In this article, you’ll discover a very powerful formula to teach any child to read.
This is a very effective method to teach a chid to read based on phonics principles… But with a twist!
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How is this learn to read method different from others?
This method is actually a bit different from others that are commonplace because it does not rely on:
- The use of sight words: Or its misuse I should say instead.
- Guessing: So, no asking children “what do you think this word could be?” based on clues.
- Word shapes memorization techniques: I don’t know if you’re familiar with the word shapes strategy. It basically consists of asking children to memorize words based on their shape. With this strategy, this is how you learn to read “hat” (see picture below) and this is how you learn to read “tree” (see picture below). Among many others, the big issue with this strategy is that there are many other words with the same shape. For instance “bat” and “free”
Not using these techniques means as well that we are not going to be using these extremely common word solving strategies (see picture below).
What are we going to use to teach our children to read, then?
We are going to use sound modern principles that are in line with what happens in the brain when we learn to read.
Throughout the entire article, I will break down the process into simple actionable steps, so you can go ahead and start to apply what you have learned.
You will also discover the five ingredients that, in my opinion, are key for a successful learn to read the strategy!
In fact, I have based my strategy on those ingredients. We could call this strategy “Phonics with a twist.”
Step #1: Train your child to hear the sounds in words
This step comes before you even start with formal reading instruction.
In proper terms these are skills that you are training your child on are called “Phonological Awareness” and “Phonemic Awareness.”
I am not going to explain the actual distinction between Phonological and Phonemic Awareness in this article… That would make for a whole new article! But if you want to go deeper and find out more about this topic, I recommend you check out this section in our blog.
And, of course, you can learn more from the book “How to Teach a Child to Read from Scratch step-by-step?”
Some easy ways to encourage these skills are:
- Reading and listening to nursery rhymes: This may sound way too easy, but nursery rhymes, as the name indicates, are full of rhymes! And rhymes are excellent to train our ears to hear the sounds in words.
- Playing to come up with words that begin with the same sound: For instance, words that begin with the sound /s/, such as “Sarah, sat, sun, sand, sound.” At the end of the exercise, make up a silly story with all the words that you have used. For example, “when Sarah was sitting on the sand under the sun she heard a sound.”
- Play the “I spy” game: You know how it goes “I spy with my little eye something that starts with ‘mmmmm’”. At this stage, focus on the sound of letters when playing the “I spy” game, rather than on letter names.
- The “talk-in-code” game: Say the individual sounds of a word one after the other. For example, say to your child “can I have a /k/ /i/ /s/?,” and see if your child understands and you get a kiss!
- Certain apps and online games have been specifically created for the development of Phonemic Awareness (PA). For instance, this one is very good for developing PA from an early age!
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As you may have noticed, up to this point we have basically been learning through games and fun and by integrating certain habits and routines into our daily life.
Step #2: Starting formal reading instruction
Now it’s time to start to learn the letters and the most common sounds they make. This is an essential piece of the puzzle. So.. How are we going to do this?
As we introduce new concepts what the child learns must build up on what he or she already knows.
This is very important. Don’t go from super simple to super advanced… Or, worse, try to teach everything at the same time!
I know it looks very logic and very obvious, but this happens many times, and we do it without even realizing!
So, let’s be careful with this! This can cause a great deal of confusion and cognitive overload in children.
Principles behind the order of introduction of sounds for beginner readers
Instead of going in alphabetical order, we start with the most common sounds in words first. There are other factors that can also be taken into account.
- Letters that look similar are not introduced at the same time (for instance, “m” and “n”)
- Letters representing similar sounds are not introduced at the same time (for instance, “t” and “d”),
- Sounds that can be said continuously are introduced first (as they are easier to blend).
This is our suggested order for the introduction of the most common sounds letters makes.
- A (apple)
- E (elephant)
- I (igloo)
- O (octopus)
- U (umbrella)
- S /s/, as in soup
- T /t/, as in tap
- P /p/, as in pig
- M /m/, as in mat
- N /n/, as in net
- C /k/, as in cat
- K /k/, as in kitten
- H /h/, as in hat
- D /d/, as in doll
- F /f/, as in fox
- B /b/, as in bus
- L /l/, as in lock
- R /r/, as in red
- G /g/, as in goat
- J /j/, as in jelly
- V /v/, as in van
- W /w/, as in wagon
- Y /y/, as in yo-yo
- Z /z/, as in zebra
- X /x/, as in in fox; do not use xylophone (the ‘x’ in xylophone is pronounced as ‘z’)
- QU /kw/, as in queen
NOTE: If your child learns certain letters first (such as their initial or their parents’ or siblings’ initial), that is ok. Don’t over stress about the specific order at this point. It is good to have a system to make sure you cover all the sounds in a sensible way, but when the order of introduction of new concepts, sounds, etc. really becomes a KEY factor is later on. This is when children will be confronted with more complicated concepts (such as digraphs, vowel pairs, r-controlled syllables and more), which can easily cause confusion and cognitive overload in kids.
If you are interested in our entire phonics sequence (from beginner reader to second grade approx.), I’d recommend that you get the book “How to Teach a Child to Read from Scratch Step-by-Step?/The SIMPLE Roadmap to Reading Success.”
You’ll also get our entire phonics sequence (from beginner reader to second grade approx.) for free.
Two Rules to Stick to when Teaching the Sounds
It is extremely important that as we are teaching all of these things to our kids or students, we make sure :
- We are teaching letter names and letter sounds at the same time. So, say: “This is the letter “a”, and it makes the /a/ sound, this is the letter b and it makes the /b/ sound,” and so on and so forth.
- We are not adding the /uh/ sound at the end of consonants. This continues to be a very common habit. Many people -including me in the past- make this mistake! This is because this is how most people were taught letter sounds themselves. However, when your child goes from segmenting into blending sounds (that is, when your child starts sounding out words), this sneaky /uh/ can cause serious problems. Your child will be adding extra sounds to the words s/he is reading, ending up with entirely different words or non-existent words.
Example: Think of the word “lit.” In principle, this is a short and simple word to sound out. But, what happens when we try to sound this word out (if we have learned our letter sounds with the /uh/ sound at the end)? We will be adding extra /uh/ sounds to the word, ending up with a word that sounds more like the word “lighter.” A completely different word! So remember, the right sound for the letter “m” is /mmm/, not /muh/; the right sound for the letter “r” is /rr”, not /ruh, and so on and so forth!
So we now know the principles, we know what to do and not to do, it is time to look at the…
Strategies to teach letter sounds
I’d love to say to you that there’s a magic bullet to teach letter sounds, but unfortunately… It doesn’t exist!
Besides, I cannot really tell you how long it’s going to take your child or a student to learn the sounds either, as every child is different.
Sorry. I know it is disappointing, but it is the way it is!
However, don’t worry… Your child will learn the letters and there are certainly some things that we can do to facilitate the job and speed up the process!
One of my favorite things to do is to take the full-immersion-in-language approach.
In short, this means that as you go along your daily life with your child, you take any opportunity to remind your child about the letters and see if s/he can remember the sounds they make. Labels in food, signals in the street, a letter in the mail… letters are really everywhere.
Point to them, talk about them, get your child interested in them!
Other strategies that we can use to teach the sounds are:
- Songs and music: We know that children love music and can learn so much from it so take full advantage of this. But what I’d encourage you to do is to use this tool in a strategic way. Do you want to focus on a specific letter? Well, then pick songs that are only about the letter that you’re teaching your child at that specific point, so you don’t overwhelm him/her with more information that can end up in cognitive overload. You can also pick songs that teach letter names and letter sounds at the same time (remember we’ve learned all about this rule before!)
- Fun and engaging alphabet worksheets:This last part (that they do not feel like worksheets) is especially important when you are working with young children! In that regard, consider the “A–Z” alphabet worksheets and our free “Practicing the Alphabet” worksheets, with all sorts of fun and educational activities (matching letters, missing letters, circle the letters, dot-to-dot, coloring by letter codes, and many more!). Check and get them for free from our library of free resources!
- Kinetic activities: There are just so many things that we can do with Play-Doh and play foam! Molding letters, using Play-Doh and play foam sets to learn the alphabet. Didn’t know these sets existed? See them on Amazon!
There are also other manipulatives, like letter magnets or letter tiles that can be very useful at this point!
- Games: letter sounds bingo, walk-to-the sound game, drawing challenge based on a target letter sound…
When it comes to teaching letter sounds, we recommend you also read these two other articles in our website:
- Our favorite resources for beginner readers page
- Amazing Phonics Games and Activities You Need to Try Out- AT Home OR CLASSROOM Setting!
And of course you’ll also discover more details about these games and ideas in the book “How to Teach a Child to Read from a Scratch Step-by-Step?/The SIMPLE Roadmap to Reading Success.”
Is your child reading for formal reading instruction?
Do you think your child is ready for more formal reading instruction?
Do you think he or she can make it through a five to ten minute sit-down lesson?
If that is the case, great! You can start with a “formal” sit-down lesson (5 – 15 minutes maximum, at this point!)
This is a sample lesson script for you to follow.
Introducing the Letter A
- Step 1: State what you are going to be learning: “Today we are going to learn all about the letter ‘a.’”
- Step 2: Introduce letter and letter sound: “This is the letter ‘a’ and it makes the /ahh/ sound.”
- Step 3: Ask child to say the letter sound a few times: “Can you say what the letter ‘a’ says: ‘ahhh’?”
- Step 4: Draw the letter on a paper or a whiteboard. Then, ask your child to do the same. If s/he is still too young, ask him/her to draw the letter with a magic pen (that is, drawing the letter in the air).
- Step 5: Brainstorm about the letter A. Say a few words containing the letter “a” and ask your child if s/he can hear the letter “a” in those words. Then ask your child if he/she can think of words that start with the letter “a.”
- Step 6 (Optional): Show your child a text and see if s/he can spot the letter.
- Step 7 (Depending on the child’s automaticity at recognizing and sounding out letters): Read some simple words containing the letters that he/she already knows about.
- Step 8: If you are able to do a short refresher at the end of the day, even better. You simply show your child the letter that you’ve taught him/her explicitly before that day and ask him/her: “What is this letter? What sound does it make?”
Watch this video for a sample lesson (on the letter B)
Step #3: Blending sounds
You can start blending sounds to read words when you observe that your child is able to recognize at least some letter sounds without hesitation. This means that he or she has developed an automatic response.
In order to check if our child has developed that automatic reflex, take some random alphabet cards and ask your child to say the letter sounds.
Was she or he able to say the sounds confidently without any hesitation or guessing?
If so, this is when the fun really begins!
When you are starting out, start blending:
- VC words: These words are formed by vowel (V) followed by a consonant (C). Examples: am, on, in, at.
- CVC words: These words are formed by a Consonant (C) followed by a vowel (V) followed by a consonant (C) Examples: mat, sat, pet, hop…
containing the letters and sounds that your child has already mastered.
Start by modelling first when you’re just getting started.
Besides, work on a one-on-one basis as much as possible. Children need a lot of support and guidance at this point!
>> In our library of free resources you’ll find that CVC word list that can help you get started!
The 2 types of blending:
- Broken or choppy blending: This type of blending happens when the sounds of a word are sounded out individually without connection between them. For instance: in the word “map,” choppy or broken blending would sound something like: “m – a – t.” There is a short pause between each of the sounds.
- Smooth or continuous blending: This type of blending is all about stretching the sounds. You sound out the words in a way that all sounds are smoothly connected to say the actual word. Smooth or continuous blending would sound something like “mmmmaaaaaat.”
See the difference between these 2 types of blending in this video.
Combine both types of blending and find out which one suits your child.
Many beginning readers find it easier to blend words that begin with continuous sounds than to blend words starting with stop sounds.
However, bear in mind that smooth blending is not possible for all sounds. We have stop sounds in English. For example: /b/, /d/, /g/, among others.
These sounds cannot be stretched out without sound distortion.Simply connect them as smoothly as possible to the next sound.
Don’t you believe me? Test it! You’ll notice how when trying to stretch these sounds, you’ll end up distorting them and adding an /uh/ sound at the end!
If you want a handy cheat-list of continuous vs stop sounds, get it here (free)!
Step #4: Reading more complicated words
After your child has mastered CVC words it’s time to move to:
- CCVC words, such as sleep or crop)
- CCVCC words, such as draft or plant
These are actually words that include what are normally referred to as “consonant blends” or “consonant clusters.”
Get a free sample of a list of words with initial consonant blends here!
At this point you’re probably wondering…
What about high-frequency words?
High-frequency words are normally just referred to as “sight words.”
This is because of the common belief that they have to be memorized or learned sight.
Sometimes certain memorization techniques (such as word shapes) are used to teach these words.
However, in my opinion, the best way to teach high-frequency words is using phonics. I know you’re probably very surprised by this statement, as it really goes against the grain. Most people think that that’s not possible since these words follow non-regular spelling patterns. But the truth of the matter is that, while some have non-regular spellings (contrary to popular belief), only a small portion of them are truly irregular.
According to an analysis carried out by the Learning Reading Hub, more than 70% of these words are phonetically decodable.
If you want to learn more about this specific topic:
- Check this sight words guide in our blog!
- Read the book How to Teach a Child to Read from Scratch Step-by-Step?/The SIMPLE Roadmap to Reading Success
- Get ahold of our Phonics Master word list. We even give you a sequence of introduction of these words following phonics principles
Step #5: Introducing digraphs
Sometimes two consonants team up to make a new sound. For instance, the letters “c” and “h” generally make the /ch/ sound, as in chat, church, or the letters “s” and “h” to make the /sh/ sound, as in shop or ship.
This is, by the way, what makes these consonant teams (known as digraphs) different from consonant blends. In consonant blends or consonant clusters, the consonants that make up the blend keep their original sounds.
Test it! Say words like crab, drop or spade out loud. Listen closely. Can you hear how the consonants keep their original sounds?
When you’re first working with digraphs, it is pretty likely that your child or student will aim to sound out each of the letters that form these diagrams individually. For instance, your child might be attempting to read the word “chat” as /k/ /h/ /a/ /t/. This is normal, and a good sign of his/her blending abilities.
Our main objectives here are twofold:
- That the child familiarizes himself/herself with the sounds that digraphs make.
- S/he starts to see these digraphs as a whole, rather than two separate letters.
In order to achieve this, there are certain strategies that we can use. For example:
- Present words with digraphs like this “ch-a-t.” What you do when you present words like this is separating the different sounds or phonemes in a word for your child.
- Cover the “a” and the “t,” so your child can really focus on the “ch” digraph, helping him/her stick together these two letters in his or her mind.
- Underline the “ch” as a reminder that these two letters are “friends” and together make a new sound (chat, chip, chop, chin)
REMEMBER! More details, more ideas on the book “How to Teach a Child to Read from Scratch Step-by-Step? / The SIMPLE Roadmap to Reading Success”
Step #6: Continue to introduce the rest of the English reading rules in a structured systematic order
These are the concepts that we introduce right after digraphs in our phonic sequence:
- Bossy E
- Floss Rule
- Hard G/Soft G
- Hard C/Soft C
- Open and closed syllables
- R-controlled syllables
- Vowel teams
Do you want o our detailed sequence of introduction?
Free gift when you get the on the book “How to Teach a Child to Read from Scratch Step-by-Step?” / The SIMPLE Roadmap to Reading Success! Get it here!
The 5 ingredients for a successful learn-to-read strategy
Remember that we talked about this at the beginning of this article?
I haven’t forgotten about it.
I was reserving this for you that stayed until the very end! Anyway, don’t worry, because the strategy that I have just shared has taken them into account.
Anyway, let’s go through those 5 ingredients that, in my opinion, are KEY for a successful learn-to-read strategy.
- Phonics: As you may have noticed that all of this strategy is based on phonics Principles. This is because in the last few decades Neuroscience has uncovered what happens in the brain when we learn to read. In short, we need to specialize our brain visual system to the shape of the letters and then via the phonology pathway we connect those shapes to the speech sounds.
- Phonemic Awareness: As we’ve learned before, it’s extremely important that we train our ears to hear the sounds in words. Our level of phonemic awareness has been found to be the number one predictor for future success at reading or reading difficulty. Learn more here.
- An extremely careful progression for the introduction of rules and concepts: Again, it is extremely important that new concepts build upon what we already know. Otherwise, it can get really confusing for children.
- Orthographic Mapping: It is really difficult to explain in a few sentences here what orthographic mapping is. It is a complex concept. However, what I’ll say is that this strategy has taken orthographic mapping into account so, don’t worry. Learn more about Orthographic Mapping here.
- Patterns: We didn’t really have time to look at patterns in this article (don’t worry, we’ll actually prepare another one covering this topic – or learn more about it in the book How to Teach a Child to Read from Scratch Step-by-Step?/The SIMPLE Roadmap to Reading Success) , but what I’ll say is that we benefit from patterns to learn irregular words in a much simpler way.
AND IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR A PHONICS CURRICULUMS TO TEACH YOUR CHILD TO READ, DON’T MISS OUT OUR RANKING OF THE BEST PHONICS LITERACY CURRICULUMS!
For suggestions of useful tools, resources and materials to help kid build his/her key literacy kills, check out this page Favorite Resources for Beginner Readers!