Jen was in first grade. She disliked school intensely. In the morning, she begged her mom to let her stay home. At school during reading time, she looked down and tried to remain unnoticed. Jen hadn’t developed phonics strategies, and she was embarrassed. She couldn’t decode yet. Reading time terrified her.
Jen is hardly unique. About 30% of children struggle to learn phonics strategies. Many kids need systematic phonics instruction to learn to read. Systematic means kids learn one phonics sound at a time. Then, they practice implementing that phonics sound before learning another.
Reading Elephant developed printable systematic phonics books to help struggling readers like Jen. In this post, I offer free samples of our book series. Our phonics books teach kids to read systematically. Therefore, the kids who struggle the most have access to texts that they can successfully read and learn from.
First, kids learn short vowels. Short vowels are the building blocks of all phonic strategies. They’re the first phonics patterns kids learn. They are:
a_ as in hat (use apple as a mnemonic)
i_ as in lit (use igloo as a mnemonic)
o_ as in hop (use ostrich as a mnemonic)
u_ as in cup (use up as a mnemonic)
e_ as in met (use elephant as a mnemonic)
Here are sample short vowel books:
For more printable short vowel books, check out our library.
Next, kids learn consonant digraphs. Consonant digraphs are two or more letters that make one sound. They are:
sh as in ship
th as in math
th as in then
ch as in chop
_tch as in match
_ck as in back
_ng as in long
_ing as in king
_ang as in sang
wh_ as in when
Here are sample consonant digraph books:
For more printable consonant digraph books, check out our library.
Consonant blends are two or more letters strung together. There are many consonant blends. Kids should not memorize consonant blends. Rather, they should learn to decode them sound-by-sound. Some sample consonant blends include: fr, pl, sp, sm, gl, cl, cr…etc.
For consonant blends books, check out our systematic phonics library.
Silent e (also called magic e, bossy e, final e…etc.)
Silent e gives kids phonics strategies to decode the following word types:
a_e as in make
e_e as in Pete
i_e as in kite
o_e as in hope
u_e as in use
u_e as in duke
Here is a sample silent e book:
For more printable silent e books, check out our library.
Next, kids learn long vowel sounds. Long vowels unlock a lot of words. By the end of 1st grade, your student should have the phonics strategies to read the following sound patterns:
ee as in tree
ea as in seal
ai as in rain
_ay as in bay
oa as in boat
ow as in glow
igh as in light
_____y as in funny
_y as in my
Here is a sample long vowel book:
For more printable long vowel books, check out our library.
Printable phonics books
Reading elephant offers printable phonics books for struggling readers. If your student is behind, check out our printable library. The books are easy-to-use. They gently guide kids through each phonics sound.
Students like Jen can become excellent readers. They need a science-based approach. From reading research and cognitive science, we know that children learn best with explicit, systematic phonics instruction. Too many kids fall behind, because they don’t have access to a curriculum that works. Furthermore, there are not enough systematic phonics books available to help struggling readers practice decoding. If you have a student that’s currently struggling with decoding, check out our library.
The reading research
Kids learn how to read in a series of stages. Uta Frith, a reading researcher, describes the stages of learning how to read. Although there are almost an infinite number of steps in learning how to read, Frith breaks these steps into three stages. Her model is simple and digestible.
Kids don’t leap through these stages. Instead, they progress through them gradually. When a kid falls behind, he’s stuck in one of these stages. In order to progress, a child needs explicit, systematic phonics instruction, a proven method that doesn’t leave reading to luck.
Currently, many parents and educators believe that struggling readers will “catch on” to reading. While some students will decipher the code on their own, other kids (about 30%) require explicit, science-based instruction. When we expect a child to catch on, we’re undertaking a huge risk.
Literacy skills are fundamental to a child’s economic and personal opportunities. Thus, literacy skills should not be left to chance. If you’re willing to undertake this huge risk in regards to a child’s literacy skills, then you must recognize that this child may forever struggle with basic reading and spelling.
The stages of reading
Firth’s stages of reading provide a useful framework for thinking about how children progress in reading. When a child learns to read, he undergoes massive cognitive changes, as he connects areas in the brain and creates a new neuronal network. The beginning reader also changes areas of the brain, transforming the object recognition area to the visual word form area. These massive changes are relevant to pedagogy. Learning to read is like undertaking a project with thousands upon thousands of iterations.
Stage one involves viewing words as pictures. In this stage, kids often read by sight. That is, they use the first letter or a few letters to try and guess at the word. Of course, this is a sham form of a reading. Preschoolers and early kindergarten students often try to guess at words. Sometimes they view the word accurately, as they’re able to recognize their own name or the names of their peers. They might be able to recognize they’re favorite foods like “applesauce.” However, during this stage, kids make silly, frequent errors. They may see a word that looks similar to “applesauce,” like “aptitude” and say “applesauce.”
Unfortunately, lots of kids get stuck in this stage. They don’t learn how to read phonics sounds. What does it look like to get stuck in stage one? If they’re stuck in this stage, kids will often use the first letter to guess at the word, skip over words, and try to use the picture as a crutch. In this stage, kids will begin to memorize a lot of common words. Their memorization strategy breaks down, as there are too many words in a language to rote memorize.
In this stage, kids develop phonemic awareness and phonics knowledge. Some kids will acquire this knowledge implicitly after exposure to lots and lots of texts. However, many very bright kids require explicit instruction in phonics and phonemic awareness. In this stage, kids learn how to decode words sound-by-sound. They understand that even though words may look alike, they may say different things as in tale and take or light and fight or generous and gregarious.
If your child is stuck in this stage, he hasn’t been taught all phonics units systematically with decodable texts. To understand phonics strategies, kids need to read phonics books and receive explicit, step-by-step phonics instruction. If your child is stuck in this stage, check out our systematic phonics library. Our step-by-step phonics books can teach your child phonics strategies.
In this stage, a child reads slowly and gains speed. The child will read a common word like “play” faster than he’ll read an uncommon word like “stray.” He’ll read “green” faster than “steep.” In this final stage, a student will need exposure to lots and lots of words in order to gain speed. The more he reads, the faster he’ll become.
Arguably, there are an infinite number of steps in the learning how to read process. Even if you’re an expert reader, you can always become better. Learning to read is a complex process, one that neuroscientists still don’t understand fully. There’s a lot going on when we read, from using the visual area of our brain, our language area, our object recognition area and more.
Get your child reading on track. Kids don’t leap through stages. Instead, they progress through them incrementally. If your child is struggling, he needs explicit, step-by-step phonics instruction.