Helpful Tips for Teaching Children to Read Tricky Words

Helpful Tips for Teaching Children to Read Tricky Words

My fourth article published in The Macoupin County~Carlinville Enquirer~Democrat Newspaper

For children, a key milestone on the journey to success in life, is learning to read. Young children begin developing literacy through the skills of listening and speaking, followed by reading and writing. Development of children’s literacy begins at birth. Current brain research indicates that the first eight to nine years are critical for building a strong foundation for learning. Children who read proficiently by the end of third grade are more likely to graduate from high school and to be economically successful in adulthood. Our children are the key to our future. They are our hope for a strong, prosperous society. Together we must support all children to develop reading skills and knowledge for a bright future for all.

“Run, Spot, run. Go, Spot, go,” said Mother, as she encouraged Spot to find Dick and Jane. Learning how to read in the 60s with Dick and Jane Readers, was how I learned to read in school. These basal readers emphasized the “whole word” method of recognizing words by sight. My primary teacher also included a phonics component for developing reading skills.

Beginning readers and struggling readers need tools to read, decipher, and crack the code of reading. Some words need to be memorized and are referred to as sight words, high frequency words or words to know. Most words, however, require decoding, and to do so, the reader needs word attack strategies to analyze the tricky words.

Many of you have heard a teacher’s encouraging words, “Sound it out,” when a student pauses or stumbles upon an unknown word. Do you know that sounding it out is not the best strategy? Decoding words is the ability to apply knowledge of letter-sound relationships, including knowledge of letter patterns, and to correctly pronounce written words. Phonics is important in reading instruction and teaches students letter-sound relationships, and how to sound out words. Decoding is the most common strategy that students use, however, many words in the English language do not lend themselves to decoding.

Perhaps a teacher “helps” a reader by saying the word for the student. Do not simply tell the tricky word to the student. Although it seems it would be easier to tell the reader the word they do not know, it actually does more harm than good. After a student has been given some wait time [5 to 10 seconds of think time] to try and figure out the word, and has used strategies, saying the unknown word for a student, is now acceptable, if the child is still stumped.

Students learning to read need strategies, in addition to, decoding skills to help them read unknown words. Using the following strategies are what good readers use to become better readers and better students.

1.  Use Picture Clues. Look at the pictures. Think about what is in the picture that starts with the beginning letter of the tricky word.
2.  Get Your Mouth Ready. Look at the first letter of the tricky word. Say the beginning sound.
3.  Chunk It. Break the word into chunks that you already know. Look for smaller parts that you know. Try leaving off the ending [ed, ing] of the tricky word.
4.  Skip the tricky word. Skip the unknown word. Read to the end of the sentence. Go back and try again.
5.  Think about what makes sense. Does it sound right? Does it look right? Does it make sense in the story?
6.  Stretch It. Slowly stretch each letter sound to make the word.
7.  Flip the vowel sound. Try both the long vowel sound and the short sound.

Teach your child one or two strategies at a time. Practice two strategies until the reader is ready for more. After prompting a student to use all strategies, the child will begin to use the strategies independently and solve the unknown, tricky words. These are proven strategies that show results.

Knowing how to crack the code of reading is what good readers do. Every child deserves an opportunity for greatness. Supporting a beginning reader or a struggling reader, to become a better reader is an investment in the future. Their success is our success.

1 Early Reading Proficiency in the United States, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, January 2014 

~Sue Leopold

March 27, 2014


About Prairie Garden Girl

I am a wife who is adored by my Sweet Perry. Together we are parents to five boys and grandparents to seven unique grands. Pa Perry and Oma Sue love instilling the love of learning in the hearts of Johannah, Joshua & Jaxon; Henry & Charlotte and Lily & Lane. I am a reader. I am an aspiring children's picture book writer. I am a creator who sews and paints with acrylics and watercolors and sketches with colored pencil. I am an educator to hundreds of students, throughout the years. I am a cyclist on a pink Marin Portofina, and a 5K jogger. Perry and I are organic gardeners and enjoy homesteading on the Illinois prairie. Life is a beautiful ride with my Sweet P. Together, Perry and I feel life is a journey filled with joy. We want to live our lives by leaving the world a better place.
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