Learning to Talk and Learning to Read – Part 2

Learning to read is a process that involves both visual and auditory input.  Children must learn to match symbols to sounds and then connect those symbols to make words.  Some children have difficulty remembering the symbols if too many are taught at once.  Reading can be made easier by teaching only a few sound-symbols at a time and then using them to practice decoding simple words.  Students should practice reading short stories using the same words they are learning to decode.


Make Your Own Magnetic Letter Tiles

SnipBlog81aA while back I wrote about teaching students how to spell. The easiest way to teach spelling is in connection with reading, so children should be learning to spell the same words they are learning to phonetically decode. Spelling is a lot more fun if you teach it with a hands-on activity. My spelling game includes a list of very simple words for a student who is just beginning to read, but you can adapt it to any phonetically regular spelling list. A side benefit to this game is that your child is also gaining phonemic awareness while playing around with spelling. You can read the blog and get the spelling game here:   http://soundbytesreading.com/spelling-for-beginning-readers-part-3.html

Recently I was channel surfing and ran across a great idea.  The TV channel was ION Life and the program was “She’s Crafty” featuring Wendy Russell (11-14-2013).  I could not find a link to the specific program—but I’ll describe the quick and easy craft project she demonstrated that you can use to make magnetic letter tiles for spelling.

Use the letter tiles from an old Scrabble game for this craft.  Purchase a roll of Roll-N-Cut Flexible Magnet Tape (cost is around $6). It has an adhesive backing so it’s really easy to attach to the letters.  Cut off squares the size of the letter tiles and attach them to the back of the Scrabble letter tiles.  Now you have inexpensive magnetic letters for your kids to play with and learn to spell with (all capital letters).

Put the magnetic letters on the refrigerator and help your kiddos learn to spell while you cook. I’ve included some lists below to get you started. One list is for first graders, the others for second and/or third graders. The target spelling pattern is underlined in the first word in each list. Use whatever works at your child’s spelling level.  Have fun playing around with spelling!

SnipBlog81cSnipBlog81dPrint a PDF copy of the Spelling Word List here:


This is Your Brain on Reading!


As one who teaches struggling readers how to read, I find it interesting to read about how the brain works.  Some researchers have hypothesized that children who cannot read well have brains that work differently than those of children who can read well.  Brain scans showed that the brains of good readers actually looked different than the brains of non-readers, when performing reading tasks.  But causes this? Is the brain of the poor reader deficit in some way that causes the child to have more difficulty with reading—or is the brain of the good reader enhanced or changed by learning how to read well?

Researchers now know that the brain changes when we teach a child how to read.  Often, children with reading difficulty are having difficulty with phonemic awareness (understanding how the sounds in language connect to make words) and with the alphabetic principle (how sounds are represented by written symbols). Children who come to kindergarten with strong phonemic awareness learn to read more easily.

What we do not specifically know is what happens in the homes of these children to help them acquire this knowledge. There may have been more exposure to adult spoken language, more reading aloud, and more interaction with, and teaching by the primary caregiver.

Researchers also found that when a struggling reader was given explicit phonetic instruction, the child learned to read.  Brain scans after intensive instruction shows that the brain actually changes.  Areas of the brain that were not activated before instruction were now being used.  After good instruction, the brains of former struggling readers look very much like the brains of good readers.  This suggests strongly that the causal factor in poor reading is with the instruction rather than a problem with the child’s brain.

This is very good news for parents of struggling readers.  Your child can learn to read—but you must use a strong phonetic reading program.  Struggling readers become discouraged when they are failing to learn to read—but it is not their fault. When I am working with students, I tell them they can learn to read—and they do!  Learning changes your brain. This is your brain on reading!


Sound Bytes Reading: Top Ten Blogs in 2013—Part 1

SnipBlog691 – All Students Reading at Grade Level by the End of Third Grade? 

The goal:  Every child reading on grade level by the end of third grade?  No!  The goal should be:  Every child reading on grade level by the end of first grade!  With this goal in mind, we must  use effective research-based reading interventions as soon as we see children start to fail—before the end of first grade—and before they have fallen so far behind their peers that many of them will never catch up at all. Teach every child to read by the end of first grade!  Read more:  http://bit.ly/145VDFK

2 – Spelling for Beginning Readers – Part 2

This blog is part of a series on spelling.  It includes a game to help your children learn to spell.  Beginning readers often ask us how to spell words they want to write.  When students ask you to spell words, you can help them develop phonemic awareness by telling them the sound of each letter in the word as they write instead of telling them the names of the letters.  This is what phonics is about—learning to associate letters with speech sounds rather than learning words as a whole unit.  The more we use the sounds associated with the letters the more quickly students will remember them and use them when trying to spell words.  Read more:  http://bit.ly/VFdeTD

3 – Spelling for Beginning Readers – Part 3

Spelling is an important part of learning to read.  Learning to spell helps students learn to read and reading phonetically can help students learn to spell.  If you give your beginning students word lists that have consistent spelling patterns, they will learn to spell much more quickly and they will not forget what they have learned.  Read the blog here:  http://bit.ly/Wj1UJV

Get the FREE Spelling Game for beginning readers here:  http://soundbytesreading.com/assets/files/Spelling-Game-for-Beginning-Readers.pdf

4 – Five Spelling Tips for Teaching Beginning Readers 

Our brains are designed to recognize patterns that make sense.  For beginning or struggling readers, learning that is based on consistent patterns will make reading and spelling new words much easier.  Here are five tips to help you teach spelling.  Read more:  http://bit.ly/11TpQcL

5 – Should You Continue to Read Aloud to your School Age Children?

Reading books that are above your children’s reading level will help to increase their vocabulary. Even though they can read for themselves, older children enjoy having longer stories read aloud to them.  Get the book list and read more here: http://bit.ly/ZlKWw

Next week: Part 2

Five Spelling Tips for Teaching Beginning Readers

  1. Teach spelling in conjunction with reading.
  2. Use spelling to enhance phonemic awareness.
  3. Use word lists with consistent patterns to teach spelling rather than random word lists.
  4. Use a spelling game to practice spelling words (see previous blog).
  5. Save words with difficult spelling patterns for students who are not beginning readers.

Beginning readers will learn to spell more quickly and easily if their spelling words are the same decodable words that they are reading in decodable stories. Teach beginning readers to spell words with a fun activity rather than by rote repetition.

Teach spelling by building words with letter tiles and manipulating them to create new words. This helps students to recognize the separate sounds in words.  In turn, this helps students to be able to decode words when reading.

Our brains are designed to recognize patterns that make sense.  For beginning readers and for struggling readers, learning that is based on consistent patterns will transfer more easily to reading and spelling new words.

Repetition helps to build memory. Playing a game while learning how to spell builds in the necessary repetition while keeping young students engaged. Manipulating letter tiles is a very different activity than writing the spelling words.  Each activity is of value when used appropriately.

Save the spelling words that are exceptions to the rules for older students rather than confusing your beginning readers.  For instance, the words meat, bread, and steak have the same spelling pattern in the middle of the word, /ea/, but the /ea/ in the middle of each of these words has a different sound. Do not include words in your spelling lists with  different sounds even though they may have the same spelling pattern. Teach beginning and struggling readers to spell using lists of words with the same sound and the same spelling pattern.

Spelling for Beginning Readers – Part 3

This activity will help beginning readers and struggling readers build phonemic awareness by associating letters with their sounds. When students learn to spell words by associating the sounds with the letters and to put the letters in the correct sequence, they gain phonemic awareness, which will help them become better readers. 

Students need to know the sounds of each of the letters in this word list before you try to play the spelling game.  Give your student only the letters he needs to spell the words in the list you plan to use. You may want to start with only three or four words from this list the first time you play the game.

Pronounce words slowly and clearly—but do not distort them.  It is acceptable to drag out vowel sounds, as in “c–aaa–t”, but do NOT pronounce a word like “kuuh-aaaaa-tuuh.” Do NOT drag out the consonant sounds.  Show your child how to build and change words.  He may need assistance at first to learn how to arrange the letters in the correct left to right sequence.  (Note: Letters between slashes / / indicate that you should use the letter-sound rather than the letter name.)

How to Play the Spelling Game

  1. Ask your student to tell you the sound on each letter tile.
  2. Next, ask him to find the letters with the sounds /a/ and /t/.
  3. Tell him to put the two sounds together to make the word at. If he doesn’t understand how to do this, demonstrate it.
  4. Now, ask him to find the letter that makes the sound /k/ (the letter c). Tell him to put the new letter at the beginning of the word at to make the word cat. Ask him to read the word to you.
  5. Next, ask him to find the letter that makes the sound /s/ and then change the first letter in the word cat to make the word sat.
  6. Continue in this manner to make the words hat, fat, mat, and rat.
  7. Spend only a few minutes at a time with this activity so your child will want to do it again later.

Print Spelling Game here.

Spelling for Beginning Readers – Part 2

Beginning readers should be learning to read decodable stories and they should be learning to spell the same decodable words they are learning to read.  Reading can enhance spelling acquisition and proper spelling instruction can enhance reading ability.  Spelling and reading are opposite directions on a two-way street.

Learning to spell will enhance phonemic awareness (the ability to hear and break words down into their individual sounds) and phonemic awareness improves reading ability.

Some children want to spell and write words before they can read.  Beginning readers often ask how to spell words they want to write when they draw pictures. When students ask you to spell words, you can help them develop phonemic awareness by telling them the sound of each letter in the word they want to write instead of telling them the names of the letters.

This is what phonics is about—learning to associate letters with speech sounds rather than learning words as a whole unit.  The more we use the sounds associated with the letters the more quickly students will remember them and use them when trying to spell words.

Spelling is easier for beginning readers if you teach it using phonetically consistent word lists.  Use the words from the decodable story your child is reading.  Make a game of spelling. You can purchase magnetic letters or plastic letter tiles, use wood tiles from a Scrabble game, or you can make your own letter tiles on the computer and print them onto heavy cardstock.

Look for next week’s post—a simple spelling game to try with your beginning readers.

If you wish to purchase letter tiles you can find magnetic or plastic ones here:

http://bit.ly/124GmWc    -or-    http://bit.ly/ViTbqC    -or-    www.abcstuff.com

Spelling for Beginning Readers – Part 1

Many people tell me they never learned to spell well.  Others know immediately if they see a misspelled word—it just seems to jump out at them.   Why are some people able to spell well and not others?  Are reading and spelling connected—and if so—should that affect how we teach both subjects?

Reading is a process of decoding.  That means that when we read, we look at a series of symbols on the page and use a set sound-symbol code to help us decipher each word.  So this symbol, h, by itself, is always going to make the sound /h/.  But if we add s to the h like this, sh, it is going to make a different sound (as in cash).  If we add a t to the sh, like this, tch, it makes yet another sound (as in catch).  When we learn the written code, we use it to decode words and find out what was written on the page.

Spelling is the process of encoding.  It is the opposite of reading, which is decoding.  When we write we use symbols that represent the sounds in our language.  We connect these sound-symbols to make words.  We need to be able to do this reasonably well if we want to communicate in writing.  In order to learn to spell and read well we have to be able to encode and to decode.  This is why phonemic awareness and phonics are important skills when learning to read and to spell.

How should spelling be taught to beginning readers? Does it matter how we teach it?  Is there a way to make spelling easier to learn? Which of these spelling lists would be easier for a beginner to learn?

5 Reasons Why It’s Important to Read Aloud to Your Children

Do we really need to read aloud to our kids? Why should we read aloud to our young children? How does reading aloud to our children when they are preschoolers, benefit them later on when it is time to learn to read?  Are there long-lasting benefits that make the effort worthwhile?Here are five things kids can learn when parents regularly read books aloud to their children:

1.  About Books—Books have a front and a back cover, some books have interesting pictures, books have pages in them, the pages are read from left to right and top to bottom, and usually there are words on the pages in books.

2.  ABC’s are Important—Letters make words, words make sentences, and sentences tell a story.

3.  Vocabulary—Children who are read to will hear and learn many new words, so children who are read to will develop a larger vocabulary than children who are not read to. A larger vocabulary can help children recognize words when they are learning to read.

4.  Auditory Development and Imagination—Children who are often read to learn to listen and they learn to visualize the story in their minds. They learn to sit reasonably still and pay attention while listening to a story (age appropriately of course). They begin to gain phonemic awareness if they listen to rhyming stories or poems. When parents discuss the stories they read with their children, children also learn to think about what they have heard.

5.  Print Awareness—Parents often will move a finger along under the words as they read a story aloud to a preschooler, which helps the child become more aware that the print stands for meaningful words.  Children will often then begin to recognize words in the environment around them (such as “stop” or “exit” signs, and names of restaurants and stores).

These five things may not seem to be significant, but they are useful when students are ready to learn to read.  Children who have been read to are more likely to have an easier time learning to read in school.

This is not to say that children who have been read to will never have difficulty learning to read—because there are many children whose parents have done all of this and they have done it very well, and their children still have difficulty learning to read. Children also must be given good reading instruction, but given proper instruction, those who have regularly been read to have a head start compared to those who have not had this valuable learning experience.

Read a story to your child today!

Getting Ready to Read – Five Great Pre-School Activities

1.  Give board books to your baby.  Talk about the pictures.  Read simple rhyming stories aloud (helps develop phonemic awareness).

2.  Get a library card. Read books to your toddler every day. Talk about the story (increases vocabulary).  Some favorites:

    • Are You My Mother?
    • The King, the Mice, and the Cheese
    • Go, Dog, Go
    • The Best Nest
    • Hop on Pop

3.  Give your preschoolers games to play with that will help them develop mental and motor skills (not those noisy electronic games that do everything for them).  Some suggestions:

    • Matching pictures (teaches children to pay attention to details, differences).
    • Matching shapes or colors or numbers.
    • String large beads on a shoelace—only when your child is old enough to keep the beads out of her mouth (helps develop eye-hand co-ordination).
    • Simple puzzles—wooden puzzles are more durable for younger children (teaches sequencing).
    • Wood Blocks and/or Legos or Lego Duplos (for building, counting, adding, sorting, following directions, etc.).
    • Fat crayons and blank paper (small motor development).

4.  Play games with words and numbers (vocabulary development, listening and thinking skills, following directions).

    • Example:  “I’m thinking of something that is in the kitchen.  You can eat it.  It is red. It has sort of a round shape. It grows on a tree. It can fit in my hand. What is it?  (An apple.)  Give more clues if they can’t guess the object.
    • Example:  Give your child a few wood blocks (5 or 10) in a basket.  Say: “Take two blocks out of the basket.  Now, take out one more.  Count them. How many blocks are outside of the basket?  How many are left inside the basket?”

5.  Give your child balls in various sizes. Roll a ball back and forth with your toddler. Play catch, or kick a ball back and forth with your preschooler (co-ordination, co-operation, sharing).

Read, talk, and play together often.  You are developing your child’s vocabulary, phonemic awareness, listening skills, thinking skills, observation skills, small motor skills, and the ability to follow directions and co-operate with others.  This is valuable training for when your child is ready to begin reading and writing in school.