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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 cause trouble.

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.

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