how to teach a
child to read
|how to teach a child to read using phonics [synthetic phonics] - a clear and simple explanation of how to teach reading with phonics rationally and systematically. Aimed at teachers and parents. NOT look-say.|
|on teaching reading||how to teach a person number, arithmetic, mathematics|
In speech/instruction/discussion/interaction with the child, you must establish the distinction between the name of a letter and the sound it usually makes (see also alphabet).
The vowels a, e, i, o, and u, are presented first. Letters are spoken of as both having a name and having a sound. Thus the letter ‘a’ has the name as pronounced when you say the alphabet (e.g. in “late” or “slate”) - [eɪ]  - and the sound as in “cat”, “apple”, etc. - [æ].
Spending at least 5 to 10 minutes twice daily, once in the morning and once before bed, take the child through the first section: the vowels. Do not refer to the pictures [example pictures to follow] accompanying the letters as being the objects they represent; they are, as you should say, “a picture of an apple” or “a picture of a dog”, etc. This increases precision and forms a better grasp of reality.
Sound each vowel as follows below and point to each letter as you so do. You may, if the child seems interested, say also “apple” and “picture of an apple” whilst pointing to the appropriate object or picture and slightly emphasising the first sound, but do this only after establishing that it is the shape/letter ‘a’ that makes  the sound as in cat, not that the picture of an apple is (represents) the sound of ‘a’.
This process gradually builds up the association for the child, who will be able to pronounce the correct sound when the letter is pointed to and the sound is asked for, i.e. “What sound does this shape make?” or sometimes vary it with “What sound does this letter make?” or “What sound does ‘a’ make?” (pointing to the letter).
The time taken for this accomplishment will vary from child to child according to a variety of factors, the main ones of which will probably be intelligence, concentration, obedience, sufficient sleep and food, calmness in the surrounding atmosphere, and the rationality of the person supposedly teaching the child.
Vowel sounds are the voiced part of language. The vocal cords are used and the sounds are much louder than with other letters/sounds in language (consonants). Traditionally, the vowels are taught as ‘a’, ‘e’, ‘i’, ‘o’, ‘u’, but I prefer to add ‘y’, as in ‘a’, ‘e’, ‘i’, ‘o’, ‘u’,‘y’; because ‘y’ is also widely used as a vowel sound, as in “by” or “my”. Therefore, you may think of ‘y’ as both a vowel and a consonant (as in the word “yacht”).
I find useful to teach the vowels to children as:
Thus giving a simple rhyme and aiding memory. Read also at this point the section counting with things.
There are other letters that sometimes function as vowels.
The vowels sound as follows:
Vary the order.
Remember to focus on the letter, rather than a picture, and sometimes cover the picture to remove associations with pictures. The purpose is for the child to associate the sound with the letter, not with the picture. A picture is an indirect link to the real world. Therefore, also establish direct links to the real world, such as a real world apple, or a real world cat, again establishing the pointing nature of language.
When the child can sound each of the vowels correctly for about 5 to 10 times - do not bore the child by unnecessary repetition, but be sure that the child can do the sounds reliably and not by chance - proceed to the ten consonants in the next section.
You can check the child’s progress by maintaining records. Bear in mind that the child will have ‘good’ days and ‘bad’ days in reading. One day sounds thought to be committed to memory the previous day seem to have been forgotten, and so forth. Be patient - this seems to happen with many children and is probably a mechanism of learning that we do not yet fully understand. Do not lose your temper or become irrational. However, a little pushing may trigger the memory or make the child put more effort into its work.
The ten consonants should be taught to sound as follows:
These should not be sounded as [sə], [mə] etc.: consonants are whispered.
It is very important when teaching reading that you do not add the ‘-er’ or schwa sound - [ə] -, or even more exaggerated, the schwa plus an 'r' [ər], onto the end of consonants. Adding those extra sounds will tend to confuse and cause the words to be synthesised incorrectly. For example, if you teach your child to pronounce ‘c’ as [cə] or [cər] and ‘t’ as [tə] or [tər], then when they try to pronounce ‘cat’, it will become [cəætə] or even [cərætər] (“ker-a-ter”), rather than [cæt]!
With this total of 15 sounds (5 vowels and 10 consonants) the child can then be shown how to sound out approximately 150 words, which helps to satisfy the child and give it a sense of accomplishment in fairly short order. A full record should be kept with each reading session.
Records should be kept accurately and should not be distorted by irrational emotional involvement. For example, you may find yourself distorting your records because you have convinced yourself - from some wish that the child achieves quicker than it does, or simply by chopping corners - that the child really does know something which it does not. Such behaviour will not help the child. It may make you feel a little better temporarily, but will certainly be bad for the child. Adopting such an approach will inhibit their ability to learn and in other ways disturb the child. If you can not control yourself and learn yourself, you are better leaving the child to the fate of the state teachers, even though they are, in our experience, almost invariably sub-competent.
Above all, be calm and quiet and patient, but do not allow the child to misbehave, to take advantage of you, or to be a nuisance. The child is getting something from you, not vice versa. Neither over-push nor under-push, find the balance for each individual child.
When making words, do thus: say “Sound out this word. What sound does this letter (or shape) make?”. Point to the first letter of the word, use a pencil if necessary to indicate the letter you mean. If the child takes too long - what ‘too’ long means you will have to learn to judge by working with the child - suggest the sound softly until the child picks it up. Repeat the sound and get the child to repeat. Then go on to the next sound. At the end of the word, sound the letters with, say, about a second in between:
b a t
And get the child to repeat the sounds in order on their own. Next you repeat the sounds in order quicker and get the child so to do:
b a t b a t b a t b a t
Another method of joining is as follows:
b at b at b at b at
And get or wait for the child to copy you. Then ask “what does the whole word say?”. If the child waits too long, coach it by sounding the word as "b at" several times, each time gradually running the two sounds together until arriving at “bat” and getting the child to repeat after you. After some time (perhaps a month or more) the child will usually catch on and be able to sound words out in the way indicated.
When the child is fluent with the 16 sounds above and has got the hang of sounding out the majority of the words such as those listed, move on to this section, which presents double lettered sounds and the other ten single letter sounds (“c”, “h”, “j”, “k”, “l”, “q”, “v”, “w”, “x”, “z”).
This should be done in conjunction with the following section, which describes some of the sounding rules of the English language. Remember that rules are not universally consistent, but gradually teach the child these inconsistencies starting with the most common usage, by which time the child will be quite fluent and probably able to cope with 1b to 3b of the Ladybird Reading Scheme. Do not think the rules useless, just because there are inconsistencies: the rules are helpful memory short-cuts.
It is vital to teach the child how to guess. The child’s spoken vocabulary will be far ahead of its reading vocabulary. English is pretty idiosyncratic in that its spelling rules are not reliable, as in some other languages which have been modernised and phoneticised.
When the child is finding difficulty with compounding (“synthesising”/“blending”) a word, you should teach them to guess whether it is a word they already know. Ask the child what word it sounds like and help if necessary. Teach the child to think about what sounds right in the context of sentences e.g. “read”, (sounded “red” or “reed” depending on context).
You should also teach them that guesswork is always unreliable, and is merely a help/assist. A child’s experience in effective guessing will develop slowly and steadily over time.
Sound the next letter combinations as follows:
Teach these sounds as you did the others and extend the reading vocabulary as enabled with these extra sounds. When these letter combinations are fluent, go on to the next set, sounding them as follows:
When these sounds are fluent and words containing these sounds are reasonably easily achieved, we suggest you move to higher numbered books in the Ladybird B series. Unfortunately that scheme is strongly sexist and trite. Jane the little girl helps her ‘mother’ make tea, Peter the little boy, helps ‘daddy’ paint the window frames or Jane picks flowers whilst Peter (the lucky little so and so) builds a boat. Apart from this, we also object to the cosy, hunky-dory picture of a nuclear family which is reinforced at every point. Whether you mind this is a matter for yourself.
In the late 1970s, Ladybird attempted to level with modern times by introducing the odd coloured person into street scenes and the like but s/he is never invited into the house. It is possible to annul the sexist and nuclear family tripe with the use of a little Sno-pake or Liquid Paper (typist’s correction fluid, obtainable from stationers), and to insert minor amendments to the text which remains still very useful.
Of course there are many other schemes available, and you can even make your own. We refer you to the Ladybird books as they are easily available and linguistically well organised - they can be used as cribs and a reference source of things to think about in your own teaching.
Of course, at some point your child is going to decide “I want to read about football”, or “I want to read about pandas”, or even “I want to read about wizards” . At which point you can introduce them to libraries and teach them to research and follow their own interests. Do not bore or undermine the independence of the child by trying to force them to be interested in your interests. Beyond basic literacy, numeracy and social skills, it is up to the child to decide what they want to learn and do with that learning.
I identify a stage in children’s reading which I call “reading on their own”. This occurs at a level of around the average eight year old’s reading skill . By this time, it is important that the child is thoroughly familiar with the alphabet and can recite it fluently. This can be started as a game way back amongst three or four year olds. It doesn’t have to wait until the reading stage. Learning the alphabet is a vital skill, contrary to some fashion-driven teachers. Without it, you cannot fluently use a dictionary, or an encyclopaedia, or a catalogue, or any of a hundred other services.
By the “reading on their own” stage, the child should not need much more than guidance from a teacher. They should be able to look up words in a dictionary and ask for help when they come across an unfamiliar word or concept. Developing independence is a vital part of any serious education. The prime task of a teacher is to help the learner gain independence from teachers. The child should be taught to use dictionaries, encyclopaedias, and above all libraries, including the Internet/Web.
While there are many reading schemes available, I am using the Ladybird system as context only because it linguistically well-structured and widely available in the UK. In any educational bookshop, you will find a great range of schemes. These schemes are immensely profitable to the publishers and many a teacher will swear that whichever one they use is far and away the best, but in fact you can work with almost anything. In days of past poverty, responsible parents teaching their child to read would even resort to cutting out the letters from newspapers and forming them into words.
As with so much in the educational area, American books are often in advance of the British market. Along with the Ladybird system, I highly recommend Reading with Phonics, Teacher's Edition, by Julie Hay and Charles E. Wingo, and published by Lippincott. The book is now out of print, but it is still widely available secondhand in various editions.
Another useful subsidiary for phonics practice are the Dr.Seuss books. They have a nice surrealistic twisted sense of humour, which is often very appealing to brighter children (I have known rather serious young people being ‘offended’ by the ‘idiocy’, but this of course sometimes an opportunity to teach more of a sense of fun!). There are large number of Seuss books, they are not cheap and are not all at the same level of difficulty, so look at them carefully before parting with the hard-earned.
The home schooling movement in America is considerably more developed that in Europe, as parents vote with their feet against state ‘education’. The estimates run to well over two million children currently in home schooling. A good proportion of those who involve themselves in home schooling do so because they have rather fundamentalist ‘religious’ or ‘political’ beliefs, which they wish to ram into the heads of the young. Thus, the McGuffey readers - from 1879! - which Henry Ford learnt from as a child, with their ‘moral tales’, ‘improving reading’ and structured ‘correct’ grammar, are now heavy sellers in the United States.
It is not necessary for the child to be specifically taught all the details that follow, but it is necessary for the person teaching to be aware of these details:
These words and sentences are provided for practice, and will be expanded in further editions. Many more may be thought of or looked up in a dictionary.
We suggest writing the words on large sheets of card, and placing such charts on a wall at child height. These charts may be replaced as necessary and supplemented by such children’s books as are available and appropriate.
A man sits in the sun.
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© abelard, 2007, 26 february
the address for this document is http://www.abelard.org/teaching_reading_with_phonics.php