The following is a guest post from author Hannah Braun. Hannah runs the website The Classroom Key where she focuses on helping teachers simplify planning and on helping them bring joy for learning into their classrooms. She draws on her Master's Degree and on her experience teaching in schools across three states.
“What does ‘motorcycle’ start with?” asks my son from the back seat of the car. “Hmm, let’s listen to it,” I prompt. “Mmmmotorcycle, mmm, mmm, motorcycle. What letter do you hear?” He thinks for a minute before he proudly announces, “M! Like monkey!” “That’s right!” I confirm. It’s so rewarding to witness the “light come on” for children as they learn about language and reading. Of all the skills that adults pass on, teaching children to read is one of the most critical. Let me be honest though: my son didn’t pick out the initial sound of a word the first time he tried. And sounds are just the beginning! What about teaching letters and blending them into words? Teaching a child to read seems pretty intimidating! Take a breath! A child won’t learn to read overnight but there are simple things you can do to help them along.
Demonstrate Reading Skills
Cooking shows always come to mind when I think about teaching using demonstration. When we watch and listen to a proficient cook, we can start to adopt their behaviors and patterns of thinking as we do our own cooking. Reading works the same way. Before a child ever tries reading on their own, they should have banked lots of experiences watching and listening to a good reader read aloud. These experiences let them know what they’re aiming for. Children also learn that reading is enjoyable and something worth learning when they are read to. In addition to reading out loud, here are other ways you can demonstrate reading skills for a child:
- Point to words as you read them – This lets kids know that print is read from left to right and top to bottom.
- Identify letters – Point out letters in environmental print such as the M on a McDonald’s sign or the S on a bag of Skittles.
- Isolate sounds in words – The opening story in the post about identifying the first sound in “motorcycle” is an example. Stretch out the first sound. Show the child how you do it several times before you ask them to do it. You can also demonstrate isolating the ending or middle sound in a word.
- Blend sounds – Show how you read simple words by slowly moving from one sound to another. You can also do this when writing a word. For example, “Let’s write your name on your lunchbox. Watch how I do it, ‘mmmmaaaaax.’”
- Questions and Predictions – Reading is much more than putting together letters and sounds. There’s no point in reading if we aren’t taking away meaning from text. As you read aloud to a child, also think aloud. Verbalize questions that come to mind like, “I wonder why the character did that” or, “I wonder how they’re going to solve this problem.” Look for the answers as you read. Also, demonstrate making predictions about what will happen next. Ask the child what they think will happen next.
Learning 26 letters and their sounds is a big task for children. Linking letters and sounds to movement creates multiple neural pathways in the brain so children have more than one way of accessing the information later. Here are several ways to incorporate movement into learning to read:
- Sounds with actions – Have the child carry out an action to go with each letter sound. For example, they can open and close their arms like an alligator’s mouth while they say “a, a, alligator.”
- Letter shapes with movement – Reinforce letter shapes by having children draw the letter in the air or on their pant leg. Kids can also make the shape of a letter with their whole body.
- Segment and tap – Hold out one arm. Use the opposite hand to tap down the arm one time for each sound in a word. Then brush the hand down the arm while blending the sounds together. For example, say “mmm, aaaa, p” with a tap for each sound. Then brush down the arm and say “map.”
This child is making an alligator mouth motion while practicing the A sound.
Use Word Families
You can speed up the process of learning words by showing children that if they can read “hat,” then it’s also easy to read mat, pat, bat, and sat! Here are some ways to practice reading word families
- Magnetic or tile letters- Switch out the first sound but keep the ending letters.
- Color Coding – Make a list of words from a word family. Write the first letter (that will change for each word) in one color and write the ending pattern (that stays the same) in a different color.
- Whiteboard – Write words on a whiteboard so that it is easy to erase the first letter and replace it with others.
Word family practice from the Learn to Read Activity Book
Use Patterned Text
Patterned text repeats the same sentence pattern several times with only one or two changes to each sentence. Frequently each sentence is accompanied by a picture that helps children figure out the word that is different. An example would be a book that said, “I see a bird. I see a frog. I see a fly. I see a pond.” This gives children lots of practice with sight words and the sense of accomplishment that comes with reading a short book. You can find patterned text in the easy reader section of a library or you can write your own.
An example of patterned text from the Learn to Read Activity Book.
Praise and Prompt
It’s important to offer plenty of praise to keep kids motivated as they learn to read. Here are some phrases to keep in your back pocket:
- “You knew that the S sounds like ssssss. Great memory!”
- “I like how you slid through all the sounds to figure out that word.”
- “You made it all the way to the end of the sentence! You’re such a hard worker!”
- “We practiced the word ‘is’ yesterday and you still remember it today. You’re so smart!
- “You sounded just like the dinosaur character when you read that. Great expression!”
When kids need a prompt to get on the right track, try these:
- “Is there anything in the picture that could help you figure out that word?”
- “What starts with rrrrrr that would make sense here?”
- “Can you use what you know about the ‘at’ word family to read that word?”
- “Can you slide through each sound to figure out that word?”
Teaching a child to read is a big responsibility but it can be great fun! Keep in mind that all children learn at their own pace and they need plenty of opportunities for practice and repetition of new skills. For more lessons and activities for teaching children to read, check out the Learn to Read Activity Book by Hannah Braun. It has 101 simple lessons and games that make learning to read fun. You can find out more HERE
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