If you’re wondering how to teach a 6 year old to read, this post will offer you some guidance.
By 6 years old, children should know letter sounds. If a 6 year old is in first grade, they should know short vowels, consonant digraphs and consonant blends. Reading Elephant has printable phonics books for all of these sounds.
Effective reading lessons at this level include: leveled decodable books, phonemic awareness activities, sound cards, explicit introduction of new phonics sounds, a phonics chart, mixed list reading with interleaving, sight word spelling, and sound-by-sound spelling.
Make sure your 6 year old has learned to hold continuous sounds and clip stop sounds.
If a child is struggling to decode, he may not have learned the most basic aspect of letter sounds. Adults assume that kids need to learn letter names. However, letter names do not crack the code. They can even get in the way of decoding as “es” for /s/, “igh” for /i/ and “tee” for /t/ does not help a child decode “sit.” Letter sounds, in contrast, help kids crack the code: ssssiiiit sit.
There is a specific, correct way to teach letter sounds. If your 6 year old hasn’t mastered letter sounds or can’t read yet, make sure he is holding continuous sounds and clipping stop sounds.
You can hold continuous sounds. In contrast, you cannot hold stop sounds.
You can hold a continuous sound without distorting the sounds. For example, /s/ is a continuous sound, because you can say “ssssssss” without distorting the sound. Short vowels (a_ as in apple, e_ as in elephant, i_ as in igloo, o_ as in octopus, u_ as in up), n, f, s, l, z, v and are continuous sounds. Make sure your student holds these sounds for a few seconds. Why? If they learn to hold continuous sounds, they’ll start linking sounds together when reading. This is known as blending. For example, “Sam” is a word with all continuous sounds. “Sam” is an easy word for a beginner because they can hold all of the sounds… Ssssaaaammmm…. and this allows them to decipher Sam.
In contrast, stop sounds are sounds you must clip. If you try to hold a stop sound, you will add an /uh/ and thus distort the sound. For example, /d/ is a stop sound. If you try to hold /d/, you will say “duh.” You don’t want your students in the habit of adding an “uh.” Thus, you must teach them to “clip” these sounds and say “d-” or “b-” or “c-.” If your student adds an “uh,” decoding will be very difficult, as they will read words like “dog” as “duhoguh.” This makes “dog” difficult to decode and they may read the word as dug. There are many stop sounds and thus many words with stop sounds. It’s important that kids learn to clip stop sounds to avoid reading errors.
Phonemic awareness activities are simple, yet so important.
A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound. Thus, phonemic awareness is an awareness of sound or the ability to segment, blend and manipulate sounds. Kids who are phonemically aware can say what’s left after dropping the /c/ from crack… rack. They can segment bump into b-uuuu-mmmm-p. They can also blend sounds: h-aaaa-mmmm says ham. In addition, phonemically aware kids can drop end sounds to change “sand” to “san.” When kids are phonemically aware they also tend to be very good at rhyming.
Phonemic awareness is not a trivial activity. In fact, it’s one of the best predictors of reading success. In k-2, kids need phonemic awareness activities daily.
Without some phonemic awareness, kids will not decode. Thus, if your 6 year old is struggling with decoding, you may want to shift your attention here. Have your student practice dropping beginning and end sounds, segmenting and blending.
Explicitly introduce new phonics sounds.
Take the guesswork out of learning to read. Explicitly tell students what the new sound says. For example, if the student is learning /ea/ say, “/ea/ says “ea” as in sea.” Put the sound on a sound card and have the student review the card daily.
Include sound cards in every lesson.
Sound cards are basically flashcards for phonics sounds. Include every phonics sound the student has learned thus far. Exclude phonics sounds the child has not yet learned. For example, a beginning kindergartner might have the following in his sound card pile: a_, e_, i_ o_, u_, ch, sh, _tch, wh_, _ck, th, _ing, _ang, _ing.
Be sure to mix the flashcards before review so the child doesn’t memorize their order.
If you are not knowledgeable on phonics sounds, you can check out Reading Elephant’s scope and sequence.
Use a mixed list during reading lessons.
A mixed list is a list of decontextualized words. These words contain phonics sounds the child has learned. For example, a Kindergartner might have a mixed list with short vowels and consonant digraphs:
1. ship 2. chop 3. mat 4.cut 5, match 6. top 7. wet 8. pitch 9. fan 10. then 11. lip 12. pop 13. jet 14. dot 15. math 16. sang 17. hen 18. jam 19. lot 20. sing
Encourage your student to read sound-by-sound. Do not give your student the answer. Instead, underline her error, and tell her the phonics sound she’s missing. Then have her try again. In this activity, kids cannot lean on pictures or context. Thus, this is a very effective activity to improve decoding skills.
Include a sound chart in lessons.
A sound chart is a chart that includes all the phonics sounds a child has learned. Typically, the phonics sounds are organized or clumped together so that all the long e sounds are together (e_e, ee, ee), all the long a sounds are together (a_e, _ay, ai) and so forth.
Whenever your student learns a new sound, you can add it to her sound chart. Reference the sound chart during reading errors and spelling.
Make sure kids practice sight word spelling so they can write.
While there’s some debate on whether educators should incorporate sight words into lessons, one thing is clear: sight words are very common. The first 120 sight words are everywhere in books. Kids need to know how to read and spell them.
Sight words break the phonetic code in some way. However, every sight word has at least one phonetic component. In “would” for, example, the /w/ and /d/ are regular. In “they,” the /th/ is regular. Have your student decode the regular aspects of these words and then make a sound tweak.
To spell these words, you can have your student memorize the spelling of the first 100 sight words or so. This will help them be more confident writers.
Teach your 6 year old to spell.
Every spelling list should include phonetic words and sight words. With phonetic words, have your student spell these words sound-by-sound. First, have him segment the sound: “dog” is “d-oooo-g” or “patch” is “p-aaaa-tch.” Next, have your student write the first sound, next sound and last sound in order. With this slow, methodical method, your student will begin to see that spelling is a combination of breaking sounds apart, writing the sounds in order and identifying the correct sound unit from her phonics chart.
Here’s a sample spelling list for first graders:
6. They went to the pumpkin patch.
7. would (sight word)
8. give (sight word)
9. again (sight word)
10. should (sight word)
If you’re wondering how to teach a 6 year old how to read, you can follow these principles outlined above.
Reading Elephant offers easy-to-use systematic printable phonics books. Our decodable books are a great supplement to phonics lessons.