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How to teach reading: the code is called "phonics."

Learning to read is not an arcane skill that can only be taught by professionals, no matter what the public school industry says. Anyone who can read can teach someone else to read. Language is natural to humans. Many children as young as two teach themselves to read. I have a theory that anyone, if left alone, would learn to read eventually. I didn't learn to read until I started school but a month later I was reading anything I could get my hands on. What probably happened was I figured out the code for myself.

The code is called phonics. The only effective way to learn to read is with phonics.

All languages are constructed phonetically. English is a large language with a lot of words and if you have to learn to recognize each word individually it will take a very long time before you can read fluently. Phonics is simply a set of rules that you learn that make it possible to figure out any word you see. Once the code is learned anyone can learn to read in a very short time. It doesn't take eight years, the way the industry would have you believe.

You don't just set a five-year-old down and try to teach him to read words right out of the blue. Language must be taught from the time a child is born. You start out by talking to your child. Some people never talk to their children except to say, "shut up." When he learns to talk, point to objects and ask him what they're called. You are building his vocabulary.

Read to him. It's the most important thing you can do for your child. Read stories before bed, signs along the road, cereal boxes at breakfast, anything with words on it. There is a poem that ends:

Richer than I you can never be,

I had a mother who read to me.

There are two elements to reading. One is learning to recognize the words. The other is knowing the meaning of the words. It does no good to learn to read words if you don't know what they mean.

Wait until the child is ready

Don't try to teach a child to read until he is ready. You don't want to push him. But how do you know when he's ready? If you've been doing the above, you'll know. He'll start pointing to words and asking you what they are. That tells you he knows what words are and that they mean something. But, let's say you have a child whom you entrusted to the public school system and they failed and you must take over the job. You can tell if a child is ready to read with a simple test. Draw a triangle, a square, and a circle. Above them draw a triangle. Point to the triangle on top and ask the child which one on the bottom is the same. He doesn't need to know what they are called. He just needs to know how to tell them apart. Draw three triangles and a square in a row and ask him which one is different. If he can't tell a triangle from a square he won't be able to tell a B from a D. Then you can get more complicated and use pictures of animals or cars. Then try letters.

Once again, he doesn't have to know the names. Start with letters that are very unlike then move on to more subtle differences. Can he tell a b from a d or an L from a J? You can even try words. Can he tell red from bed?

You'r ready to start

If you think he's ready, you can start to teach.

First, assemble some equipment. You need paper, pencils, crayons, markers. A blackboard would be nice or a large piece of paper hung on the wall. Go to the toy store and get some of those plastic letters, or cut some from cardboard. Better yet, cut them from sandpaper or fabric. Different textures and colors will help some children learn. Get some of those big alphabet cards with upper and lower case letters that the schools put up on the walls and put them around the room at the child's eye level. If you are lucky you might find near you one of those stores that sell school supplies. But there is no reason why you have to buy anything you can make yourself. In fact, your student can help. You can make them as you learn them. Flashcards are also helpful.

Go to the library and get books on phonics. Get hold of some old-time readers. McGuffey is the best-known but all readers in the old days were set up the same way. American Book Co. is still printing the old McGuffeys. Sometimes the book stores have them, or catalogues. There are also tapes. "Hooked on Phonics" is one that advertises on radio and tv. Another is called "Fast Track." I have no personal experience with them but I've heard that the latter was developed by teachers.

The newspaper as a tool

When teaching an adult or older child, the newspaper is a good tool to use. Most of them are written on a third grade level and the columns are narrow making it easier to follow. Adapt the material to the age and interests of the student. Most people will take to reading faster if they read about things they are interested in. For boys it might be sports or cars. Girls are frequently into horses.

I don't think it's necessary to start with the alphabet, although at some point it has to be taught. There are a lot of adults running around who never learned it and can't use a dictionary or a phone book. In fact, you can teach a very young child to recite the alphabet before he even knows what it means. It gives him something to show off with and saves time later. But it's more important that he learn the names of the letters and what they sound like.

Start with the consonants. Start with the ones that have only one sound and that have hard sounds, such as B, D, K, P, and T. Then move on to the ones with soft sounds. Don't confuse him with silent H's at this point or with the fact that Y is sometimes a consonant and sometimes a vowel. Leave that for later. G and C have both a hard and soft sound but start with the hard sound.

Once you're sure he can recognize the names and sounds of the consonants, teach the vowels. A word here about phonics. Linguists have identified dozens of different vowel sounds but it isn't necessary to go into that much detail.It's too confusing. There are really only three different sounds for A: father, bat and ape; two for E: bed and bee; two for I: pit and hide; three for O: on, open and zoo; two for U: up and use.

Consonants are like fence posts and vowels are like the wire strung between them - or make up your own analogy. Vowels are the sounds that fill up the spaces between consonants. Start with short vowels because you can make short words out of them using just two consonants and a vowel as in, bed, dog, tip and bug. Use concrete words that he knows the meaning of. Make lists of words using the same vowel sound, such as bed, fed, red. Have the child make some up. Make as many as you can and repeat, repeat, repeat. Show that even though the consonants may change, the vowel stays the same. Make up games. Take a word that means something you sleep in and change the first letter to make a color. Use pictures with the words if it helps.

When you've gone about as far as you can with these simple words, start using words with two consonants together such as sled, stop, this, when, bird, send and best. Then you can move on to long vowel sounds. It's best to use the silent E at this point, as in made, ride, more. Then use stone and slide. Then go to words like bead and braid.

Keep progressing from the simple and easy to more difficult and complicated. Eventually you introduce two-syllable words and compound words and so on. Never more on until the student has got what you're teaching now. This is one of the faults of the public school system. They don't stay with anything long enough for the kids to really learn it. Don't push too hard. You might make him hate doing it. If he gets bored or fussy, stop. This is not a race or contest. The object is to learn to read. It doesn't matter how long it takes.

Repetition and reinforcement

The key to teaching is repetition and reinforcement. Find opportunities during the day to reinforce what the child has learned. If you see a word that fits the lesson you've been doing, point it out. When you read to him have him follow along with you and if you come to a word he should know, stop and see if he can say it. Have him read aloud along with you. If he doesn't know a word, he'll stop and let you say it. One of the techniques that teachers a long time ago used to use was to have the whole class read aloud together.

Don't let anyone tell you it isn't okay to move your lips when you read silently or to point to the words as you go along. In fact, a child who has trouble keeping his place can hold a piece of paper under the line. Forget about etiquette and concentrate on results.

Don't just read. Write the words, too. If he asks you how to spell a word, tell him. Don't make him look it up unless you don't know.

When he gets to the point where he can read alone make sure he knows all the words and can tell you what the story was about.

Be flexible, be creative, be adaptive. There is no right or wrong way to teach. If one technique doesn't work, try another.

There is one thing you ought to know. Just because you've taught someone to read doesn't necessarily mean that he will read. Some people just don't read and there's nothing you can do about it. But it is still important that he know how so he can when he needs to. There was a time when it wasn't necessary to be able to read. Information was passed on by word of mouth. The original purpose of teaching reading was so that people could read the Bible. Now we have to be able to read job applications, instructions, ingredients on food and insurance forms. Today, learning to read is vital.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Countryside Publications Ltd.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Wolken, Catherine
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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