concept! So... How as a home school parent do you go about teaching reading?
Create Appreciation of the Written Word
- Share stories with children and invite them to explore a story's magic. Start reading early to your children and read often. I started reading to my children when they were only a few days old. Then again my wife and I have read whole books to each other a few chapters at a time since we were married. (She’s a librarian and I’m an educator.)
- Model reading because having your children see you read is a powerful motivator for them to read.
- Share informational non-fiction texts and invite your child(ren) to wonder about the new ideas presented. My twelve year old still likes to hear a story read out loud now and then but really likes to hear something non-fiction and talk about it with his younger siblings.
- Take every opportunity to point out the ways in which reading is essential to the communications of everyday life (e.g., on labels there are words, things we buy come with instructions, and signs tell us where we are going when we travel).
Develop Awareness of Printed Language and the Writing System
- Make sure your child knows how books are organized. Teach the basics about books - that they are read from left to right and top to bottom, that pages may have pictures and/or graphics with the words, that the pages are numbered, and that the purpose of reading is to gain meaning from the text.
- Read to children from books with easy-to-read large print. Use stories that have predictable words in the text. Something like Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. has a predictable series of words and sounds. Dr. Seuss also wrote many books that not only rhyme but also have very predictable sounds and words for young people. That’s why they’re staples of the reader set and why they love to hear any book read over and over – they begin to predict the sounds and words.
- Use "big books" to help children notice and learn to recognize words that occur frequently, such as a, the, is, was, and you.
- Label objects around your home so that your child begins to understand that the alphabet symbols stand for words and words convey concrete meaning.
Teach the Alphabet
- A strong predictor of the ease with which a child learns to read is his or her familiarity with letters of the alphabet. This familiarity is a critical building block for learning to read.
- It is important to go beyond knowing the names of letters. Your child must also develop a sense of the purpose of letters – that they convey sounds.
- Help them notice that there are letters they can recognize in the world around them. When they first learn to recognize a letter B for example, start a game to see who can find the most Bs in five minutes or how many you can find on the trip to Grandma’s or to notice the B on the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Carton and on the Billy’s Bubble Gum Package.
- Make your child learn to form the letters and encourage them to embellish papers and their belongings with their names and with other first attempts at writing.
Teach Phonological Awareness
- In listening and speaking, we pay attention to the meaning of language rather than to its sound. To learn to read, however, learners must be taught to attend to the sounds, or phonology, of language. This is necessary for them to understand how speech is represented by print. Different languages have different amounts and types of sounds but you are trying to teach awareness of the "sound" of English language. Children with learning disabilities need special help in learning to develop such phonological awareness because children with learning disabilities often have trouble distinguishing sounds.
- Model and demonstrate how to break short sentences into individual words. For example, use the sentence "Frogs eat bugs," and demonstrate with chips, cards, by holding up fingers, or using other manipulatives how the sentence is made up of three words and how the order of the words matters. "Bugs eat frogs" is not the same sentence as "Frogs eat bugs" although it is the same words and sounds.
- Develop a child’s awareness of the sounds of multi-syllable individual words by making a game of clapping out syllables as you say or sing them and start to listen for, and generate rhymes of short words.
- Once children are comfortable in playing games with words, syllables, and rhymes, move onto developing phonemic awareness.
Develop Phonemic Awareness
- Phonemic awareness refers to an understanding that words and syllables are comprised of a sequence of elementary speech sounds. This understanding is essential to learning to read an alphabetic language.
- In teaching phonemic awareness, the focus of all activities should be on sounds, not on letters or spellings. Spellings in English often do not logically follow the sounds. Letters can also have multiple sounds based on where and how they are used in a word.
- Begin with simple words and simple challenges, e.g., listen for initial "s" in sat, sit, sip, and sad…or for long "e" in me, see, bee… Use a sequence of words and ask your child to tell when one has the sound you are working on. Also ask them to think of their own word that has the sound.
- Teach students to blend phonemes into words. Phonemes are just individual sounds. Begin by identifying just one phoneme, e.g. "m" in milk, "s" in sat, working gradually toward blending all the phonemes in words, e.g., "s" - "a" - "t". Remember you are doing this verbally not in written form, which may seem counter-intuitive at first to teaching reading. Young children become much better readers, however, if they have a strong understanding of the sounds of language before the symbols that make up language.
- Teach students to identify the separate phonemes within words, e.g., what is the first sound of soup? What is the last sound of kiss? Beginning phonemes are easier to identify than final phonemes and both of those are easier than middle phonemes.
- Once students are comfortable listening for individual phonemes, teach them to break up words, into component sounds, e.g., "m" - "oo" - "s" = "moose."
Now Teach the Relation of Sounds and Letters
- Children should next learn the letters of the alphabet and how to discriminate each letter from the others, because each stands for one or more of the sounds that occur in spoken words.
- When presenting each letter, make its corresponding sound yourself and then have the child, who should already know the sound, produce the sound themselves.
- At first, teach and work with only a few letter-sound correspondences that have high utility in many words ("m" in man, mad, him, and ham). Postpone teaching less frequently occurring letters until students have a firm understanding of how left-to-right spellings represent first-to-last sounds (alphabetic understanding).
Teach Children How to Sound Out Words
- After your child has mastered a few letter-sound correspondences, teach them to decode words or sound them out. Begin with small, familiar words. Teach the child to sound out the letters, left to right, and blend them together, searching for the word in memory.
- Model sounding out the word one sound at a time then blending the sounds together and then saying the word. The ability to sound out new words allows children to identify and learn new words on their own. They will very likely know the word from verbal language but may never have encountered it in print.
- Teach the basic spelling conventions, such as the use of final "e's" to mark long vowels (make the inside vowels say their own names), or "kn" as a silent letter combination (n makes k stay quiet.) Use lots of examples!
Teach Children to Spell Words
- Teach children to spell words by sounding their letters one by one. Model the sounding and spelling process for children as they spell.
- Begin with short words children can sound out, because these words follow regular spelling conventions, e.g., cap, bat, and sit instead of cape, bait or sight.
- Begin with simple words that do not contain consonant blends, e.g., ham and pan instead of slam and plan. The blends are very hard for young readers to correctly separate for spelling.
Help Children Develop Fluent, Reflective Reading
- Help children learn to read fluently by requiring them to read new stories and re-read old stories EVERY day. Because they are learning to read, don’t forget that they still want to be read to themselves but give them the distinct impression that you also want to hear them read. Make the time EVERY day – for example, have your child sit in the doorway to the kitchen and read a story to you as you make dinner.
- Help your child extend their experience with the words, language, and ideas in books by interactively reading harder texts with them and to them every day.
- Relate information in books to other events of interest to children, such as holidays, pets, siblings, and games.
- In both fictional stories and non-fiction, informational texts, encourage wondering. For example, "I wonder what Pooh will do now?" "How do you think the father feels?" or "I wonder what frogs do in the winter? Do you think that's a problem? Why do you think she did it that way?"
- Point out unfamiliar words and explore their meaning. Revisit these words frequently and encourage your youngster to use them in their own conversations. Show how to analyze contextual clues to figure out the meaning of an unfamiliar word. "What’s the rest of the sentence saying and what could that word mean?" Research shows that most vocabulary growth comes from learning new words in reading.
So now you have a beginning reader on your hands. Congratulations! Keep up the good work and keep reading and listening. Bringing up the next generation is a critical job! Now …
Get out and train!
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