Frequently Asked Questions About Reading

The information below has been adapted from Helping with Reading at Home, a Speld (SA) information sheet written by Rose Price and Karen Hodson, Adelaide psychologists, and Dyslexia – Action Plans for Successful Learning (2003), by Glynis Hannell. The use of the first person indicates that this is the author’s professional opinion.

How can I tell whether my 4 year old is at risk of reading difficulties? There is a family history of literacy problems. top

Reading and writing are derivatives of speech. Hence key indicators are:

  • a history of speech or language delay
  • difficulty identifying sounds in words and recognising rhyming words (phonological awareness skills)
  • history of recurrent ear infections
  • family history of literacy learning problems

A test of phonological awareness will reveal whether your child’s skills are appropriate for their age. Speech pathologists are the specialists in this field.

Other symptoms include:

  • muddling sounds in words eg ‘hostipal’ for ‘hospital’
  • enjoys being read to but no interest in looking at the words
  • has no interest in being read to (may be described as an ‘outdoor kid’)

For a comprehensive checklist, see How to tell if a young child may be at risk of dyslexia

What can I do to get my child’s reading off to a good start before they go to school? top

Pre-school children top

Spend five minutes a day reading to your child. Short stories, with pictures that your child can look at, are ideal. Make this a relaxing and enjoyable time together. While children may have favourite books you would like to buy, your local library has a wide range of picture books for borrowing.

Read, sing, recite nursery rhymes together top

Nursery rhymes play a vital role in the development of pre-reading skills. Reading and spelling rely on the ability to recognise the sequence of sounds in a word. The use of rhyme (rye/pie and sing/king) and alliteration (sing a song of sixpence) in nursery rhymes focusses attention on the sounds in words. Pre-school children usually enjoy the repetition and word-play in nursery rhymes.

Sing a Song of Sixpence includes both rhyme and alliteration:

Sing a song of sixpence
A pocket full of rye
Four-and-twenty blackbirds
Baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened
The birds began to sing
Wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the King!

Google ‘modern nursery rhymes’ for examples of traditional and modern nursery rhymes

Show your child how books work top

How to hold a book the right way up/open a book/turn the pages/read from left to right/ word by word/ line by line.

If you have the time and want a chuckle, have a look at for an amusing introduction to ‘the book’.

Talk about symbols and words seen regularly in daily life top

This creates an understanding of symbols and words as representing a particular meaning:
E.g., traffic signs, shop names, symbols on the doors of public toilets, name tags, product names

Reception children

Continue to read to your child daily top

Play word games that focus on the concept of words and sounds in words. The aim is develop awareness that speech is made up of words and words are made up of sounds. At this stage, work orally.

Word games (in developmental order)
  • Word counting. Say a sentence or phrase and ask your child how many words they hear eg, My dog. A big, red ball. The sea is blue. We went for a swim. They have a big garden. I like chocolate cake.
  • Tell me the missing word. Say to your child Listen to the words I say: dog, house. Now listen again, tell me the word that is missing, dog (house).
    • Start with two single-syllable words. Gradually increase the number of words and the number of syllables in each word. (Maximum 4 words with maximum total of 6 syllables)
  • Count syllables. There are many ways to count syllables. Syllables can be clapped, tapped on the table… Say to your child We are going to count and clap syllables. Bed has one syllable (clap and say bed), bedroom has two syllables (clap and say the two syllables of bedroom bed/room).
    • Start with single and two-syllable familiar words → maximum four-syllable words
    • Clap the syllables in people’s names
    • Pretend to be robots and talk syllable by syllable
  • Rhyming words.
    • Level 1: continue a sequence eg, bed, head, said (fed, Ned, led, …) Accept rhyming nonsense words.
    • Level 2: Tell me a word that rhymes with run Accept rhyming nonsense words.
  • Play ‘I-Spy’. Start at home with concrete items. Choose three items with different beginning sounds eg, fork, ball, apple. Place the items on a table and say: I spy with my little eye something beginning with /b/ (say the sound of the letter NOT the name).

    Note. Some children have difficulty with this task. They may have difficulty relating an isolated sound with a sound in a word. They may not grasp the concept of ‘beginning with’. In their efforts to think of a word, they may forget the letter. Don’t let your child struggle. Give reminders and say the sound, immediately followed by the word for each item, as a cue. I spy with my little eye something beginning with /b/. Is it f-fork, b-ball, a-apple?

When playing I-Spy in the car, accept any word that begins with the correct letter. If your child is struggling, give a choice of answers. I spy with my little eye something beginning with /s/. Is it ‘s-sun’ or ‘c-car? Give the answer if they hesitate. It is better for your child to hear the correct answer than to make a wrong guess.

For more word games and the later progression of activities, see Action Plans for Successful Learning by Glynis Hannell, available from the Speld(SA) shop.

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? top

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.

For children who have been introduced to all the letters of the alphabet but do not form them all correctly, letters can be grouped according to the initial movement of the hand. Using the approach outlined above is particularly important to overcome incorrect habits.

Letter-groups based on initial movement of the hand

Long sticks l h b k t p

Short sticks i n m r u

Walking sticks v w x y z

Ball letters (all start at 2 o’clock) c a d g q o

Letters with tails j q p g y

Special practice e f s z

Over time, the size of the letter is reduced to a more normal size.

When the movement pattern is learned, students are ready to work on worksheets


Use practice worksheets with a correct model to copy and additional dotted models to trace.

Where can I get worksheets to help with letter formation? top

Popular bookshops often have workbooks to help with handwriting.
Note. When buying a workbook, make sure than the handwriting style is the same as the one used at your child’s school.
To make your own worksheets, dotted fonts can be downloaded free from
Download the font to suit your computer platform and save it in your c drive.

You will need to unzip the folder before installing.

In windows go to control panel/fonts/file/install font and choose the font you wish to install. Two examples follow:

The dashed fonts, Learning Curve and Printed Dashed
Which font do you recommend for Junior Primary aged students with learning difficulties? top

For young children, who are in the early stages of handwriting, I prefer comic sans, as it has a round a. Choose a font size that is comfortable for your child.

My child is 5/6/7 years old and has difficulty with handwriting despite a lot of help and practice at home and at school. What can I do?top

For students who struggle with pencil control and eye/hand coordination, occupational therapists are the specialists to see.

My child is in Year 4 and still can’t write neatly. What should I do? top

For children from Year 4 upwards who have dysgraphia and/or handwriting problems, Speld (SA) recommends the use of a computer keyboard and, for some children, voice input software. (see software advisors when considering voice input software)

Can you recommend a Typing Tutor software program?top

There are a number of programs for improving keyboard skills on the market. Free typing tutors are also available by typing free typing tutor in Google. Some programs can be downloaded, for others you have to be on-line. One of the websites is

My child finds learning to type very boring. What can I do?top

Speld (SA)’s IT specialists recommend the following approach.

Because children tend to find typing practice boring, keyboard training works better if your child knows how long they have to do it for.

1. Set aside 10 minutes practice per day for 3 weeks.
2. Then give the typing program a rest for a while.

Note. We suggest you use a timer (microwave, oven, stopwatch) for the 10 minutes and let your child count off the days on a calendar, like a count down to Christmas.
Follow up with a week’s practice periodically and a reward!

What is voice input technology?top

Speech-to-text or speech-recognition software allows the user to speak into a microphone to enter text and control the computer functions by voice. If you are looking to buy a speech-to-text software program, we recommend a face-to-face or telephone consultation with a member of the Speld (SA) IT team. Speld (SA) software advisers are teachers with specific knowledge of the programs available for students with specific learning difficulties. They will demonstrate and let you try suitable programs.
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

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.

Practice games:

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.

Practice games:

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.

My child is 9 and hates reading. What can I do? top

1. Keep reading to your child. See below for strategies for reading aloud. This may be a story that your child’s peers are reading, a comic, or factual information about a topic they are interested in. New vocabulary and general knowledge are learnt through reading so it is important to maintain opportunities for your child to develop this knowledge even if they don’t read by themselves.

2. Search out modified books and magazines, often referred to as high interest/low vocabulary books. The books 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. High interest/low vocab. books and magazines can also be borrowed from Speld (SA) by state members.

3. To work out an appropriate level of difficulty, check that your child can read nine out of every ten words in the first few pages of a chosen book.

When reading to my child, how can I keep them involved? top
1. Read reflectively. Stop regularly and share what you are thinking. Relate what you are thinking to real life. Ask your child what they think.

Possible comments when reading a story:
a. That’s an interesting word. What do you think it means?

b. I don’t like this character because … What do you think of them?

c. I wonder whether someone would /could do that in real life.

d. I don’t think I’d have done it like that. What would you have done?

e. Chapters often end on a cliff hanger. Share what you think will happen next and ask your child for their prediction.

Possible comments when reading non-fiction

f. That seems expensive. What would you buy with that amount of money?

g. The Tyrannosaurus Rex was 4.6 to 6 m tall. How many floors would that be in a high rise building?

h. What do you admire most about the person described in the book?

i. Which is your favourite eg, motorbike, breed of dog, …in this book?

Note. There are lots of high interest/low vocabulary books that focus on sport stars, other famous people and teenagers’ interests.
My child is 7. They can sound out a word but can’t blend the sounds together to form a word. How can I help? top
(will be included shortly)
My child fidgets while they’re reading. Should I make them sit still? top
Many children fidget and wriggle when they find a task hard, are having difficulty concentrating, are anxious or are getting tired. I believe that if you ask a child to stop wriggling, you risk them focussing on keeping still rather than the task at hand. A fidgeting child may also be an indicator that it is time to stop.
I suggest that you

1. Allocate a set amount of time to reading. 5 to 10 minutes is plenty. Set a timer and allow your child to stop, even if they are in the middle of a word, when the buzzer goes. This gives your child a sense of control.

2. Vary the reading practice. On different days, you might

a. Read alternate sentences/paragraphs/pages. I recommend to parents that they go first to get the session started.

b. Read together. This gives you the opportunity to set the pace a little faster than your child’s usual speed.

c. You read for the first 5 minutes and your child reads for the last 5 minutes or vice versa.

d. Use timed reading. Let your child spend the reading session practicing reading the same passage until they are fluent and accurate. Time the first reading. Record the time taken and number of errors. At the end of the session, repeat the process aiming for reduction in time and errors.

3. Reward goal achievement. Maybe your child read for 5 minutes, made only two errors, used sounds to decode unknown words, correctly recognised some of their personal demons eg, they, were, when etc. Give descriptive praise eg, Well done. You divided ‘window’ into syllables and worked it out on your own.

Note. For additional ways to add variety to reading sessions, see Dyslexia – Action Plans for Successful Learningby Glynis Hannell, available from the Speld (SA) shop.
My child’s reading is very laboured, stop/start. What can I do? top
(will be included shortly)
When should you introduce text to speech? top

Text to speech can be introduce as early as the junior primary years. Students could be encourage to practice using text to speech when reading back a sentence they have typed on a word processor (did it make sense?) or to listen to text on a web page. It is useful for all students to learn how to use simple free text to speech not just those with difficulties.

What is text to speech? top

Text to speech allows students who have learning difficulties keep up with their peers by having a synthetic voice read either a single word or large amounts of text from the internet or in electronic documents such as a MS word doc. Text to speech technology can also allow students to get feedback about what they have written and allow access to electronic information for people who have never learnt to read.

Both Microsoft and Macintosh computers have text to speech components built into their operating systems.

Examples of free text to speech programs downloadable from the internet are MS Word Talk and Natural Reader. If you are looking to use a free or buy a text-to-speech software program, we recommend a face-to-face or telephone consultation with a member of the Speld (SA) IT team. Speld (SA) software advisers are teachers with specific knowledge of the programs available for students with specific learning difficulties. They will demonstrate and let you try suitable programs.
My child has to read a novel but it will take too long. What can I do? top

Many books are available in electronic book formats. To find out if the novel is available in an electronic format you can Google the author and title with the term e-book. If you cannot find the novel in an electronic format you may also contact the publisher and explain you need access to an electronic copy for a person with a learning disability. Other options are too see if the local library has a digital version of the story available or to see if the book has been made into a movie.

What is a an electronic book? top
An e-book (short for electronic book) is the digital media equivalent of a conventional printed book. Such documents are usually read on personal computers, or on dedicated hardware devices known as e-book readers ,Pocket PCs and some mobiles. Examples of an e-book reader that may help a student with specific learning difficulties include iBooks (where you can choose to read the book or use the speak selection option within the accessibility tools on an iPad or iPhone) and Kindle Touch or Kindle fire (which are e-books with text to speech capabilities).

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