When young children are learning to read, it is common for them to get stuck on words. It’s also common to hear, “Sound it out” from the adult listening to them read. But there are many other strategies for parents to add to their repertoire that will help their children solve words. The goal is to arm children with a bank of strategies they can use, initially with support and later independently, to figure out unfamiliar words.
“Sound it out” is challenging for children who have not mastered all the letter-sound relationships. To help, children can work on learning the sounds each letter makes and in time, begin applying this knowledge to their reading. Worksheets that focus on building these skills can complement their reading. When trying to solve an unknown word, ask your child to look at the first letter and say that initial sound. Initial sounds are typically easier for children to identify than sounds in the middle of words. Knowing the first sound of a word that is embedded in a sentence may be enough for your child to solve it.
As your child grows more confident with letter-sound relationships, he will be able to begin tackling middle and end sounds as well. It is helpful to start with CVC words, which are three-letter words that begin and end with a consonant and have a vowel in the middle. Examples include “sad,” “cup,” and “red.” Linking the three sounds together that comprise these words is the next step towards “sounding it out.”
Now let’s consider words that cannot be easily sounded out. Words like “the,” “she,” and “was” cannot be sounded out without the knowledge of structures like blends, digraphs, and long vowels. This is where sight words come into play. Sight words, also referred to as “high-frequency words,” appear often in books and other print materials. They cannot necessarily be sounded out and rather, the focus should be on memorizing them. Once a child has accumulated a large bank of sight words that she recognizes automatically, she can use her energy to solve more complex words. Sight words can be practiced using worksheets, with manipulatives like magnetic letters and tiles, and by reading books filled with them.
Another strategy to help your child solve unknown words is to use pictures. Books are written for beginning readers often consist of one sentence per page, with a corresponding picture. Cue your child to look to the picture for help. For example, a simple patterned book may begin with the sentence starter, “I can…” on each page. The corresponding pictures may show people performing activities like running, laughing, or playing. With their knowledge of initial sounds, paired with a picture cue, children may be able to determine the last word in the sentence. (e.g., I can run.)
When teaching your child to read, get into the habit of asking him, “Does that sound right?” instead of immediately correcting an error. Children can learn how to cross-check what they’re reading, by considering whether what they’ve read makes sense. For example, if a child reads, “I with playing,” the goal is for him to stop, realize what he said doesn’t sound right, and go back to the beginning of the sentence to try again. If he corrects the error, (I was playing.) praise him for noticing his mistake and fixing it. Even attempts to fix a mistaken word should be commended. It means your child is self-monitoring as he reads.
Similar to the above strategy, you can also use the prompt, “Does it look right?” This cues your child to take another look at an incorrect word and to use her knowledge of letters, sounds, and sight words to see if what she read is correct. For example, if she reads “She is camping” instead of “She likes camping,” prompting with “Does it look right?” may help her recognize that the incorrect word can’t be “is” since it starts with an ‘l’ sound.
Using these prompts consistently will help your child develop a repertoire of strategies to use when encountering an unknown word. Ultimately, you want him to try to solve the word independently before asking for help. Invest time into modeling these strategies and using prompts until your child starts using them on his own.
p.s. Related posts:
To examine any book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.
As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.