Since we can’t forget how we know something, it can be difficult to put ourselves in the shoes of a young child learning how to read again. Often times, it is the only strategy we remember being told when we were children so it becomes the go-to phrase. Your child may have a list of reading strategies, but it can be daunting to know which one to prompt them to use when they encounter a difficult word. I’m going to try my best to give you some guidelines on prompting them here.
- Sounding it out simply doesn’t work for all words because sometimes words don’t follow the rules. Think about words like light or want where it won’t help at all. The prompt to sound it out is ok to use if you know that your child knows the word pattern. It is great for short vowel word families like at, et, it, ot, etc. But once the child knows all the sounds and can read short words independently you really want to encourage flexibility by changing the beginnings of these words so they are putting the beginning sound with the rest of the word. For instance, start with at. Change it to sat, erase the s and make it mat, and so on. This will encourage faster decoding and more fluent reading.
- You also want to encourage students to look for a word they know inside a word. For instance, you can point out the word or is part of the word for or fork. Just make sure you are only using it for words that the or sounds the same as or or you might end up confusing them. Once they are reading more complex words you could do that with words like become, because once they have the first part they can usually use the words around it to figure out the rest of the word.
- Another prompt that teachers use a lot is to give them the sound that a vowel pattern makes. When reading magic e or silent e words like gate or kite, you can remind them that the e is going to make the vowel say its name. After they understand that concept, they can typically take it from there. For instance, you could tell them that the sound that the oa in boat makes, but let them figure out the word on their own. Once they have a more solid understanding of long vowel patterns you could say, you will only hear the first sound and it will be a long vowel sound. The ideas is to slowly make the prompts less specific while empowering them to figure things out for themselves.
- Remind them of the sounds from a guideline word such as the ar sound in car. That can help with words such as far, art, spar, part, or start. If you notice that your child has difficulty with a particular word pattern then set up a guideline word that you can use to prompt them with. Then step back for a moment and see if they can use it to figure out the word on their own.
- Prompt them to cover ed/ing/er endings with their finger to help them focus on the first part of the word. Then have them tackle the rest of the word once they have the root word figured out.
- If you have a more complex multi-syllable word that students will need to use meaning to decode, then it might be best to encourage them to skip the word and come back to it. For the following sentence: It is important to read every day, you may want to encourage them to skip the word important. If they still don’t get it after reading the rest of the sentence, then give them the first syllable, and that will likely help. You will see them be so proud that they figured out a tricky word with just a little hint.
- Once your reader is ready for multisyllable words the best way to support with those is usually to teach them to break them into syllables. These are often the words previewed by teachers prior to reading them in stories and it gives you an opportunity to ensure they understand the meaning of the word. Keep a small whiteboard nearby and write out the syllables with a dash in between them. Another thing you can do is to have your child scan the page for words they want to talk about. It is important to create a learning environment where they feel comfortable asking questions about words.