Sunday, April 7, 2013

Reader Question: Have any tips for beginning word recognition?

"My 3 year old little boy has a speech delay but comprehends a year and half above his age. We have been working on looking at letters, noticing what sounds the first and last letters of words are and other things as such. I was thinking about putting some words on things around the house (such as "door" on the door, etc.). I have seen where the vowels of words are highlighted in different colors. Is this something I should consider doing when I post words around the house? Any other tips to begin word/letter recognition would be appreciated :) Thanks as always!!" -Holly 

Such a great question, Holly. Many parents struggle with taking the next step in teaching their child how to read once he has mastered the alphabet. I'm going to address your questions within each category below. 

Phonemic Awareness: 

I think it's great that you are working with him on noticing the sounds of the first and last letters of words. I would suggest expanding on that by working on word endings with him. For example, if he notices the word STOP on a stop sign you can help him come up with other -OP words and even write them down for him so he can see them in print. Or, give him an index card with "__op" written on it and have him use magnetic letters (or just letters written on index cards) to fill in the blank. Make it a game. How many words can you both come up with? Which words are real words and which are nonsense (or made up) words? Sort the words into 2 categories (real vs. nonsense). 

Once he has mastered initial word sounds, teach him some 2-letter blends. This will take the game to a whole new level! Initially, he will come up with words like bop, top, and mop. After you teach him blends, encourage him to come up with words like flop, blop, and clop

Eventually, he will learn about consonant digraphs (letter combos that make a whole new sound and individual letter sounds are not heard), and he will be able to make words like shop and chop, but I wouldn't worry about teaching him that at this stage. If he comes up with these words during your game, certainly write them down and praise him, but I wouldn't suggest directly teaching it until first or second grade. They can be confusing for children who are just starting to read and are working on letter-sound correlations. 

Environmental Print: 

Environmental print is the first introduction that most children have to reading. Basically, environmental print is any words you see around you; words on road signs, cereal boxes, or on the front of the magazine you have laying on the coffee table. Early Emergent Readers will often point to words they see around them and ask, "What does that say?" Or, if they are starting to make the connection that words have meaning, they will figure out the word themselves and say, "That says STOP!" 

So, should you label things around the house? Definitely. Should you label every door, chair, window, etc.? Absolutely not. Labeling is only effective if it has a purpose. If you label the back door to your house, chances are that he will notice it immediately after you put it up. He may even read it on his own, thinking, "This word starts with the letter D and it is on the door. Oh, I know. It says door!" You will be proud and think that he knows the word. But, then when he sees it isolated and mixed up with other D words and has no idea what the word is, you will likely get frustrated and think, "What's the matter with him? That word has been hanging on the back door for weeks!" This is because there was no purpose to the word being there. He read it once because it was something different in his environment, so it stood out to him. After that, he paid no further attention to it. 

What's the moral of my hypothetical story?  Don't waist your time labeling arbitrary items in your house. Instead, spend time organizing and labeling his toys. He will HAVE to read the labels every time he puts his toys away. Take his cereal out of the boxes and put them in separate storage containers labeled with their names. Instead of just recognizing the color or logo on the box, he will HAVE to read the labels every morning when deciding what he wants for breakfast. Post directions for routines you want him to master. For example, you can post in the bathroom "1. Make your donation in the potty. 2. Flush and put the seat down. 3. Wash and dry your hands." Until he has mastered the routine, make him go back into the bathroom and read the directions to see what he has missed. Make a responsibility chart for chores you want him to do and behaviors you want him to master. Every night before bed, have him read through the list and give him stars (checks, or whatever) for a job well done. 

You asked if you should worry about making vowels a different color in words you label around the house. This is used for teaching vowels and vowel sounds, and I prefer to keep words looking as "whole" as possible when they are posted in the environment. (The different colors make the words look choppy to me.) So, just print your words using one color. However, feel free to use the multiple color strategy during any of your phonics lessons with him, especially if you are working on vowel sounds. 

Other Tips for Early Emergent Readers:

  • Start teaching sight words. You can find more information about this in my post about sight words here. I am about to start teaching a group of four EER's using a sight word approach (rather than a phonics approach). Each week they will be learning 1-2 new sight words and reading books that will allow them to practice what they have learned. Here is a good website where you can download and print FREE mini-books for EER's, to help you get started. 
  • Write everything down for your EER. Use graphic organizers to record the highlights of your conversations after reading a book. Have him help you write a shopping list and then have him read the items to you while you are shopping together. 
  • Read, read, read to him!!! Every day. Several times a day. 

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