Do you have a struggling reader? Many kids do not receive research-based instruction in school. As a result, so many children struggle with reading. If you want to help your struggling reader, be sure to start off using research-based reading practices. Kids learn best with explicit, systematic phonics instruction wherein they get to master one phonics sound at a time.
I went to the Texas Great Homeschool Convention this past weekend. At the convention, I spoke with many parents that pulled their kids out of traditional schools, because their children weren’t learning to read. They wanted to know how they can help their kids learn to read when nothing else worked.
I also spoke with many parents whose children struggle to blend sounds. Several moms said, “When I say h-aaa-mmm, for example, he has no idea what the word is! He has no idea that h-aaa-mmm is ham. How do I help my child blend?” Parents used different examples, but the pattern was clear. One parent said, “If I say d-iii-d he cannot blend the sounds to say did!”
I found themes in the advice I gave. I’m going to outline some of the reading tips I discussed at the convention.
Don’t teach letter names
It’s easy for older kids to use letter names. However, younger kids who are just learning to read are often held back by letter names. Letter names do NOT unlock the reading or spelling code. We only use letter names when we’re spelling aloud to another person. When we read, we solely say sounds. When we spell to ourselves (not aloud to someone else), we say the sounds. Thus, when working with struggling readers only focus on letter sounds. This will eliminate confusion: “Wait, so do we say tee or /t/ when we read top?”
So when should you teach letter names? Teach letter names after your struggling reader can blend words. At first, just teach letter sounds.
Hold continuous sounds longer than you think you should.
Continuous sounds are the key to unlocking the code. They help struggling readers quite a lot. What are they? They are those sounds you can say for a long time: mmmmmmmmm, ssssssssssss, aaaaaaaaaa [as in cap], nnnnnnnn. Notice these sound are not distorted. You can say them for over 5 seconds. When you teach your student, make sure you maintain the sound for 3 seconds. This is a long time. Time yourself while saying mmmmm for 3 seconds. You’ll be surprised by how long this feels.
In conversation, we say sounds quickly. However, to unlock the code, early readers need to hold continuous sounds. They should not read sat in one utterance. If a beginning reader reads sat in one utterance, she’s guessing. Instead, she should read sat as: ssssssssaaaaaaat.
What letters are continuous sounds? They are the following letters: a [as in apple], e [as in elephant], f, i [as in igloo], l, m, n, o [as in octopus], r, s, u [as in up], v, z. Be sure you and your student hold these sounds across all activities. Also, as you work your way through the phonics sounds, make sure you and your student continue to hold continuous sounds. For example, sh and ea and many others are continuous sounds.
Pretend you’re a singer
Does your student struggle to blend sounds? Tell him to pretend he’s a singer. He must breath in and in one exhale say all the sounds. You must model this for him. Exaggerate your inhale.
STEP 1: Make eye contact.
STEP 2: Breath in.
STEP 3: Say all the sounds in one exhale: mmmmmooooooommmmm. Point to an object for each sound. You can use blocks, cars, pens, or jewels from Michaels. Pointing to an object for each sound helps your student understand that each sound is distinct.
Do this activity with your student across multiple lessons. Write a list of words: Sam, red, cap, pin, men, man, ran…etc. Perform this activity 5 words at a time. Break up the activity with flashcards. Then, do 5 more words.
To get started on the learning to read process, you can check out our short vowel books.