How do children learn to read?
Most children start to read by learning to recognise whole words (cat, me, the). However, soon they are encountering so many complex words that they cannot memorise them all.
At this stage, they need to develop decoding skills, so they can ‘sound out’ unfamiliar words they encounter. To be able to decode words, a child needs to understand that:
- Spoken conversation can be broken up into words, and words can be broken up into syllables and sounds
- The written letters on a page represent spoken words
- Each letter (or group of letters) represents a sound (or several sounds). For example, the letter c can make a k sound (as in cat) or a s sound (as in city), and the letters ow can make several sounds (as in how and low)
- Sounds can be blended together to make words
- Often there are rules that tell us which sound a letter will make (for example, the letter c says s when followed by the letters e, i or y)
Many children pick up these skills easily, either by themselves or with some help at school. However, some children (some research suggests up to 30%) need to be carefully taught these skills.
Phonological awareness, or knowing that words are made up of sounds and syllables, is an important skill for beginning readers.
Many of the children who struggle to acquire reading skills have difficulties with phonological awareness skills such as:
- Identifying rhyming words
- Perceiving the difference between similar sounds (for example, m and n)
- Identifying the first sound in a word
- Remembering the sequence of sounds in a word
- Blending sounds together to form words
- Breaking words into syllables
- Read the words accurately and fluently
- Remember what has been read
- punctuation markers, such as full-stops and question marks
- what each word means, and be able to figure out the meaning of any unfamiliar words
- how sentences are constructed
- differences in types of text (for example, a fairy tale is constructed in a different way to a newspaper article)
- Use higher-order thinking skills to: understand the main ideas, make accurate inferences and predictions, and evaluate the information.
One of the programs we use at the Centre to develop reading comprehension skills is Visualising and Verbalising. We also use computer-based programs such as Fast ForWord.
Spelling How do children learn to spell words?
There are two ways to spell words.
Remember the word as a sight word
Some students try to remember how the word looks when learning spelling words. This can work well for students with a good visual memory.
This strategy is also useful for remembering homophones (for example, which and witch) and irregular words (words that are difficult to ‘sound out’, such as sure and choir). However, this strategy is difficult to use for long, complex words, and it doesn’t help students spell unfamiliar words.
Most English words can be sounded out if the student knows:
- how to break the word into syllables and sounds
- how letters and sounds are related
- how to apply spelling rules
Efficient spellers are able to use both strategies effectively.Many students who struggle with spelling have difficulties with phonological awareness skills such as:
- identifying rhyming words
- perceiving the difference between similar sounds (for example m and n)
- identifying the first sound in a word
- remembering the sequence of sounds in a word
- breaking words into syllables
This means that they have difficulties 'sounding out' spelling words.
The Centre's Speech Pathologists use a variety of methods to develop phonological awareness skills, including Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing and computer-based programs such as Fast ForWord. They also use the Spalding Method to develop both 'sounding out' skills and sight word knowledge for spelling.
To write stories, recounts, assignments and essays, a student needs to be able to:
- spell words quickly and accurately
- use punctuation correctly
- use a variety of sentence types
- use appropriate ‘signal words’ such as firstly, for example, on the other hand and in conclusion
- understand how different types of text are constructed (for example, a short story is constructed in a different way to a newspaper article)
- organise ideas into an appropriate sequence
- edit work carefully for organisation, grammar, spelling and punctuation.