When early readers hear the answer “Just sound it out”, do they really know what you are talking about?
Do they know what that means?
How can we support them further with the risk-taking involved in early reading strategies?
So many students feel anxiety when left on their own to read, and as we know, this anxiety greatly impedes their ability to process information and focus.
Over the last 20 years working as a classroom teacher and early reading intervention specialist, I’ve worked with many different students to improve reading strategies and overcome gaps in phonological awareness and decoding issues.
To lay the groundwork for success, there are a few things that I’ve seen work over and over again:
Develop Your Safe Learning Environment
Develop a growth mindset environment where risk taking is admired, and mistakes are accepted as part of learning.
This means modeling mistakes for students, and reacting mindfully when mistakes are happening. As the teacher, you can set up your own “mistakes” and make a big deal out of them, demonstrating how to move past initial frustration. Humor is a great help!
Let’s Make A Deal
Try making a deal with your students that they are sure to love: “If you don’t mind when I make mistakes, then I won’t mind when YOU make mistakes. Do we have a deal?”
You may wish to shake hands on this deal, and watch those little faces light up with the idea that making mistakes won’t lead to embarrassment or bad feelings, but rather celebrated as steps to success!
Grow Your Brain
Explain to students that trying to spell a word will actually “make your brain grow” – even if the spelling is wrong! The process of braking apart sounds strengthens the very skills that improve reading and writing.
Here’s an example of how that dialogue could go with a student:
Student: “I spelled the word wrong.”
Teacher:”But did you try your best?”
Teacher: “So did your brain just grown anyway?”
Teacher: “High five!”
Add Humor To Work Time
Add humor and fun props to your work time, for example during a writing block. This will lessen anxiety and increase written output, despite a few little positive distractions.
I use a little dog puppet named Poppy for this purpose. I use him daily to model how to stretch out words when reading and writing by giving him a voice that speaks v-e-r-y- s-l-o-w-l-y. When I want students to listen for each sound, I can say “Say it like Poppy does.” and they know just what I mean.
Teach Strategies With Strong Associations
Teach strategies that are fun and easy to remember. We use a number of reading strategies during our guided reading lessons.
For example, to teach strategies such as chunking words or isolating sounds, I have them use their finger to cover the word and slowly reveal each letter. I call it “Slidey Snake”, with their finger being the snake.
We sometimes glue little eyes stickers on their fingers to solidify the concept, which they love!
Students also love using word sliders where the word cards are inside an envelope and each letter is revealed as they pull the card out. This process forces them to isolate each sound, and also adjust when they see a spelling rule (such as when they say the sound for C, but then it’s followed by an H, so they change their sound.)
Here’s a little video of how it works. Note how she changes her sound when the second “O” is revealed.
You can try this strategy yourself with simple envelopes and word cards to see how it works for your students. Just make sure the paper envelope is thick enough so that students can’t see the words through it.
If you’d prefer to have the work done for you, the materials I use in class can be see HERE. The unit is called Reading Bugs because my students earn little bug stickers as they master each spelling pattern. The reading cards include full sets of words with short and long vowels, word families, blends and digraphs, and simple sentences!