Some of you may be in a school position where you are trying to help children who have already become discouraged and see themselves as non-readers and have 'given up' wanting to try, but you are not in a position to do this programme with them . How can you coax an interest in wanting to learn to read in these children? May be you are a classroom assistant and you know that the children you are working with cannot cope with the work you are expected to do with them. What can you do?
Over the years I have tried many ways of helping 'difficult' cases to learn to read.
Some things I tried before I discovered phonics, but I think I would still try them now, but then move on to the phonics programme as soon as I could (if I was in a position to do so) as I still see it as essential for all children, to help the child to become a confident reader and speller. These ideas actually do use look and say to start with, despite all that I have said in the main pages of this site. But remember, we are talking here about children who have become despondent. They are probably year 2 plus children. They may well have had poor phonics teaching and the teachers have deemed phonics not to be working for them. This is probably because the phonic system used was not systematic, or because the teacher did not understand phonics her/himself. My phonic programme will work, but you may not be in a long term position to use it, but you can do something to help! You can point them in the right direction.
Let me share with what I have done with children, that has worked, to lift a child off of the bottom and out of despair. In fact I did this even with my own son who wasn't talking fluently until age 5, to get him reading. I started him off with sight words but as quickly as I could I started to train his ear to hear sounds in words (as he learnt them in speech therapy) and recognise his initial sounds and then we transitioned on to the phonic programme, but sight words got him started.
Have a little word box for each child. Start with the child's first name, write it clearly in correct case on a small piece of card. Card is better than paper as it is more durable. Make sure the initial letter is a capital and properly form your letters. See 'How to form letters' if you are not sure.
Hopefully the child can recognise their own name, if not introduce it and stress that this is one word they can read.
Then add their surname. Spend this first session looking at those two names. What sound do they begin with? Can they hear the initial sound as they say it, as you say it. Can they feel it with their lips and their tongue?
Let's take the name Benjamin. Say 'When we say your name, Benjamin, right at the very beginning of the word we put our lip together like this. (Mime saying 'B') then we gently make a sound as we blow our lip s apart. You try. It's the sound 'b'. When we write the sound 'B' we can do it in two ways (demonstrate on paper/chalk board/white board). Because this is your name and it's special we use the capital letter 'B' to start it.'
Don't expect the child to remember the sound. At this stage we are just developing a link in the child's mind between the sound they hear and feel with their lips when they say their name and a symbol to represent that sound on the paper. You can teach them to write the initial sounds of their names too, if they can not already do it, but even so, it helps if they can write each letter, saying it's sound as they write.
Practice reading these two words. Put them behind your back and say 'I'm going to show you a word, I wonder if you'll be able to read it?' and be delighted when they can. Again this is no guessing. You are only asking them to read words that you have already taught them what they say.
Then get to know your child. Ask what they like doing, What is their favourite toy/game/food. You are going to use this information to make their reading lesson unique to them.
Let's say their favourite game is football. My next word would be 'ball'. This is a noun, a naming word and naming words are easier to remember than words like this/they/the.
Again write it on a card and add it to their box and introduce it at the next session. Tell them what is says. Emphasise the initial sound again.
Now take out all three cards and say 'We are going to play a game'. I'll show you a card and you see if you can read it to me'. Take one card (I always start with their first name to build confidence), show it to the child and let them see if they can remember it. This is look and say at this point, but you have looked at the initial sound and that may help provide a clue. So hopefully they will be able to read the word you have shown them. Praise them if they get it right, encourage them if they need help but keep playing until they can read all three words quickly. If you feel they are ready for another word then proceed, if not spend another session working on these three words.
Introduce one more noun, maybe another toy, or favourite food. Add the word to the flashcards in the box and practice until it is secure. On the next page in their book, write this new word.
It's now time to add in another little word...'a'. It happens to be the first in the alphabet, so continue the phonic training, explain that it sometimes says it's name 'ay'. Make a flashcard for it and put it in the box. Each session, take all the words from the box, practice them, play games with them. See 'Hands behind the back' and 'Which one will you choose' on the GAMES PAGE.
Now it's time to start putting two words together. 'a ball', 'a sausage' whatever their nouns were. If you need 'an' then use 'an' too but introduce it as a new word and teach them to sound it out by emphasising the two sounds. Can they feel them, hear them? Phonics is being introduced here, but in a low key way - just introducing the idea.
I would write these little sentences one each on a new page in the book.
'a ball' on one page. 'a sausage' on another. Let them read their book each session. It can take the place of the flashcards sometimes.
When that's secure, I teach 'look'. Most children find it an easily memorable word. Draw their attention to the first sound. Can they hear 'lllll' and feel it. The two 'o's' are saying 'oo' - just tell them, but don't expect them to remember, then on the end there is a nice 'k' sound. Say 'look' and really emphasis the 'k'. 'K' kicks hard and makes a lovely distinct hard 'k'. Can they say a hard 'kicking k'?
Then we can make 'look, a ball', 'look a sausage'. For any that really have trouble I draw eyes in the 'oo's to remind them! Make new pages, write the new sentences.
Now add in 'is'. Just make a flashcard, but don't try and make sentences yet - you won't be able to! Again, focus on the 'i' sound and the 's' which is making a hard buzzing sound in this word. Can they hear them, can they produce the sounds? You see we are teaching them that the letters they see in these words are no accident. There is logic and order to words. They don't have the code yet (phonics) but they are developing their phonetic awareness, which is very important. Meantime we are trying to help them feel that they are readers.
Maybe throw in another noun here - 'aeroplane' is a good one, its long and again easily memorable, although not an easy one for phonics!! So don't attempt to confuse the child by sounding it, just add it to the flashcards. Children often are pleased they can read such a big word, it boosts their confidence no end! Once learnt it can have it's own page in their book, then another page saying 'an aeroplane' (introduce 'an' here if you haven't already as above.)
Now it's time for a hard word..'here'. Write 'here' on one side of the flashcard, and 'Here' on the other. It is easier if it is attached to sentences so I start by putting it in front of 'a .......'. So Make a sentence with the flaschards on the table:
'here is a ball' (choose one of your nouns). Read it to the child. Can they read it back? Now they should know all the words except 'here' so prompt them for 'here' if they stall, then let them finish the sentence themselves.
Now make other sentences using the other nouns....'Here is an aeroplane.' 'Here is a sausage'. Only after introducing in sentences, put the words back in the tin. Take out 'here' and only two others that they know well, maybe the nouns. Play 'Hands behind the back' until they can say 'here' when they see it. Praise, tease (I bet you can't read this word, it's so difficult!) Laugh with them when they get it right, but if they don't, prompt until they do, then praise. Keep going a few times more then stop for that session. At the start of the next session, go back to making the sentences first before playing with the flashcards. You see we want to build success, not failure. We want to make it easy for them to succeed, one tiny step at a time.
Now you can see we can add to our sentences, 'Look, here is a ball.' and so on.
Can they find the words to make the sentence you say? Can they make up a sentence of their own? Think of ways to keep reinforcing the words they have learnt and slowly extending their reading vocabulary. Keep praising, but keep it genuine.
I could go on, and write pages but hopefully you are beginning to get a feel for what is necessary? You may never be able to do more than sight words with the child, but what you have done will be invaluable, especially if you have emphasised the link between what is seen and what is heard/felt.
If you are being asked to do the high frequency words with the child, then slowly work through them, using your imagination to present them one at a time in a meaningful way. Add in more nouns as you need - car, bus, pram, park, lorry, McDonalds (OK we might not condone frequent meals here but if this is the experience of your student then it will be meaningful to them. One lad I taught only ever could think of 'Kentucky Fried Chicken'!) You see we are not anti-meaning!! These children just need the whole process broken down into minute steps.
Use your imagination to do whatever you think will help them learn. Make your sessions purposeful, meaningful, progressive - i.e. the child can feel their progress, see their progress as the pile of words gets bigger and they can read more and more sentences.
Now I don't go along with look and say because at some point you will reach saturation point and they will find it harder to retain new words. So my aim all along is to steer them towards phonics so I can start my programme with them. So at some point check their knowledge of initial sounds. Have a check sheet beside you and discreetly note the ones causing problems and seek to do activities to 'firm up' that stage one knowledge. Continue to train their ears to hear sounds in words. Sometimes, just play hearing games....even without letters, use whistles, bells, rattles etc.. so they equate hearing with reading. Keep the phonics in mind all along.
If you are in a school setting, see if they won't buy Vera's phonic games books for you to use with the children. They make learning so much more fun and were written while she was doing one to one work with children needing reading-catch up. They were her way of using her imagination to give each child just what they needed. Each game was originally created with an individual child's needs at heart.
Now you also have the option of purchasing some of these games for a small price, ready made and instantly downloadable. See the examples below.
Finally, if you have any questions, do please ask.
Lilibette taught for many years in a London state primary school, having responsibility for the teaching of reading.