Teach letter/sound associations [top]
Ask your child’s teacher which early literacy program they use and learn how it works and what you can do to support your child. Ask the teacher to present a parent session to demonstrate the program. Popular early literacy programs include: Jolly Phonics and Letterland. Different programs present the letters of the alphabet in different sequences.
Research indicates that letter/sound associations (phonics) are best taught as part of a multisensory early literacy program that integrates the teaching of the sounds of the letters, how to blend sounds together to form words and correct letter formation. A multisensory program enables your child to learn through different learning channels (sight, hearing, saying, writing, thinking).
Where do I start? The following skills are in developmental order
1. Relating letters to pictures based on the initial sound
2. Use more than one picture/word for each letter sound so that your child realises that /b/ is for banana, and bed, and boots etc. There are picture books where each page focuses on one beginning sound.
3. Teach correct letter formation. Teach your child to form letter shapes in the following way:
a. Introduce the letter and ask your child to provide words which begin with the sound.
b. Present a large, clear letter on a vertical board and trace the letter, describing the movements aloud as they are made.
c. Your child traces the letter in the air several times. As they skywrite, watch to see where they start and the direction of their movements.
d. The use of the whole arm is encouraged as this aids ‘motor memory’.
e. Your child traces over your model on the board and then copies the letter underneath.
f. Your child says the sound of the letter before they write it. This helps establish the link between the symbol and its sound.
Children having difficulty may need:
g. to copy you as you skywrite the letter
h. you to guide their arm to skywrite the letter
i. more tracing
j. their hand guided over the letter on the board
k. to close their eyes so they concentrate on the motor pattern.
Note: Some students find it helpful to verbalise their movements.
Letters can be practised using chalk on a blackboard, Textas or large crayons on newsprint, with a finger in sand, over sandpaper, finger on carpet
Is there a special order for teaching the formation of the letters of the alphabet?
For children, learning to write letters for the first time, take the order from that of the program being used for teaching letter sounds at school so your child learns the sound and how to form the letter at the same time.
My child cannot remember which letter is which. What can I do to help? [top]
Some children have a lot of difficulty remembering letters and their associated sounds. As well as encouraging correct letter formation and saying the sound at the same time (see above), teach letter/sound matching and recognition using the following approach. Adapt the task to ensure success.
The following approach to learning letters and their sounds is in developmental order.
1. Start with letter matching. You will need two sets of lowercase letters. These can be wooden or plastic, printed on magnetic tiles or written on cards.
Hold up a letter and say the sound. This is /p/. Find me another /p/. To ensure early success, give only 2 or 3 known letters (that look different) to choose from eg, s, a, p. Gradually, increase the number of letters to choose from.
2. Letter recognition. Spread up to six of the letters your child knows in front of them and ask them to Find /n/
3. Saying the sound of the letter. Show your child a single letter and ask What is the sound of this letter?
4. Writing letters. Ask your child to Write the letter that makes the /m/sound
How much practice does my child need?
Some children need a lot of practice to learn new letters and their sounds and repeated revision to remember them. For people without learning difficulties, a rule of thumb for learning a new skill is 100 practices. A person with a learning difficulty may need 10 times more practices for a skill to become automatic.
Blending Activities [top]
Being able to blend the sounds in words is often a hurdle for students with reading difficulties. Students may be able to give the sounds for the letters but have difficulty blending the sounds together.
Sometimes, they have difficulty remembering all the sounds or remembering the sounds in order.
Sometimes, they can blend the sounds but cannot relate them to a known word.
Pre-schoolers and students who have difficulty working with the sounds in words can benefit from oral practice.
1. Run the sounds in a 3-letter word eg, m-a-t. Ask your child to listen and say the word.
Note. A word may be more recognisable if you say the first sound louder than the rest.
2. Play sound blending games
a. Do what I say /s/i/t/, /r/u/n/, /h/o/p/
b. Clap when you hear the name of a toy (or pet or food etc) /c/a/t/, /d/o/g/, /c/ar/
3. Begin a word and ask your child to complete it with the aid of a picture of the object eg /c/a/…(t)
4. Sound blend names of objects around the room.
5. Sound blend words that rhyme with a given word eg What rhymes with /p/e/t/?
My child can read the word elephant but gets short, common words like when, what, where wrong? Why? [top]
Children can often recognise words like caterpillar, television, electric because they are visually distinctive, they are phonically regular and they carry meaning for a child. We call these words content words.
In contrast, words like then, they, there are visually similar, do not carry a strong meaning and are hard for many children to remember. We call these words process words.
How do I help my child to remember the short, common words that they repeatedly confuse
The following approach to teaching commonly used words is developmental.
Developing sight word knowledge [top]
Once your child has a firm knowledge of letter/sound associations, they are ready to build up a bank of commonly used words. The Dolch sight word lists include the 220 most frequently used words in children’s books. For a complete list, go to www.learningbooks.net/whydolchwords.html
Note Some of the words have regular spelling patterns and some do not. If the spelling is regular, show your child how to sound it out or divide it into syllables first.
Level 1. Matching words (cards are face up) [top]
This teaches your child to look carefully at letter patterns.
Choose 3-5 different words and write each word out four times on separate cards. Spread the cards out on the table face up. Choose one word card and show it to your child.
Say: This word is “my”. Find another card that says “my”. Hand the card to your child so they have the visual image of the word in front of them. Continue until there are no cards left.
Creating sets Spread the cards used in level 1 on the table. Time your child as they group the words into sets. They need to say each word as they pick it up. Using the same word cards on the following day, spread the cards on the table face up and see if your child can beat yesterday’s time.
Snap for two players Deal 2 cards from each word set (see above) to each player. Shuffle each player’s cards. Players hold their cards face up and take turns to place their top card on the table, saying the word as they put it down. A hand on top of two matching cards indicates SNAP. The person with most matching pairs wins.
Level 2. Matching words (without an example to look at) [top]
This teaches your child to hold a mental image of a written word.
Choose 3-5 different words and print each word out four times on separate cards. Spread the cards on a table face-up. Choose one word card and show it to your child.
Say: Look at this word. It says “my”. Look carefully because I am going to turn it over. Place the word face down and say: Find another card that says “my”. Continue until there are no cards left.
If the student has difficulty, return to Level 1.
Snap As above with the cards in each player’s hand face down.
Memory game Spread the cards face down on a table. Take turns to turn over two cards and say the word on each card. The player with most matching pairs wins.
Level 3. Recognising a named word [top]
This teaches your child to link a written word with a spoken word.
Choose 3-5 different words and write each word on four separate cards. Spread the cards face up on a table.
Say: Find me a card that says “my”.
Level 4. Reading words by sight [top]
This is the most difficult level. Your child is asked to remember how a word ‘looks’ from earlier learning and to name the word.
Choose 3-5 different words and write each word on four separate cards. Spread the cards on a table face up.
Point to the words in turn and say: What does this word say?
Use flash cards and any of the games described above for practice. Revision of all words previously learnt once a week will help your child to remember them.
Note. For suggestions on how to teach sentence building using a similar step-by-step approach, see Action Plans for Successful Learning by Glynis Hannell, available from the Speld (SA) shop.
My child has difficulty reading many of the words in their reader. I think it may be too hard. What do you suggest? [top]
I have written a short answer and a longer answer to this question. The short answer follows. For a more detailed response, see Choosing Books for Beginning Readers on the SPELD (SA) website.
Children need practice reading books they can manage independently.
1. Choose books where your child is able to read nine out of every ten words. This will encourage fluent reading.
2. Choose books from a well structured phonic-based reading program, such as the Fitzroy Readers. This will ensure that your child is introduced to new sounds and words in a developmental sequence. The Fitzroy Readers have a controlled vocabulary and each book builds upon the skills learnt in previous stories. They may be found in school and class libraries, your local library, or at SERU, the SA Education Department’s Special Education Resource Unit. SERU supports parents from all school sectors. Fitzroy Readers can also be borrowed from Speld (SA) by state members.