Can Your Students Comprehend Texts That They Cannot Read?

Absolutely! Students do understand texts that are read aloud to them that are above their independent reading level. But if they are struggling to read text on their own that is too difficult for them to decode, they will not have good comprehension.  SnipBlog100Struggling students in the upper grades are increasingly expected to read texts that are above their level of reading ability, because they need to learn complex subjects. This presents a problem. Does it make sense to require students to read texts that are above their independent reading level?

Some teachers understand the futility of requiring reading at a level that is above a student’s ability, so they look for and assign books at the students’ actual reading level.  These teachers sometimes endure criticism for doing what they believe is best for their students.

With so many struggling readers in our schools, we ought to be looking at why we have this problem. We first fail when teaching our children basic reading instruction. There are many reasons why children fail to learn to read, including bad reading programs and inconsistent attendance. But we continue to pass children who have not learned basic decoding skills on to the next grade level. Then we blame the teachers in the upper grades when their struggling students fail to progress.

Students need to learn to read well by the end of first grade!  If a student is not progressing, change the program.  Students who are not reading well by early to mid-first grade should be given a phonics reading program that includes all of the Orton-Gillingham phonograms, and that uses those phonograms in decodable stories. Nearly all struggling readers who are taught to read this way can learn to read.

Students can comprehend texts that they cannot read on their own. The short term fix may include reading grade level texts aloud to students who are struggling. But to be successful, students need to be able to read on their own. When students read texts independently, they will only comprehend what they can quickly and easily decode. We may provide accommodations for struggling readers, but we owe it to them to teach them how to read for themselves.


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.


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:

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:

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:

Get the FREE Spelling Game for beginning readers here:

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:

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:

Next week: Part 2

You Can Teach Your Struggling Child to Read – Now!

Is your child a struggling reader?  Have you tried to help your child learn to read and it just doesn’t seem to click?  Learning to read does not come easily for many children, so you are not alone.  Many people will tell you that some children just need to wait longer—but that is just not true!

Children struggle with reading because the method used to teach them is too difficult or it introduces too many new things at one time.  If your child is taught in a sequential step-by-step way that allows him/her to focus on only one new letter-sound a day and practice reading that new letter-sound in a story that does not include anything the child has not learned yet, you will see your child begin to experience success in reading and grow in confidence.

One of my children had difficulty with reading (the only one that I did not teach at home first) and I was told that my child might not be “ready” to learn to read until 3rd grade—but I knew that was not true.  So I taught my child every day after school. That child was at the top of the class in reading at the end of the year. If I had waited as recommended, it would have been very difficult to catch up later on.

Here’s what one parent wrote to me:

“I had spent week looking for the perfect reading instruction book. First of all let me start by saying what an awesome, awesome, awesome, awesome (and I can’t say it enough) book Sound Bytes Reading is. My daughter has dramatically improved in her reading plus she keeps saying reading is so easy. She went from being a struggling reader to the very best in her class in a few weeks!! Your book makes reading so much fun. Particularly, for me as an extremely busy working parent with a tight schedule, it was easy for me to follow and teach.  My kid never once got confused or overwhelmed. She continues to excel and exceed reading expectations for her grade level. Your book is so well sequenced; every child would no doubt feel like a winner reading from your book.  (Ida Joiner-Elliott, Technology Executive, Sugar Land, Texas)

Another parent wrote:

“I wanted to tell you what a wonderful book you have written. My daughter has always struggled to read and up until January she had never been reading at grade level. My husband and I read with her each night, talked with her teachers, and shopped for different “How to Learn to Read” books and tapes. From everything I read regarding early readers, if you weren’t at grade level by the end of first grade there was an 80% chance you would never read at grade level. This was a terrifying thought since [she] is very bright and excels in all other subjects.  “When Mom gave Sound Bytes to my daughter we could see the change take place over the course of the next six weeks. Prior to this time she would actually say that she just wasn’t going to be able to read. With this book she felt successful. Your way of zeroing in on a few sounds in each chapter was just the approach she needed. Also, she enjoyed reading the book. Some nights it was a struggle to get her to put the book down. Currently she is reading just above grade level. Thank you so much for this wonderful book. It has been a critical part of my daughter’s success in reading.”  (Stacy Smith, Parent)

A parent with a four-year-old beginning reader wrote this:

“My 4 year old son and I loved Sound Bytes Reading. The book is comprehensive and covers reading, spelling, writing, and testing. It goes step-by-step and has fun stories. It also covers more phonics and blends than other books I looked at. The program is so easy and takes about 15-30 minutes a day. (This is not one of those reading programs that make the process of reading so complicated that they intimidate you.) By the middle of the book my son was reading easy to read books from the library and sounding out new words without difficulty. Every day he asks to read to me. It’s one of his favorite activities.”  (Theresa Nelson, Author, English Teacher, and Parent)

If you love to read and you want your child to love reading also, it is difficult to see him/her struggle with reading.   Don’t wait to help your struggling reader. Parents, you can help your child learn to read in as little as 15 minutes a day whether he/she is a struggling reader or a beginning reader.  In just four months (with instruction given five days a week), your child can be reading at a beginning third grade level.  Try it and you’ll love the results!


You can read Cathy Duffy’s recent review of Sound Bytes Reading here:

Cathy Duffy is the author of 101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum.

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:    -or-    -or-

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?

Phonetic Analysis of Fry’s 25 Most Common Sight Words

In the two previous posts we examined why teaching a long list of sight words should not be necessary when students are taught to read using a strong phonics reading program.  In fact, many struggling readers find memorizing these words very difficult.  In the chart below we will examine the 25 most common sight words to show why most of them do not need to be taught separately to beginning reading students.

The regular phonetic components in each word are underlined. The irregular parts of words are not underlined (including the schwa sound, although it is very common). Notice which words on this list need to be learned as sight words and how many can be learned as part of a strong, intensive phonics reading program.

Does It Matter How We Teach Kids To Read?

The controversy of the whole language vs. phonics methods of teaching reading has been going on for a very long time. Both sides claim to have research to back up methodology. How should children learn to read? What can we learn from other disciplines? Do children learn to read by listening to stories? By observing others? Does it make any difference how we teach reading?

For comparison, let’s examine how one learns to play the piano. When a child begins to learn to play the piano, he learns many written symbols in order to be able to read the music. He learns that a staff is a set of lines for writing music, that a clef is at the beginning of a line to indicate pitch, what different notes look like such as a quarter or an eighth note, he will learn about timing, that there are symbols that indicate the music is to be played loud or soft, fast or slow, and many other things.

Our student will not sit down and play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata in the first lesson or even the tenth. He will learn to play simple notes with one hand and then the other, and then learn to put them both together. All of this takes much practice and much repetition until it becomes automatic.

No one who teaches music will make the argument that the average beginning piano student should be able to sit down and play the Moonlight Sonata immediately if only he has been surrounded by good classical music for all of his young life. One might make argument that having listened to music could make it easier to play with feeling and emotion, but the student will still need to learn the basics a little at a time and spend lots of time in drill and repeated practice.

A young athlete who is learning the game of basketball cannot just walk into the gym and make a perfect lay-up. First, there is much drill and practice needed to learn and perfect the skills of dribbling, shooting, and footwork before it can be put all together and becomes so automatic that it feels natural.

Learning to read is not so very different. A student should learn written symbols and what sounds the symbols represent. Rather than translating the symbols to notes that are played on a piano, she must learn to translate the symbols to sounds, combine the sounds to verbalize words, and connect words to read sentences.  She will not read The Call of the Wild the first day, nor is she likely to do so the first year. Just as in learning to play the piano, she must learn a few symbols at a time and spend time practicing what she has learned until it becomes automatic, if she is to become a skilled reader.

Students who are taught to read whole words as a unit will have to learn many thousands of individual words. Students who are taught the sound-symbol code need to learn about 70 individual letters and letter combinations. A student must memorize thousands of words over many years of school and continue to learn new words over a lifetime, or learn 70 sound-symbol patterns in one year that will enable him/her to read anything. Which method do you think is easier?

Next time, we’ll talk about why the whole word method of learning to read is so difficult.

Learning to Talk / Learning to Read – Part 2

Last week we discussed how infants first begin to babble using the sounds they hear in their native language, and then learn to connect sounds to make words, and still later they learn to string words together to make sentences. Eventually they are able to tell a story about something they have seen or experienced.

This week we will examine how the same basic process should be at work when children learn to read. But for most beginning readers, learning to read is not natural or easy like learning to talk—it must be carefully and systematically taught.  Children learn to speak naturally, but reading involves not just listening and repeating what we hear, but a much more difficult process of:

  1. Recognizing specific symbols that represent the sounds in our language,
  2. Connecting the written sound-symbols to make recognizable words, and
  3. Decoding words (and sentences) so we can understand their meaning.

This process is made even more difficult because English is a language that borrows words from many other languages; therefore we have many spellings that do not follow the “rules.”  However, if we systematically teach each spelling pattern along with the words that use that pattern we can insure that most if not all of our students learn to read well.

The first step in learning to read is learning the letters of the alphabet—the written symbols for the code.  Very few educators would disagree with this.  However, many disagree on what the next step should be.  Some have held to the notion that children learn to speak in whole words from the very beginning and therefore believe beginning readers should learn to read by learning to recognize whole words as a single unit by sight.

Last week we examined how children learn to speak. While they do quickly learn to speak in whole words, they first experiment with speech by vocalizing sounds, and then they learn to connect the different sounds together to make recognizable words.

Before children learn to read, they need to learn to recognize the alphabetic symbols (the A-B-C’s). It is essential that they also learn the sounds for each of those symbols, a few at a time.  They should be taught how to blend letter-sounds together to sound out real words.  Then they need to practice reading those words, separately and in sentences.  When children are given sufficient phonics practice (learning to connect the letter-sounds to make words), they will begin to recognize words as a whole unit and can begin to read simple stories.

Children who are taught to read by recognizing whole words as a unit without learning the individual sounds will read stories more quickly at the beginning, but because they cannot decode, many will lose this advantage by the end of third grade, and often much sooner. In a later blog we will discuss why this happens.

If you have a child who is already a struggling reader, the first step you can take is to find out whether your child has learned the “code”—not just the names of the letters of the alphabet, but does he/she know the sounds for the symbols that we use to create written words?

If your struggling reader does not know the sounds of the consonants or the vowels, or of additional letter combinations, you need to teach them, one at a time. Struggling readers have experienced failure so many doubt their ability to learn to read (or refuse even to try). It is important that the reading program you use does not introduce too many sound patterns at one time so your struggling students will be able to experience reading success quickly and be encouraged to keep trying.