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As a parent, you may not always realize how much work it takes to teach your child how to read until you start. Learning to read is not a natural process. It does not happen on its own, and must be taught with patience and guidance.

It’s a tricky and complex process requiring different skills and strategies. Two such strategies are Sight Words and Phonics. There are different strategies for teaching your children how to read. However, studies have shown that some strategies are more effective than others.

In this guide, we will share with you the proven ways to teach your child how to read.

What Parents Need to Know

Your child might seem to love reading. They might also own a lot of books. But, the first thing you need to know is that this is not an indicator of how good they are at reading. 

You need to follow a systematic process that encompasses all important themes.

The first three basic themes to determine their reading fluency levels include:

  • Attaching meaning to words and phrases.
  • Understanding sounds in spoken words, known as Phonemic Awareness.
  • Knowing that letters in print correspond to sounds, known as Phonics.

Children also need to take lessons on prewriting, writing, vocabulary, and repeated readings.

Try to find out if your child’s reading curriculum contains the vital lesson sections. You can compare your child’s reading curriculum to the chart outlined here by Courtenay Kelly.

That said, there is a lot more you need to consider when you want to teach your child how to read. Consider the following factors when structuring reading lessons for your child.

1. A clearly defined Phonics scope and sequence

It’s so easy to add phonics to your child’s reading lesson plan without structure. However, studies have shown that phonics requires a defined scope and sequence.

This makes it easier to establish coordination and track your child’s progress. Engage in a step-by-step process that guides them through letters and sounds.

When they learn to decode simple words, they can apply that skill for more challenging words. This leads to better comprehension and fluency.

They should also use decodable or short books that contain words and sounds. This will help them grasp the basics of phonics.

These books help them practice and apply the skills. This is so they can master and transfer the skills to reading and writing.

Typically, kids get better at phonics as they grow older. When that time comes, they might not need much help. But there’s no such thing as too much phonics instruction. You need to always keep in mind that phonics instruction is a necessity. This is important for young children and struggling readers. 

2. Read-alouds are crucial

To effectively teach your child how to read, you must task them to read aloud, especially in an engaging manner. Research shows that read-alouds boosts emergent literacy and language development.

This is because it helps them build their content knowledge and vocabulary quickly. Through read-alouds, your child will be involved in interactive conversations. Here is where they can think about the content they’ve read, and then use the vocabulary they learned.

There are other reasons to have a lot of read-aloud sessions. These sessions can also feature informational texts, alongside science and social studies lessons.

Reading out loud will also improve your relationship with your child. This can be a great opportunity for them to show off their reading skills and for you to be their biggest cheerleader. It is a great way for a parent and child to bond. Ultimately, reading aloud will promote their love for reading.

3. Avoid over-reliance on visual cues

Your child mustn’t be guessing words or relying on visual cues alone. One good strategy to teach your child how to read is to ensure that they don’t spend so much time trying to guess an unfamiliar word through pictures.

Instead of doing that, you should focus on helping them sound out and blend words from the earliest level on. By the ninth grade, they should be able to read without needing any picture cues.

We also suggest that your child doesn’t rely so much on flashcards as they promote reliance on visual cues. Sure, flashcards should be a part of the process. But, it’s more effective to spend time reading stories to your child than to use flashcards.

4. Avoid organizing books at different reading levels

Organizing books at different reading levels may seem like a good way to guide your child’s progress. Many parents don’t want to advance to a higher level if their child has yet to master a lower level. They believe that advancing too soon can discourage the child.

But the reality is different. Research shows that kids learn more when they feel challenged. This can be done by using slightly advanced reading materials. In truth, reliance on levels and only sticking with one reading level can lead to gaps in readability.

Stages of reading development

Reading development isn’t only a matter of physical maturation or the environment. It is a conscious process that encompasses the five stages of literacy development.

Hence, you need to keep in mind the demands, expected outcome, and challenges of each stage. Also, keep in mind that a child’s current age group might not mean they are in that stage of development.

But the context of each stage should offer ideas on how to fine-tune their reading skills.

Here are five stages of reading development, as proposed by Maryanne Wolf (2008) in Proust and The Squid: The Story and Science Of The Reading Brain:

  • The emergent pre-reader (generally between 6 months to 6 years old)
  • The novice reader (generally between 6 to 7 years old)
  • The decoding reader (generally between 7 – 9 years old)
  • The fluent comprehending reader (generally between 9 – 15 years old)
  • The expert reader (generally from 16 years and older).

Stage 1 – The emergent pre-reader (age range: 6 months to 6 years old)

At this stage, your child will sample and learn from a full range of stimulants, for example:

– multiple words.

– sounds.

– concepts.

– stories.

– images.

– print.

– literacy materials.

– plain conversations.

They will also be able to:

  • “Pretend” to read children’s books.
  • Retell stories in their own way by looking at the pages of books they are familiar with (especially their favorite stories).
  • Name letters of the alphabet, or at least sing them.
  • Play with books, pencil, and paper.
  • Print their own name.

At this stage, it is especially important to:

– Read aloud to your child.

– Respond to their questions.

– Appreciate their interest in books.

Your child should be able to understand thousands of words they hear by age 6, and be able to read a few.

Stage 2 – The novice reader (age range: 6 to 7 years old)

The second phase is the alphabetic fluency stage. Here is where they discover the relationship between sounds, letters, printed words, and spoken words. Your child should be able to:

  • Begin reading simple stories with Sight Words and high-frequency words.
  • Use emerging skills and insights to “sound out” new one-syllable words.
  • Start decoding prints and understanding them.
  • Learn more than the surface of words to understand its multiple uses and functions in different contexts.

Reading aloud is an important aspect of this phase to help them with phoneme awareness and blending. Children also need phonics instruction as well.

Reading to your child at above their reading level will aid their development. They will learn more advanced language patterns, concepts and vocabulary.

By the end of stage 2, most children should understand over four thousand words and be able to read about six hundred.

Stage 3 – The decoding reader (age range: 7 to 9 years old)

In phase 3, your child begins to transition from identifying words and letters to discovering words and patterns. They will learn to:

  • Read familiar texts and stories with increasing fluency.
  • Comprehend reading materials, and no longer focus on decoding words.
  • Self-correct when they read incorrectly.
  • Spend less time on sound reading and more time grouping letters.
  • Automatically recognize words that appear regularly.

This phase is about consolidating foundational decoding elements, sight vocabulary. They will also extract meaning while reading stories and selected texts that they are already familiar with.

Your child will also need lessons in advanced decoding skills. This is alongside a broad exposure to familiar and interesting materials. At this stage, you will observe that your child no longer pauses a lot when pronouncing a good number of regular words.

By the end of Stage 3, they should be able to understand over nine thousand words when heard, and read and understand about three thousand words.

Stage 4 – The Fluent, Comprehending Reader (Age range: 9 to 15 years old)

This phase is all about using reading to:

– acquire new ideas

– experience new feelings

– gain new knowledge

-explore issues from diverse perspectives.

Your child should be able to:

  • Have less difficulty reading independently
  • Read on to learn new information and write for multiple purposes
  • React to the texts they read by answering questions, generating questions, writing, discussions, and more.

At this stage, you should introduce your child to advanced reading material. Choose material that contains new vocabulary and syntax, new ideas, and values. Examples would include newspapers, trade books, textbooks, magazines, and reference works.

You can help your child at this stage to ask critical questions to get to the essence of what they are reading.

By the end of this stage, they should have a higher listening comprehension than reading comprehension of the same material.

Your child at this stage is building up a collection of knowledge and is ready to learn from any source.

Stage 5 – The expert reader (age range: 16 years and older)

At this stage, most children become fully fluent and capable of independent reading. They should be able to learn from an extensive list of advanced materials. This includes narrative and expository works with diverse viewpoints.

This would also include diverse disciplines, such as:

– biology

– physics

– social sciences

– politics

– current affairs

– social issues

– humanities

Challenge children at this stage to have adult-level discourse. This is a great way for them to process and apply what they have read.

Methods of teaching your children how to read

Now you have an idea of the different challenges and milestones involved in each stage of reading development. The next step is to talk about the most effective techniques to teach your child how to read.

As said earlier, studies have shown that Phonics and Sight Words are very essential in this process. Let’s talk about these two techniques and how they can help in teaching your kids how to read.

Phonics

Phonics involves teaching children to read by linking sounds to the symbols representing them. The sounds are called phonemes, and the symbols refer to the letter groups or graphemes.

There are over 44 different sounds or phonemes in English. Each phoneme is represented by one or more letters. For instance:

  • The sound “d” in “dog” is represented by one letter.
  • The sound “ar” in “garden” is represented by two letters.
  • In the word ‘delightful’, “igh” is represented by three letters.

Sometimes a specific grapheme corresponds to a phoneme in the written word. This is called grapheme-phoneme correspondence. For instance; the “ay” sound can be represented by graphemes such as:

  • “a” in “acorn”
  • “ay” in “play”
  • “Ai” in “snail”
  • “a-e” in “pale”
  • “eigh” in “eight” and many more.

So, kids can learn to identify each sound and their corresponding graphemes. Then, they can blend the sounds together to pronounce words.

Phonics instruction is specifically part of the curriculum from kindergarten through second grade. Kids in first grade and kindergarten learn this explicitly.

Phonics learning should follow the steps outlined below.

Step 1: Decoding

Decoding involves

– thinking about what sound a word begins with

– saying that word out loud

– recognizing how a letter represents that sound

Most phonics programs would start with learning the letters s, a, t, n, i, p first. Learning them first will help your child arrange them into a variety of words.

Also, while your child learns to say the sounds of letters out loud, they should also start learning to write the letters. This is called encoding.

Step 2: Blending

At this stage, your child will go from sounding individual phonemes to blending them and saying the whole word. This is a big step and requires a lot of time to master.

Step 3: Decoding CVC words

Here, your child will focus on reading and decoding three-letter words arranged as consonant, vowel, consonant (CVC). They will learn letter sounds such as b, g, h, d and vowels such as e, o, u. CVC words include cat, mat, rod, bed, rod, and son.

Step 4: Decoding consonant clusters in CCVC and CVCC words

Here, kids will learn two consonants placed together in a word in what we call consonant clusters. These two consonant positions can include pl, lk, cr, st, tr.

CCVC stands for consonant, consonant, vowel, consonant. Examples of these words include trap, plan, and stop.

CVCC stands for consonant, vowel, consonant, consonant.  Examples of these words include fast, cart, and milk.

Step 5: Vowel digraphs

A digraph is two vowels making one sound. Some examples include /ai/, /ee/, /oo/. Here they will learn to sound out words like door, boat, or deer. They will also learn to combine vowel digraphs with consonant clusters like stool, groan, and train.

Step 6: Consonant digraphs

Your child will learn about consonant digraphs. This involves two consonants making one sound, for example sh and ch. They will also begin blending with other sounds to make words. For example, chain, shop, chat, and shout.

Step 7: Vowel digraphs and trigraphs in First grade

By the first grade, your child should explore vowel digraphs and trigraphs (groups of two and three letters) further. They should also learn that different groups of letters can represent one sound.

Step 8: Suffixes and changing root words in Second grade

By second grade, they should learn spelling rules such as adding suffixes to words. For example:

– ment

– ness

-ful

-ed

-ing

-es

They will also learn how to change root words when adding suffixes. For instance, removing “e” to add “ing”.

After this, they will move to harder concepts such as specific endings like “il” in “fossil” and “le” in “bottle” and silent letters (write, knock, debt, etc.).

What to consider when teaching phonics instruction

Never forget that phonics instruction requires an explicit and systematic process. This makes it easier to track your child’s progress.

You should also use diverse phonics practice worksheets. This is to give your child more avenues to become better at sounding words independently.

Overall, while your kids learn to decode (read) at every step, they need to also learn to encode (write down spoken words).

This will help them spell words correctly, and they can move on to producing their own pieces of writing.

Sight Words

Phonics instruction encompasses teaching sounds that follow basic spelling rules and phonetic principles. But what about words that do not follow rules?

These words are called sight words. Words like “who”, “does”, and “come” don’t follow the rules of spelling or the six types of syllables.

So, these words cannot be sounded out or decoded. It is also challenging to represent these words with a picture. So, it’s important to teach your child to memorize these words as a whole by sight.

This will help them recognize these words quickly and read them without decoding. Children are more likely to comprehend what they are reading if they recognize sight words in less than three seconds.

Research shows that children who quickly recognize sight words are also more likely to be confident readers. This is because 50 – 70% of texts commonly contain sight words.

Do realize that we often pair sight words and high-frequency words as the same. But this is different. Sight words must be memorized and do not follow standard phonetic patterns. High-frequency words, in contrast, are words popularly found in written languages.

However, to teach your child how to read, we can treat sight words and high-frequency words as the same. This is because we use both types of words consistently in both written and spoken language. They also appear in stories, textbooks, and books.

So, teaching your child to memorize them will help them recognize the words quickly.

Steps to teach sight words

  • 1. Leverage Sight Word lists

Here are the two most popular sources to teach your kids sight words.

Dr. Edward Dolch developed the Dolch Sight Word Lists in the 1930s and 1940s. This word list can be used to teach from Pre-kindergarten to third grade.

The list contains two hundred “service words “and ninety-five “high frequency nouns”. This amounts to 80% of words you will find in a typical children’s book and 50% of the words in texts written for adults. This list is especially beneficial for teaching kindergarten sight words.

The Fry Sight Words List is an expanded word list for grades 1 – 10. It was first created in the 1950 and updated in the 1980s.

It is based on the most common words you will find in reading materials used in teaching kids in grades 3 to 9. The Fry list contains over a thousand of the most common words in the English language. These words appear in any typical book, website or newspaper.

Examples of sight words at different grade levels
You can pull from one or both of these lists to create sight words for different levels. For example, Pre-K sight words include:

  • and
  • big
  • can
  • down
  • funny
  • go
  • here
  • is,
  • jump
  • little
  • make
  • not
  • one
  • play
  • red
  • said
  • three
  • up
  • where
  • you

Sight words for 1st graders include after, again, could, from, had, her, his, of, then, and when.

  • 2. Use structured lessons

There are dozens of books that can provide structure as your kids learn sight words. One of the most revered is the Comprehensive Phonics, Spelling, and Word Study Guide by Fountas and Pinnell.

  • 3. Teach sight words in steps of three or five new words

Ideally, you can introduce your child to three to five new words at every given lesson. However, you should always ensure your child remembers the previous words before introducing new words.

If they don’t, return to the previous words until they have mastered them, before moving to the new words. Also, you should be devoting at least 15 to 20 minutes a day to teaching sight words.

  • 4. Make read-aloud interactive

Again, read-aloud is your go-to strategy to ensure that your child learns how to pronounce each word correctly. Emphasize repetition and encourage your child to chime in as you point out the words to them.

  • 5. Use multisensory activities

Learning sight words should be a fun and interactive session. Fortunately, you can find hundreds of sight word activity ideas online and offline.

It’s important to focus on multi-sensory activities. Some of them are:

– filling in missing letters

– writing a word using their finger on a table, sand, or in the air

– rearranging letters correctly to spell words

Many of these games can be structured with the materials you have at home. Don’t also forget to add engaging storybooks that contain lots of sight words. You should make learning sight words a daily activity.

What to do when your child isn’t progressing in learning to read

When a child isn’t progressing, you should take steps to find the underlying issues. Sometimes it might be due to some ineffective teaching strategies. Other times, it’s a learning challenge.

The truth is, it’s often tricky to figure out the issue. That said, you should consider giving them tests to have a clearer view of the problem. For first graders and kindergarteners, ask your child’s school to test their fluency, phonics, and phonemic awareness.

For older kids, a test on vocabulary would be much better. Once you find the issues, you can follow a systematic approach to address the issue.

Other tips to help your child learn to read fluently

There’s so much you can do to teach your child how to read. Usually, schools can only do their best with limited resources. In truth, they might have pre-set strategies that seem to work for others but are not effective enough for your kids. 

So, you should take steps to help them improve their reading abilities at home.

But first, you must never see these interactions as a drilling exercise. It’s very important that you maintain a playful and fun learning environment. Here are some ideas you can try:

  • Challenge your child to find everything at home that begins with a specific sound
  • Use songs and nursery rhymes to help them build phonemic awareness
  • Stretch out one word in a sentence. For instance, you can ask your child to “pass the salt” but you enunciate the individual sounds in the word ‘salt’.
  • Let your child figure out what every family member’s name would be if it began with a specific sound (e.g., “d” sound)
  • Create a print-rich environment. You can use posters, labels, books, or charts. Here is where your child can see and apply connections between letter and sound symbols. 
  • Read your child’s favorite book over and over again. You can also help your child use their finger to follow along as you read each word.

Concluding thoughts

You can teach your child how to read quickly if you follow a structured process. Focus on systematic phonics instructions, sight words, phonemic awareness, reading comprehension, and fluency.

Don’t forget to monitor their progress using the expected outcomes of the five stages of reading development. But above all things, always remember that every child learns at their own pace. So you should focus on making the entire process enjoyable. A positive and rewarding learning environment is always the best way to achieve success.

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