The Brain – Processing Patterns and Learning to Read

SnipBlog77Our brains are programmed to perceive patterns.  Many people enjoy puzzles, whether they are jigsaw puzzles or manipulative puzzles or Sudoku puzzles. They all involve patterns. Art often uses patterns. Architecture and landscaping often follow patterns and they are more pleasing to the eye when certain patterns are followed to achieve visual balance.

Math follows patterns.  Many children who are poor readers do very well in math (except for reading the word problems) because math follows a pattern and if they understand the pattern, it makes sense. Algebra students soon find out that if they do not follow the correct pattern—the order of operations, they will not get the correct answer.

Reading involves patterns also, although many people who teach reading do not understand the patterns as well as we would like. Students who are very good in math enjoy the logic and sequence of math. What about the logic and sequencing of reading instruction? How does pattern perception in the brain affect learning to read?

The brain recognizes patterns.  When children understand the spelling patterns contained in words, it makes sense and they will remember what they learn. If we teach phonics, reading, and spelling together logically and sequentially, one piece of the pattern at a time, students will understand it and they will learn to read well.  But if we teach reading randomly by picking up a book and just pointing out words, many students will not learn to read well.  Reading does not make sense to many kids when presented randomly.  Just as we do not expect students to multiply before they know how to add, we should not expect students to learn to read without teaching it step-by-step, in a logical pattern.

How can reading be taught in a sequential pattern? First, teach some letters and the sounds they make, such as: a, t, s, c, f.  Build on that by making words with those letters such as: cat, fat sat. Then teach students to blend the sounds of the letters to pronounce the words.  Take it a step further, and teach a sight word like “A,” and make a sentence with your new words like this: “A fat cat sat.”

This kind of reading instruction is presented in a logical sequential pattern and it makes sense to students. It is easy to remember because all of the instruction is related.  Instead of teaching separate phonics lessons and handwriting practice with letters and words that are unrelated to the stories a child is reading, use the same letters and sounds students are learning in phonics lessons to sound out words, teach spelling, and to read stories. The same path in the brain is now being used for phonics, reading, and spelling so it will be a stronger pathway.

Each new lesson should add to and build on the previous lesson. This type of instruction makes learning to read easy and fun, just like putting a puzzle together. It makes sense. When we teach students to read by helping them build logical step-by-step patterns in their brains, they become strong successful readers.

Teaching Your Child to Read – Get a Head Start Right Now

Have you decided to teach your child how to read? Looking for an effective and easy method to teach reading? Rainbow Resource Center is now selling Sound Bytes Reading at a discounted price to homeschooling families–so if you’ve been meaning to pick this book up to teach your beginning reader or your struggling reader, check them out.

Here’s a quote from the review they wrote:

Indeed a sound approach to reading, this program is a solid, phonetically comprehensive program with reinforcing reading text incorporated directly in the book. It reminds me somewhat of a cross between Alphaphonics and Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, but with improved teacher instruction, lesson implementation, and textual presentation. As in those popular programs, your child will begin reading as soon as the first letter sounds are taught. And, in a mere 90 “byte-sized” lessons, your child will be reading at a beginning 3rd grade reading level. This program is also recommended for both remedial and ELL students. In fact…

Read more on their website right here:


Learning to Write – Teaching Grammar – Verbs

One of the problems children have with writing (besides poor spelling) is difficulty with conventions, basic grammar, and English usage.  If we teach writing with the same step-by-step approach that we should be using when we teach reading, we may be able to eliminate some of the problems our students carry with them into middle and high school. 

We can start by teaching our students the vocabulary of grammar, as well as how to use particular kinds of words when they first begin to write sentences.

Here is an easy way to begin teaching grammar to students in mid-first or in second grade: 

1.  Start with verbs.  Define it:  “A verb is an action word.”  Then give them a few examples such as: run, walk, sit stand, smile, play, etc.

2.  Ask students to tell you what a verb is (“an action word”).

3.  Write a sentence for them and ask them which word is the verb.

4.  Ask students to help as you write some sentences on the board and find the verb in each one.

5.  Ask your students to write a few simple sentences of their own and underline the action word. 

Review and repeat this exercise for a few days.  You can this by asking students to help you make a list of verbs that you write on the board. (Keep it simple. Don’t teach helping verbs until later on.) Then they make up sentences using those verbs. They could also make silly sentences using the verb list that you made together.

Don’t forget to teach students to capitalize the first letter that begins each sentence and to put a period at the end of each sentence! That will cover the first lesson in grammar, capitalization, and punctuation.

Teaching Beginning Reading – Reading Comprehension

What is reading comprehension? Reading comprehension means that students comprehend or understand the meaning of what they are reading.  This is why we read in the first place—so that we can learn about something from someone who is not physically present—through the medium of print.

 How do we teach reading comprehension?  When teaching beginning readers, if we try to teach reading comprehension first, we may not be totally successful in our efforts. We need to make sure our beginning readers have learned to decode words through explicit, systematic phonics instruction and are able to blend letter-sounds into words easily. We need to be sure beginning readers have also had appropriate vocabulary instruction so they will understand the words they are decoding. Then, instruction in reading comprehension will be much more effective.

Comprehension involves thinking about what we are reading, questioning it, judging the merits of it, understanding it, accepting or rejecting it, and comparing it to any prior knowledge we have about it.

Some reading comprehension strategies may include:

  • Thinking – Do I understand what I just read?
  • Comparing to Prior Knowledge – What do I already know about this?
  • Predicting – What might happen next?
  • Asking Questions – Why did that happen?
  • Summarizing – What happened? What was the main idea?


Reading comprehension begins before children learn to read, while listening to stories that are read to them.  We can enhance comprehension by talking to children about what happened in a story, whether they liked it or not and why, and what they might do differently.  As beginning readers begin to learn to decode and learn to read for themselves, we should continue to monitor their understanding by talking with them about what they read.

When teaching struggling readers—as with beginning readers—we must make sure they have been given enough phonics instruction to be able to decode words well, are given appropriate vocabulary instruction so they will understand the meanings of the words they are reading, have sufficient opportunity for repeated reading practice to gain fluency, and then provide targeted instruction in reading comprehension strategies.

What Is A Good Reading Program—How Should We Teach Reading?

Landmark research was conducted on reading instruction by The National Reading Panel from 1997-2000.  Their job was to analyze the research on reading and to discover what was most effective in teaching children to read. This study resulted in the Report of The National Reading Panel, Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction (1).

The conclusions of the National Reading Panel were that children needed specific kinds of teaching that should be included within a good reading instruction program.  Summarized, these were:

  • Phonemic Awareness Instruction—This simply means that children learn that there are sounds (or phonemes) in words, and that these sounds can be moved around (add a sound or subtract a sound) or manipulated, to change words into different words.
    • Example 1:  Add the sound /s/ to the word ‘pot’ and it becomes the word ‘spot.’
    • Example 2:  Tell me how many sounds you can hear in the word ‘me’ (two sounds: /m/ and /ee/).
  • Phonics Instruction—Knowing that written letters represent sounds, and that we can connect the sounds to make words.  This instruction is much more effective if the instruction is systematic and sequential and followed up by reading real words using the phonics instruction just given.
    • Example 1:  The letter B makes the sound /b/.
    • Example 2:  Connect these sounds, /t/ – /o/ – /p/, to make the word ‘top.’  Connect these sounds, /h/ – /o/ – /p/, to make the word ‘hop’.  Read the sentence: ‘Hop on top.’
  • Fluency Instruction—Reading with accuracy, expression, and enough speed to understand the meaning of what you read. Reading aloud (with guidance) and having reading material at the right level of difficulty helps students develop fluency.
  • Comprehension—Understanding and thinking about the meaning of what is being read.
  • Vocabulary Instruction—Teaching students the meanings of the words he/she will be reading.

When you, as a parent or teacher, are considering a reading program for your students, look for a program that will include and integrate these elements along with the stories that students are reading.  Phonics instruction is much more effective when it is used in meaningful reading right after it has been taught, rather than as isolated practice.

Next time, we will talk about teaching phonemic awareness.  Happy Reading!

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