PRINCIPLES FOR LEARNING TO READ
Create Appreciation of the Written Word
Long before children are able to engage in reading themselves, they must
feel that reading is something they would like to do. They must develop an
appreciation of the pleasures of written language and of the many ways
language is useful.
Develop Awareness of Printed Language
Children need to develop a basic sense of what print looks like and how
it works. They must learn how to handle a book, which way to turn the pages,
and that the printed words - not the pictures - tells the story when you
read. Children should be taught that words are all around them - in
newspapers, mail, billboards, signs, and labels - and have many different
and valuable purposes.
Learn the Alphabet
Comfortable and early familiarity with letters is critical for learning
to read. Children should learn the names of letters and to recognize and
form their corresponding shapes.
Understand the Relation of Letters and Words
Children need to learn that printed words are made up of ordered strings
of letters, read left to right. They should be helped to understand that
when the combination or order of letters is changed, the word that is
spelled also changes.
Understand That Language is Made of Words, Syllables, and Phonemes
The ability to think about words as a sequence of phonemes is essential
to learning how to read an alphabetic language. Children should become aware
of the building blocks of spoken language. They need to understand that
sentences are made up of strings of separate words. They should become
comfortable in hearing and creating rhymes. They should be led to play with
the sounds of language until they can pull words apart into syllables, and
pull syllables into individual phonemes.*
*A phoneme is the smallest functional unit of speech. The
word "cat" contains three phonemes: the /k/, /a/, and /t/ sounds. Letters
often represent more than one phoneme - the a in "cat" is a different
sound thant the a in "cake" - and sometimes a single letter will
contain more than one phoneme. For example, the word "ox" has two letters
but three phonemes: /o/, /k/, and /s/. Fluent readers learn to recognize
these discrete sounds of spoken words quickly, accurately, and
automatically. Phonemic awareness is the foundation on which all other
reading skills are built.
Learn Letter Sounds
Given a comfortable familiarity with letters and an awareness of the
sounds of phonemes, children are ready to learn about letter-sound
correspondence. The most important goal at this first stage is to help
children understand that the logic of the alphabetic writing system is built
on these correspondences.
Sound Out New Words
As children learn specific letter-sound correspondences, they should be
challenged to use this knowledge to sound out new words in reading and
writing. Making a habit of sounding out unfamiliar words contributes
strongly to reading growth, not just for beginners, but for all readers.
Children need to understand that sounding out new words can actually be a
strategy for helping them unlock pronunciations of words they have never
seen before, and can make what they are reading understandable.
Identify Words in Print Accurately and Easily
The ability to read with fluency and comprehension depends on recognizing
most words almost instantly and effortlessly. Once the framework for a new
word or spelling has been laid, through sounding and blending, the key to
recognizing it quickly and easily is practice. The most useful practice is
reading and rereading of meaningful text made up of words the child has been
taught to sound out. For beginners, such reading helps most if it is
relatively easy. As a rule of thumb, no more than one in 20 words should
Know Spelling Patterns
As children become reasonably capable of sounding out words in reading
and spelling, it is important that they notice the similarities in their
spellings. Awareness of spelling patterns that recur across words hastens
progress in reading and writing, and weak knowledge of spelling is an
impediment to mature readers.
Learn to Read Reflectively
Although the ability to sound out words is essential for learning to
read, it is not enough. Written language is not just speech written down.
Instead, text brings new vocabulary, new language patterns, new thoughts,
and new modes of thinking. To enjoy and profit from reading, children must
also learn to take the time to reflect on these aspects of text.