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Seven Steps to Help Beginning Readers

A child who can read is a child who can learn. And a child who can learn is a child who can succeed in school and in life.

Secretary of Education, Margaret Spelling.

Margaret Spelling reminds us that learning to read is one of the foundations of life success. Learning to read can be challenging for young children. Many parents and volunteers wonder how the time they spend with beginning readers can be more productive. The following suggestions are aimed to help parents and volunteers make reading more fun and successful for beginning readers.

Seven Steps

  1. SET THE STAGE Use the title and cover picture to create enthusiasm for the story. Discuss the picture and how it relates to the title. Ask the reader, “What do you think the book is going to be about?”

LOOK FOR CLUES If this is a phonics-based book, review the phonetic rule for the book. Often the rule is on the inside back cover of the book. Spend a moment with the child playing with the rule. Write the rule down and add sounds. For example, if the rule is long /a/. Write ___a___e and then fill in letters to make words: date, late, mate, kate. Let them have fun, don’t worry if it’s a real word or not, just enjoy the process.

WATCH OUT FOR BUMPS IN THE ROAD Scan the book for difficult words before you start reading. Write the words on index cards and read them for the child before you start reading. Pull out the card if the child has trouble reading the word in the text and read it to her again. Then let her read the sentence on her own. This process will help with reading fluency and increase the motivation and enjoyment of reading.

GREEN LIGHT, GO! Ask the child to start reading.

RED LIGHT, STOP TO CORRECT ERRORS When a child makes an error, break down the word into smaller parts. Ask him to identify the first sound, and then the vowel sound. If he doesn’t know either, give him the sound. If there is a rule, follow the sound with the rule. For example, magic E jumps over one letter to make a vowel say its alphabet name, so late has a long /a/sound. Remember, most beginning reader books have the rule in the back or front of the book.

YELLOW LIGHT, CAUTION! Prep for success. If the child has a repeating error, write it on an index card in large letters and show and read it to the student each time she makes that error. This builds sight word vocabulary.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT? Use visual cues in the book as frames of reference to make sure the student understands what he reads. Question the reader, Why is this picture in the book? Ask comprehension questions such as: What do you think is going to happen next? Who is your favorite character, and why ?Was this a funny story? Why or why not?

Reading is a complex skill that requires strong visual, auditory and attention proficiency. Many times, beginning readers need more developmental time to acquire these skills.

Read the characteristics below and when one is true of your reader check all the boxes to the right of that item. 

Column A measures auditory processing skills. If your reader is weak in this skill, she is struggling to match the sound of the letter with the letter symbol.

Column B measures attention skills. Close attention to the details of the letter symbols is needed in order to learn to read.

Column C measures visual skills. The eye muscles need to work together to track the letter symbols on the page fluently. If the eyes are weak, reading will be challenging.

How to build Auditory Processing Skills in beginning readers

  1. Help with phonics.

  2. When students have trouble with auditory processing, they have difficulty knowing the sounds that go with each letter.

  3. Therefore, they rely on their visual memory to read unfamiliar words. When students come to a word they have not memorized they will guess because they don’t know how to sound out a new word.

  4. Help sound out new words.

  5. Write down the new words used in a story and review them before reading.

  6. Refer to the new words with the child while reading.

  7. When a child is stumped and starts guessing:

  8. Ask her for the vowel in the word and then the sound of the vowel, because it is usually the hardest part of the word.

  9. If the child has not mastered a sound, pronounce that sound for her. This allows her to hear the proper sound and make an association between the letter and the sound.

  10. Write the challenging word on a piece of paper. First ask for the vowel sound, then ask for the letters that come after the vowel. Write these down and have the child read it. Then ask for the letters before the vowel and write them on the word and have the child read the whole word.

How to build Attention Skills in beginning readers

  1. Keep reading periods short. Readers who have trouble paying attention find it difficult sitting still while reading, and staying focused. This can cause them to rush and make careless errors such as skipping words and missing meaning.

  2. Begin with 10-15 minute intervals and increase time as skills increase.

  3. Slow the reader down.

  4. Remind her to focus on the letters.

  5. Remind her it’s not a race.

  6. Get the reader involved

  7. Help build meaning for the story and enjoyment for reading.

  8. Look at the cover of the book and read the title.

  9. Discuss the picture and how it relates to the title.

  10. Keep attention as you read

  11. Look at and discuss the picture on each page prior to reading the page.

  12. Have the child point to and name the characters.

  13. Ask questions about the characters.

  14. Do they look happy?

  15. Is he nice?

  16. Do you know anyone who likes to do that?

  17. Ask questions about the topic.

  18. Have you ever done that?

  19. Do you know anyone who has?

  20. Ask questions about what the child thinks will happen next.

  21. What do you thing is going to happen next?

  22. Why do you think that is going to happen?

  23. Create a focus chart

  24. Divide the session into 5 minute intervals. At each interval, give the student 1-5 points for careful reading. (1 unfocused, 5 very focused)

  25. Ask the student to rate himself or herself. This helps the reader learn about his/her reading behavior.

How to build Visual Processing Skills in beginning readers

  1. Make sure the reader can see the text clearly. When students have trouble with visual processing, they have trouble recognizing fine differences in visual symbols like letters and numbers. This causes them to misread words that look alike.

  2. If they have glasses make sure they are wearing them.

  3. Begin with larger print books and avoid visually confusing texts.

  4. Help focus the reader’s eyes

  5. Use an index card to hold under the line being read.

  6. When a student has difficulty with a word, use your fingers to isolate one letter at a time to help him read the whole word.

  7. Make sure the child can tell you the name of the letter and then ask for the sound of the letter, then go back and help him put the letter into the word.

  8. Teach new words.

  9. Write the word in big print on a 3×5 card, or another piece of paper.

  10. These words can be put in a file box to build the student’s sight-word vocabulary.

  11. Help with reversals.

  12. Fluent readers must be able to distinguish the visual difference in the letter symbols, such as P vs Q, B vs D, M vs W.

  13. When students make reversal errors, write the letters out on index cards at the beginning of each reading session.

  14. Have the student trace each letter to increase awareness of the proper formations.

  15. Refer to the cards while reading.

Most Common Reading/Spelling rules

The Vowel

  1. Most errors are due to the reader not knowing the sound of the vowel.

  2. Review all vowel sounds and make sure the child knows his vowel sounds, both long and short sounds.

  3. Often, a child does not remember what makes a vowel long or short. Here are the rules:

  4. Short vowels need protection from other vowels. Every short vowel is followed by a consonant and there must be two consonants between vowels in two-syllable words.

  5. At, it, hat, bat, nut, shut, hot, hut, long

  6. Batting, hotter, hitting

  7. Long vowel needs to be “tapped” by another vowel to say its alphabet name.

  8. Magic “E”: its only purpose is to “tap” the vowel to remind him to say his long sound. The magic “E” can jump over only one letter.

  9. Make, date, phone, bone

  10. Two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking.

  11. Each vowel has a best friend who she like to walk with. The best friend “taps” the front vowel and /ea/: mean, dean, bean

  12. tells her to say her alphabet name.

  13. /ai/; bait, wait

  14. /oa/: boat, moat

  15. /ui/: suit, fruit

  16. Exception: /i/’s best friend is the silent /gh/: night, sight, light

Silent letters

  1. Silent letters come after short vowels, you can think of them as protection from the end of the word or from another vowel.

  2. /ck/: sick, nick,

  3. /dge/: fudge, judge

  4. /tch/: switch, ditch


  1. Blends can be challenging for beginning reader because there are more letters to visually process and the mouth movement is harder.

  2. R blends: /tr/ /sr/ /cr/ /br/ /dr/

  3. L blends: /bl/ /sl/ /cl/ /pl/

  4. Triple blends: /str/

Bossy R’s

  1. A /r/ after a vowel sound is so bossy he doesn’t let the vowel say its name.

  2. /er/ /ir/ and /ur/ all say the sound of /r/: her, sir, hurt.

  3. /ar/ says /r’s/ alphabet name: car, star, bar.

  4. /or/ says same as the little word “or”: born, torn, sort.

There are many more rules, these are just some that often trip up beginning readers.

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