Step 1: Learning Letters
Obvious, right?! But you might be surprised to learn these things about introducing letters:
Letters don’t have to be taught in alphabetical order. Think about it: If you taught the letters a, m, t, and s, the child can start to read a few simple words right away and that’s so exciting for them! Quick pay-offs like that keep kids motivated!
Mastering a single letter involves two different skills: Identifying the letter visually, and memorizing the sound associated with the letter. Then there are letters that make more than one sound… but more on that in a bit.
Using the senses and movement helps kids memorize letters. Build the letter with clay, draw the letter with your finger on the child’s back, associate a motion with the letter’s sound like jumping and making the sound of letter J.
One exposure is not enough. A lot of memorization has to happen to learn all the letters and sounds. Incorporate plenty of review and don’t rush it.
Step 2: Blending Sounds
Moving from knowing single letters to reading words is all about blending the sounds together. Try this technique:
Using a 2 or 3-letter word, point to the letters and say each sound.
Then start back at the beginning of the word. Slide your finger slowly under the letters as you stretch the sounds and put them together.
Have the child try to do it, too.
Pro tip: Keep it simple here. Stick to words where every letter makes its “normal” sound. Stay away from words where two letters work together to make a new sound, like the th in “the.”
Step 3: Start Introducing Sight Words
Sight words are typically shorter words that come up very frequently in text and sometimes they don’t follow predictable spelling rules. Some examples are: look, yes, the, do. It’s better to know them by sight rather than trying to sound them out.
Sight word practice can include flash cards, hunting for the words in books, and using computer games.
One of my favorite ways to practice sight words is through the use of predictable or patterned text. These are books where each sentence is the same except for one word which can be inferred with the help of a picture. Kids get lots of practice with the sight words and are proud to be reading sentences.
This is patterned text.
Pro-tip: Spread out sight word instruction. Yes, this is “step 4” but it’s really more of an element of reading that gets sprinkled in here and there. Teach a couple of sight words so kids can read a book. Practice some other phonics patterns, teach a couple more sight words, etc.
Step 4: Work With Word Families
You’ll get a lot of bang for your buck if you spend time on word families. Teach kids that if they can read the word “can,” then they can also read “man,” “pan,” and “fan.” 2-letter word families are perfect at this stage (-am, -at, -et, -en, -it, etc.)
A word family game from the Learn to Read Activity Book by Hannah Braun
Step 5: Phonics Skills
We all know English is weird! Learning the individual letter sounds is just a foundation. I like to follow this sequence as I introduce other phonics patterns:
Blends: Two letters that are frequently together in words, both letter sounds can be heard. Examples are bl, tr, sk, dr, sm
Digraphs: Two letters that make a new sound (sh, th, wh, ch, ck)
Glued Sounds: These are a blend but are 3 letters and come at the end of a word (all, ell, ill, ull, ank, ink, onk, unk, ang, ing, ong, ung)
There are plenty more phonics patterns and rules but this gives you a lot to work on with beginning readers.
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