The best and easiest way I know to teach reading is by the sounding it out method. You don’t have to have an advanced degree or buy anything special to do it.
Ideally, the students in question will know, or mostly know, their letters at this point and will have some idea what sound they make. Your job as the teacher is to remind and gently guide the students as they make connections. B says buh. A says ah. L says llll. B-a-llllllllll. On strange words, make gentle suggestions. It gets faster.
I have serious reservations about sight words and “whole word” method. I haven’t been properly trained in either, so by all means, research them further if you think I’m missing something, but in my experience, they fail to teach the student how to handle unfamiliar words. Whole-word has not served them well.
I also lean against doing an in-depth phonics study before you start practicing reading. I think intensive phonics are useful for some kids (especially struggling learners), but a lot of parents and kids alike don’t need that much detail and would rather move to China and eat bamboo with the pandas than suffer through yet. another. phonics. lesson. So if that describes you, don’t bother.
There are a few, a very few, patterns to observe that will get you a long way when starting to decode English. These have helped me explain tricky words as a teacher; I didn’t try to make my students learn them before we got started. So use them if they work, and don’t worry if you get lost.
- Trial and error. Letters in English make more than one sound, especially vowels. If your first effort at a word doesn’t make sense, do not panic. Try stuff. See if a different sound helps the word coalesce into a word you know.
- The “silent e” pattern. If a word has the pattern vowel-consonant-e, the e is silent and the other vowel will be long, and here’s how you remember long and short: a long vowel says its own name. When your student starts learning about silent e’s, point them out. When silent e’s are your constant treasure hunt, your life will be rich indeed.
- The “double consonant” pattern. Usually, if a word or syllable has the pattern vowel-double-consonant, the vowel is going to be short. Remember, a short vowel does not say its own name.
- Special consonant blends, such as th, ch-, sh- and gh. I casually explain them as I’m going over a word with a beginning reader, rather than making a special study of them. Since they are weird, I think they’re less overwhelming when encountered in their natural context. I know other teachers do like to discuss them intentionally, so in your homeschooling, do what works.
- Vowel teams: when two vowels go a-walking, the first vowel does the talking. Think about the word “oatmeal.” This demonstrates it twice: Oat-mEal. We discussed this rule at a tea party this week with a special education teacher. She and Meg noticed that this rule is only usually true, such as the double o’s in “pool.” So, yes, double-o is an exception to the rule.
Growing students need reading matter, of course. The library is our natural habitat. We’re always getting another packfull of books or dropping in for storytime.
In recent years, publishers have started producing beginning reader books carefully arranged by skill level. I pay exactly no attention to that – we read what we want to read. I have a general policy of not telling Meg things are too hard, because usually they aren’t, and anyway if they are, telling her so is redundant because she definitely notices. Other students, who are not Meg, may be best served by conquering books that are at just the right stage. So know that this book-level system exists.
At the putting-it-together stage, obviously we read all the time, but also I reinforce their skills by practicing different ways. I encourage kids to figure out words from the illustrations and from context clues in the rest of the story. When we play board games as a family, it’s a great opportunity for the beginning reader to read the cards and board.
Computer games are great. Meg says she “loves loves loves computer games!” Starfall.com has alphabet and phonics sections available free, and we have gotten a lot of good from that website. They have several little videos illustrating principles, including the “When two vowels go a-walking…” from above.
PBSkids.org also has tons of educational/fun games as tie-ins to their educational/fun shows. I appreciate most of their media offerings because they are about something and therefore less self-centered than Elmo. Their games tend to reinforce reading skill indirectly rather than explicitly, so you’ll decide how helpful they would be for your family.
One note: the sounding-it-out skill is incredibly powerful and flexible. However, I’ve spent enough time around special needs and struggling learners to take them seriously. They need more than this. If this describes your student, go find help! There are great techniques and ideas available. HSLDA has excellent special needs consultants, and even better, hopefully you can connect with someone local to train you in the specific tools you need for your learner.
But whatever method you use, when you want to teach reading, go for it! Do not wait for your curriculum ducks to get in line. Quack. Pull your kid into to your lap and pick up a book. I read some words, my student reads a word, I read, she reads. As her confidence and attention grows, she reads more of each page. My life goal is to have both daughters reading independently. Go. Read. Be happy.
Photo Credit: First image graphic design by Charity Klicka; all other images courtesy of Carolyn Bales.