Teaching Your Child to Read, Part 3

*Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.*
Word Families
To put it simply, word families are words that rhyme.  Teaching children word families is a phonemic awareness activity that helps children see patterns in reading.  This is an important skill because it allows children to begin “reading” by grouping sets of letters within a word.  The first part of a word is called the onset and the last part of the word is conveniently called the rime.  Word families share a similar “rime” as the onset changes.
Once your child recognizes the word “mop”, he’ll then have an advantage to reading all of the other words that have the same rime (top, pop, stop, cop, hop) because only one letter is changing.  Plus, recognizing rhyming words is a great language skill in and of itself!
Check out this Word Family Game
Phonemic Awareness and Phonics
“Phonemes” are the smallest sounds in the English language (go here for a complete list of phonemes).  These sounds are made up of consonants, short vowels, long vowels, and digraphs.  “Phonemic Awareness” consists of learning those sounds and how to manipulate them within a word.  Digraphs are unique sounds comprised of individual letters like /th/, /sh/, /ch/, etc.
“Phonics” includes learning how to spell those sounds and the various rules that the English language follows.  Phonics is an important components of reading/spelling, but it should never be the main focus.  Again, we are looking to balance our literacy “program” with reading comprehension as the end result.  Learning the rules of phonics is simply a tool that helps a child learn to decode and spell.  I used the Pathways to Reading program in the classroom as my phonemic awareness and phonics program and loved it!  It made learning all of the tricky spellings so much fun, but I wouldn’t recommend it until your child is in kindergarten or first grade.




Vowel Town from Pathways to Reading
Decoding is often referred to as “sounding it out.”  This is an important element in teaching your child to read, but it certainly isn’t the most important.  Once your child knows the sounds each letter makes (which is taught in real, meaningful situations), she is ready to begin putting words together.  When looking at a short word, encourage her to say each individual sound /b/, /a/, /t/,  and then put them together “bat”.
As children decode words with more frequency, they will become more proficient at automatically identifying that word.  Sometimes this task is tedious, though, so it’s important to find creative ways to make it fun.  When I taught first grade, I used to buy little finger puppets that my students could use to point to the letters as they were decoding.  This was a huge hit and made this process so much fun!
Find these finger puppets and more at Oriental Trading
Sight Words
Sight words, also known as high-frequency words, are the most common words in our written language are are often difficult to decode phonetically because they don’t follow the rules of phonics.  Because of this, they must be memorized.  As I’ve shared with you before, I am not an advocate of rote memorization for optimal learning because I feel it only utilizes the lowest level of cognitive processes.  However, sight words must be memorized in order for your child to become a fluent reader.  There are a few popular lists of sight words that individual researchers have found beneficial, including the Dolch List and the Fry List.  Don’t get overwhelmed when looking at this list…just start working on a few words at a time when you feel your child is ready.
sight words
Activities like Sight Word Bingo can help make memorizing sight words more fun!

As you’ve probably noticed, there is no “magic formula” for teaching your child how to read.  The points we’ve discussed in previous posts have highlighted simple, effective strategies that are easy to modify for your child.  After all, every child learns differently!  This series is not to be used as a “checklist” and think that once you’ve covered all the strategies your child will be proficiently reading.  Rather, this series provides valuable information to you so that you can guide your child while creating a print-rich, learning environment to foster his/her growth as a reader.  Don’t rush and don’t stress!  While it’s important to take advantage of the prime-learning time, it’s even more important to let your kid be a kid!

In summary, here are some practical suggestions you can implement every day based on the strategies shared with you in this post and previous posts.  Obviously, you can’t implement all of these suggestions with children of all ages, so use your judgement about what is best for your child.

  • Read to your child every day!
  • Ask your child questions before, during, and after reading.
  • Let your child see you reading.
  • Look for letters while out and about and in the environment around you.
  • When teaching letters and letter sounds, incorporate as many senses as possible.
  • Read a variety of books and make a game out of guessing the genre.
  • Have fun rhyming!
  • Work on letter sounds and manipulating them within words (phonemic awareness)
  • Encourage your child to sound out short words (consonant, vowel, consonant).
  • Practice memorizing a few sight words each day.
  • Most of all, have fun together!
Did I forget to mention any other important elements in teaching your child to read?  What strategies have you found beneficial to your child?


  1. Anonymous says

    I have been looking forward to part 3 :))) thanks , I love your site. As a former preschool teacher and a mother of four I love your refreshing ideas . Keep up the great work!!

  2. stacey says

    Thanks for sharing these great ideas and principles for teaching reading. Last month on my blog I did a daily series about reading and books – it's amazing how much great information is out there! Now to put it in to practice… :) Thanks again!

  3. tripleZmom says

    Phonemic awareness is actually the ability to distinguish and manipulate the sounds in words, a precursor to decoding. Kids have to be able to hear that /b/ is the beginning sound in bat, for example, before they can attempt to read the word.

  4. thisreadingmama.com says

    I would also say that phonemic awareness does not include written symbols (letters) like phonics does. The child only needs to use her ears to identify, blend, segment, and manipulate the individual phonemes. This is great news, because mamas can work on phonemic awareness anywhere and anytime.

  5. Christiane says

    I completely agree with you! You put it so well when you wrote that the ultimate goal is comprehension. I copied your list of suggestions on my blog, playmakelearn.blogspot.com and included a link to your blog. I can take the list & link down if you would rather I didn't use it. Great blog!

  6. Kartika Arum, S.Pd says

    Wow…it,s great. Make me realize that I have to read for my daughter every day. I’m lazy lately…..great article. Thanks…

  7. Shawna Ford says

    Hello and thanks for posting this info! When I clicked on the Dolch List it categorized sight words (PrePrimer,Primer, etc). What do these categories mean? Thanks again!

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