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How to help children learn to read

teacher assistant helping a young student develop reading skills

How to help children learn to read

Reading is not a natural process. It is the interpretation of a system of symbols to make meaning. It is widely accepted that we generally don’t read each individual letter in a word. We see parts of words and whole words as one symbol. We even skip entire words in some cases. Reading is best taught using a combination of the following strategies:

  • Auditory training – hearing sounds over and over again
  • Phonics – knowledge of letters and sounds
  • Whole Language – whole sentences and texts
  • Spelling – learning the accepted spelling of common words as well as patterns

Phonics is a method of teaching students how to read. Phonics is normally used in the first few years of schooling and is the foundation for success in reading. Students begin by practicing how to read and say individual sounds such as those listed below. They then learn how to ‘sound out’ words by breaking the word into each sound.

Whole language teaching
Teachers and education assistants use connected print (whole words/texts such as a poem or lyrics as opposed to sounds and letters) to introduce reading to students. Students are encouraged to memorise words as whole units. They use hands-on activities such as writing in journals and analysing words in context by using pictures for meaning (such as connecting a word to a picture).

Whole language teaching has strengths in that students begin to read and write early. They are involved in connected print and are using personal language skills which make the process of reading more interesting. The weakness of the whole language method is that some students never get a full phonic foundation and struggle to decode unfamiliar words. Good readers always use phonics to decipher new words.


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