Most children read using their knowledge of both phonics rules and sight words. They read the sight words they know and then follow phonics rules to sound out the words they do not know.
The phonics approach to reading focuses on the sounds that letters or groups of letters make. When children are taught the sounds associated with each letter, they can “sound out” unfamiliar words. In addition to focusing on the sound each letter makes, the phonics approach to reading teaches children basic rules such as: when the letter e appears at the end of the word, it is silent; when two vowels appear next to each other in a word (as with peak or boat), the first vowel makes its long sound and the second vowel is silent; and, the letter y acts as a consonant when it is the first letter in a word (as with yellow) and acts as a vowel when it is the last letter in the word (as with pretty).
“Word families” are groups of letters that are frequently seen together. While there are many word families, some of the most common are: -at, -an, -ar, -ed, -ing, -og and -ug. The dash in front of each word family represents the position of one or more consonants. The -an word family, for example, is the basis for the words can, man, fan, pan, ban, tan, ran, and van.)
Knowing word families directly contributes to effortless reading. When a child spots a familiar word family ending, he can add the sound of the first letter and quickly read the entire word.
A simple way to introduce your child to word families is with word family sliders. Cut out each word family card and letter strip, then carefully cut along the dotted lines, where indicated, on the word family card.
After you feed the letter strip through the slits on the word family card, you or your child can slide the letter strip up and down to instantly create new words in the same word family. With time, your child will commit many word families to memory and will be able to spot members of the different word families when reading.
The importance of punctuation for comfortable reading
No discussion of helping children become effortless readers would be complete without a brief discussion of the rules of punctuation. Like phonics rules, which give children guidance on how to sound out words, punctuation gives children guidance on how to read entire sentences.
When children are able to read as if they are talking, with pauses and voice inflections, reading is smooth and sounds natural. In addition, punctuation impacts the meaning of many sentences. For example, consider the sentence, “Mary Ann and Beth are my friends.” How many friends is that? A comma between the words Mary and Ann would change the number of friends from two to three. Likewise, the sentences “You like ice cream.” and “You like ice cream?” have very different meanings.
The four punctuation marks that young readers should be familiar with are:
- Period - A period marks the end of a sentence. When your child reaches a period, direct him to stop reading, take a breath, and then begin reading the next sentence.
- Comma - A comma helps separate different parts of a sentence. Direct your child to pause briefly when he reaches a comma and then continue reading the rest of the sentence.
- Question mark - A question mark means the sentence is asking a question. Demonstrate how your voice goes up at the end of the sentence to show that you are asking a question.
- Exclamation point - An exclamation point shows surprise or excitement. Encourage your child to have fun while reading by raising his voice in excitement when he sees an exclamation point.
The easiest and most natural way to introduce punctuation marks to your child is to point them out when reading together. I suggest selecting books with only one or two sentences per page and fairly large print so your child can easily spot the punctuation marks.