Now that there is such a wealth of knowledge in regards to how kids learn to read, we know that we want to teach our kids decoding strategies, not guess work.
How our brains learn to read: background research
Speech develops naturally through exposure and immersion in language. The same cannot be said for reading and writing. Reading and writing are man-made concepts. Our brains are hard-wired for SPEECH, but not for reading. The brain must therefore develop essential neural systems in order to learn to read, and for most children, this needs to be explicitly taught.
There has been decades of research into how the brain learns to read, and what needs to happen in order to build efficient neural connections for reading.
The simple view of reading provides a useful framework for understanding how children learn to read:
So, how do we help students to apply their phonics knowledge when they get stuck on a word?
Well— I hope that some of these characters might be able to help them out! They are here to replace Eagle Eye, Skippy Frog, and other reading strategy characters who aren't backed by the research.
This is one of the first important reading strategies which we teach to kids – they need to start on the left of the PAGE and the left of the WORD.
Model this strategy to your students, and provide them with scaffolds and supports to assist them as they develop this habit. This could be the use of pointers/googly eyes, or using the language of a special ‘reading finger’.
This character may only be necessary for some students. Pointing Percy helps students to focus on all of the sounds and words, using their pointer finger to keep them on track.
Grapheme Graham helps students to focus on all the sounds in a word (not just the first sound). Students may need to use a scaffold (e.g. pointers, googly eyes) to support them as they bounce from one sound to the next.
Blending Belinda encourages students to blend the individual sounds together in order to read the word. Students may also need to stretch the sounds first, before blending them. You can find more tips and tools for promoting blending skills in this blog post.
Robbie Revealer may only be necessary if your students are struggling to blend the sounds together. By covering up the sounds, and then revealing the word sound by sound, students can decode the word slowly but surely.
Observant Olivia reminds students to keep their eyes on the words. Students will often look up, either for approval/help, or because they are distracted. Observant Olivia helps students to know the importance of keeping their eyes on the text as they are decoding and reading, to avoid making careless mistakes.
Chopping Charlie can be used once students have learned to break a word into syllables. There are 6 main syllable types, and the explicit teaching of each syllable type will equip students to effectively break words apart in order to decode them. More information about syllables will also be shared in another blogpost soon!
One simple strategy for teaching students to chop up words into syllables is the use of 'syllaboards' or post it notes. Syllaboards help students break words into chunks for reading and spelling.
An example of the steps are shown below, using post-it notes:
Base Word Blake
This is another more advanced strategy to use once students have learned some inflectional endings (e.g. –ed, -ing, -er) and prefixes (e.g. un-, dis-, pre-). Longer words can be hard o conceptualise when breaking down by each individual sound. By breaking a word into the base word, then prefixes/suffixes, this provides students with an easier way to break apart longer words and successfully decode them. This morphemic spelling knowledge is taught once students have mastered the basics of the alphabetic code, and will help students to develop a deeper understanding of the English language.
Whilst Meaning Matilda doesn’t align to one specific phonics strategy, she represents the fact that students must ultimately COMPREHEND what they have read. They must listen to what they are reading, and pay attention when something doesn’t make sense – it will most likely be a clue that they have made an error whilst decoding. Meaning Matilda encourages students to attend to meaning, and self-correct when necessary.
Other prompts that teachers can use when students make decoding errors:
Wait Time – give students enough time to problem-solve and self-correct. If students require further assistance, encourage them to keep their eyes on the word, and to identify the sounds that they know.
Silent pointing cues – point to the error rather than verbalising it. This will allow a student to attend to the error without disrupting their thinking too much.
Verbal cues – verbally prompt students with comments such as ‘what other sound does that digraph make?’ or ‘check the middle sound that you used there’. If there is a spelling pattern that you haven’t yet taught, prompt the student with that sound. For example, if a child comes across the word ‘rain’ but they haven’t learned the long /a/ sound yet: ’This is the sound ‘ai’. Ask student to repeat the sound, and to then decode the word.
Model decoding of the word – model segmenting and blending the word, encouraging the student to keep their eyes on the word. Then ask the child to repeat what you have modelled to them – segment and blend the word themselves.
Provide the word – if the word contains multiple sounds that you haven’t yet taught, provide them with the word.
Re-read – if a child has had to be prompted, ask them to re-read the sentence up until the point of the error so that meaning is not disrupted.
Would you like these free posters?
Head to the Freebee Library section, and you'll find these posters ready to be downloaded and used in your classroom TODAY! You'll also find lots of other evidence-based phonics resources to support you and your students.
These posters are also available in a variety one-page versions as well.
And if you're looking for more quality, evidence-based phonics resources, check out the phonics section of Mrs Learning Bee.