Reading Tips and the Incorporation of Visual Phonics for Young Children Who Struggle

  • EVERYDAY reinforce the idea of how reading works – that there are different parts to being a good reader  . . . figuring out what a word is, knowing what it means, knowing if it makes sense, knowing how to read well enough that you can put sentences together in a story and figure out what it’s saying, etc.  In your own words, RIETERATE that reading can be tough – even if you have trouble with just one of the things mentioned above, it can affect the whole “shebang”. It takes some people longer to learn all of the parts – that’s nothing to be ashamed of  . . .  Don’t Give Up!
  • Struggling readers learn at an early age that impatient adults or other children will gladly say words for them if they just hesitate for even a couple of seconds. REINFORCE the importance of trying to figure out words for themselves. In life you’ll want to be able to read menus, signs, the newspaper, magazines, ezines, email, job applications, instructions for how to play games, etc. Someone else won’t always be with you . . . my job is to help you learn to do all of this by yourself. THEN, be sure to allow all students at least 10 seconds “wait time”. This takes practice on your part (and on the part of other students), but it is essential. If it is simply taking too much time in a large group, then at least do it in a small group of one-on-one, with a paraeducator, volunteer, or you.
  • For all words that are not automatic, but ARE phonetic, insist that the child blend the word with the hand shapes  (written symbols can be used can be used if the student is still struggling with isolated letter/sound correspondence). Observe closely the first several times to make sure the hand shapes are being made correctly. BE sure to remind the student how each hand shape parallels what their mouth/tongue/teeth/lips and the air are doing when the sound is made. Using the VP hand shapes, blend with increasing speed as time goes on, insisting that the student make the sound with their mouth as they shape it with their hand. Once the blending is accomplished, say “and the word is ___” (if you take something apart, always put it back together – brains like this much better).
  • For words that ARE NOT phonetic, put in Visual Phonics written symbols under the “tricky” part(s). This can be done ahead of time, if you are working on a particular list of words, or it can be done as the child reads aloud with a person who is familiar with the VP system. As the child blends (at first with hand shapes), tell them to move their eyes/hand from the traditional print to the VP written symbols under the tricky part(s), then back up to the regular print. If it is appropriate at the time of the lesson, take time to examine the tricky part of the word. Circle or highlight the traditional print . . . look at the corresponding sound which is written concretely in the VP symbol below . . . talk about  how “weird” or “interesting” it is that these letters make this sound. List other words that have this “weird/interesting” configuration of letters making this same sound. For example, /eigh/ in the word n/eigh/bor. Circle or highlight the /eigh/ and write the corresponding VP symbol for the long A sound below. Talk about how the letters making this sound can be “tough” to remember and then say something like “Let me show you some other words where this happens.” List weigh, eight, weight and sleigh for examples. For each word have the child circle or highlight the /eigh/ and write the VP symbol for the long A beneath those letters. Next to each word, draw a blank line and ask the student to write each of these words, saying the long A sound each time they write the /eigh/ part.
  • When it comes to SIGHT WORDS, a Word Wall is helpful to all students, and can be particularly useful to the struggling reader/writer. If possible, have the words written on Post-it tape, with VP written symbols below each word. This enables you to do two things:
  1. If the child asks you how to spell a word wall word (“said” for example), you could say “Oh, that’s a Word Wall word. Do you know the first sound?” The student says “Yes . . . /s/.” You resond, “Yes, and /s/ is spelled with the right letter in this word, so you can go look under the S on the Word Wall. If you don’t recognize the word “said” with your eyes, think of the next sound and look on the Post-it tape for that VP symbol, keep going for all the sounds and look for their VP symbols. When you finish finding the sounds, then look up and print those letters because that will be the word “said”. Be consistent in this approach, modeling it several times for the students in the beginning.
  2. When time permits, you can work with an individual or a small group of students over at a Word Wall. Taking the same example, you might have a lesson like this: “You know a lot of you have been asking me how to spell the word “said” this week. Let’s talk about that word.” Direct the student(s) attention to the S column on the Word Wall. Point out the word “said”. Cover the letters in the word but leave the Post-it tape below visible. Say something like: “In this word, the first letter actually says what it is supposed to” (point to the VP symbol and up to the letter S in the word).  “Now (point to the VP symbol for short E), the next sound I hear in the word “said” is /e/. I should see that letter here (point to the covered up spot for the next letter in the word).” Elicit the letter E from the students, uncover the ‘a’ in “said” and say, “No that’s not an ‘e’, maybe the next letter will be . . . (uncover the ‘i’) . . . nope, that’s not it either. Guess what boys and girls, this is the tricky part in the word “said” – the ‘a’ and ‘i’ together say /ee/. Let’s look at the last sound.” Refer again to the VP symbol for /d/. Uncover the letter ‘d’ in the word and say something like, “Whew, at least that letter knows what to say.”
  • When practicing the writing of SIGHT WORDS, it is far better to practice the target word in sentences, rather than in isolation, as it gives better carryover into real life. My favorite activity is called Stretch It (from Sitton Spelling). Start with a simple sentence. Example: Mom said. Work together to expand it several times, with students writing the expansion – Mom said I could . . . Mom said I could go . . . Mom said I could go to the store . . . Mom said I could go to the store with you . . . Mom said I could go to the store with you on Monday. Each child circles or highlights each target word “said” and makes sure they have it spelled correctly.
  • One final technique that has been successful for me with some students who REALLY struggle is to actually work backwards from writing to reading. In this case, first teach ALL the Visual Phonics hand shapes and written symbols. Next ask the student a series of questions that will make a paragraph. They must answer each question you pose with a complete sentence. Here’s how it might go:  T: “What’s your name?”  S: “My name is Jane Doe.”  T: “See if you can put the sounds together to write that sentence, using your Visual Phonics.” The student writes:  Mi nam iz Jan Do. Using that sentence, point out that “this is how ALL of these words should be spelled, but let me show you how they really ARE spelled.” Below the student’s invented spelling, the teacher writes “My name is Jane Doe.” Now talk about all the “quirks” in each word. For example, you could say, “OK, let’s look at the word “my”. In this word we hear two sounds . . . /m/ and long /i/. Look what letter is spelling the long /i/.” (then circle the letter Y). Now say, “Soon you’ll realize that this letter Y often says the long /i/ sound at the end of little words.” The second question would sound something like:  T: “How old are you and what grade are you in?”  S:  “I am ten years old and I am in third grade.”  T: “See if you can spell the sounds in all those words to make you sentence.” The student writes:  I am ten yerz old and I am in thrd grad. Proceed to write the correctly spelled sentence below the inventive spelling as in Sentence #1, and talk about how the sounds correspond to the letters OR NOT.
  • After you ask several questions and have the student write out each answer, discuss the regularities and irregularities of the sounds in each word in each sentence. After your discussion, have the student highlight and REWRITE all the sentences correctly spelled to form a paragraph. Do this on the same page if possible, especially in the beginning when the child may have to refer to their own inventive spelling when they can’t remember the VP printed symbol below. In this case, the reworked paragraph might look something like this: My name is Jane Doe. I am ten years old, and I am in thirds grade. My mom works at Shopko. Her name is Sheila. My dad works at Hormel. His name is Mike. Ask the student to read the paragraph to you. For each word upon which they hesitate, supply the needed VP symbol below. Ask the student to read the paragraph to at least two other people. Collect these paragraphs in a binder as a special reading project for this student. From each student-generated paragraph, try to get an idea for the mini-lesson in phonics. For example, from the paragraph above, I might conduct a lesson on the “silent or magic E” (based on Jane, Doe, grade, Mike). Perhaps I would conduct a lesson on the consonant digraph /sh/ (based on Shopko and Sheila).

© 2010  Katie Ulwelling  All Rights Reserved