The most effective way to teach children to read is to use the Phonics Method. Phonics encourages the new reader to connect the sounds they hear to written letters. By teaching them to blend these sounds to create words, the new reader begins to associate sounds with letters. They can then learn to create words themselves by blending the letters by ear.
Let’s use an example, the letter ‘P’. Even a very young child can quickly understand that the letter ‘P’ is pronounced ‘puh’. The parent or educator can then reinforce this understanding by showing the child the written letter together with physical items which begin with it. A pen (puh-e-nuh), for instance, or perhaps a pet (puh-e-tuh). Associating the representative symbol (‘P’) with the sound (‘puh’) makes their relationship to each other easy to understand.
The next stage is to teach the beginning reader how to blend the sounds to create words, a natural progression once the sounds of letters and their symbols are familiar. It won’t take long before they can look at the symbols on the page and sound out the correct word! Take the word ‘Cat’ for instance. A child learning to read using phonics will know how it is said by sounding it out – ‘kuh-ae-tuh’. Suddenly they have taken a huge step forward, and it’s not uncommon for children who have achieved this stage to suddenly want to read everything they can find! This is of course to be encouraged and it is essential that the teacher provide plenty of fresh material for them in order to sustain this interest in their new found skill.
Phonics is such a successful method to teach reading because it is so simple and the concept is easily understood by children. Other methods have been experimented with, but have failed. One such was the ‘look-see’ technique of learning to read, introduced in the 1950s. Fortunately, some schools didn’t have the means to promote this method and the children who attended those schools were able to learn to read successfully, graduated from high school in the late 60s or early 70s and went on to higher education is they wished. By comparison, of the unfortunate children taught using the ‘look-see’ method, many struggled with reading and even failed to complete their education due to being unable to comprehend what was being taught.
Another unsuccessful method of teaching reading was the ‘whole language’ method which was introduced in the 1980s. This was based on the premise that the child would wish to learn to read naturally in order to receive instruction. It was thought that if motivation, suitable reading material and the opportunity to read it were provided, then children would learn naturally. The pronunciation of unfamiliar words was assisted using ‘meaning clues’. Sadly, it meant that another group of young people grew up hampered by their inability to read well.
Phonics has the highest success rate of any reading method ever formulated, excepting those suffering problems with sight or hearing. Its success rate is because it is so easy to understand and because it makes learning to read such fun. Teachers can easily devise learning games based around the phonics method, which further motivate the new reader and develop a lifelong love of reading for pleasure.
Kenneth is a teacher with many years of experience in ESL at Dickson’s English School in Tamsui, Taiwan. The staff at Nozkidz practise reading skills from the earliest levels right through to competence. To see how our students are doing, visit the school blog at http://www.nozkidz.com/blog/ to find out more about what students are doing, how important fluency is, and how much fun we’re having. For other advice and help, check out his column at http://www.nozkidz.com/blog/
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