How to teach kids to read should be the number one priority for kindergarten and first grade teachers.
These two grades are the years we must ensure our students learn the reading foundational skills. Mastering these skills will set them on a path to success.
Research shows there are 5 pillars of reading that students must be taught in order to become great readers. Three of those five pillars, phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency, kindergarten and first grade students must have for a solid foundation. Without this foundation, students will go on struggling with learning to read.
Let’s take a closer look at the four areas that must be taught and mastered.
Area #1: Phonological Awareness
Phonological Awareness is the first area to look at when planning how to teach kids to read. It encompasses a lot of different skills.
Teachers often ask the question, “What is phonological awareness?”
Phonological awareness is an important predictor of how successful a student will be later in reading. It is made up of four levels (sentence, word, syllable, and phoneme). Within each level students must be able to manipulate sounds.
Research shows that certain skills in phonological awareness have more impact on students’ ability to become readers. As we teach, we don’t want to put equal amounts of emphasis in areas since some areas are more important than others.
For example, teaching kids to rhyme is important. You do need to be able to teach kids to hear, produce, and identify rhymes.
However, the two skills that research has shown that have a huge impact on students and their future success with reading are phoneme blending and phoneme segmentation, both fall at the phoneme level of phonological awareness. This means kids are able to break a word apart into its individual sounds and put the sounds together to make a word.
Phoneme blending and segmenting help with encoding and decoding and are two skills every student must master in order to become a reader.
ACTION STEP: Take a look at your instruction and determine where you are teaching phoneme blending and segmenting, how often, and what is being done to ensure students are learning the skills to mastery.
Area #2: Letter Knowledge
It goes without saying that kids need to know the letter names and letter sounds. Without letter sound recognition, students will never be able to apply sounds to decode words.
It is important to plan out what letter names and sounds you will be introducing throughout the year and where on the calendar you will build in opportunity for students to practice to mastery. Doing this will ensure you are not teaching a letter name or letter sound for so long that you end up finding out at the end of the year that you haven’t been able to get through all the letters.
ACTION STEP: Map out on a calendar what letters and sounds you will be introducing over the course of the school year. Be sure to build in opportunities for students to practice.
Area #3: Sight Words
Teaching sight words to mastery is a must when working on how to teach kids to read.
It is much more than teaching kids words to memorize. Sight words can’t be taught in isolation. While you are introducing and teaching sight words students also have to apply their learning to text that they can decode based on words or phonics patterns that they have already been taught.
Being purposeful about your expectations when teaching sight words is also important. Throwing out words for kids to memorize and hoping that they’re going to catch on is not a plan for success.
As a guideline for how to teach sight words, I would recommend that at the end of kindergarten students leave knowing inside and out those first 25 words on the Fry sight word list. By the end of first grade, you want to make sure they know those first 100 sight words.
It involves more than just saying, “Okay this is what I want them to do.” You also need to make certain that you are not only going to teach them most words, but also going to see to it they are mastered.
ACTION STEP: Create a plan and be very detailed in what words you will be introducing each week and how much time students will have to master the words.
Area #4: Phonics
The areas above are pieces to the puzzle when it comes to how to teach kids to read. While working towards this fourth area of phonics students must be successful with phoneme blending, phoneme segmentation, and letter knowledge.
When kids are able to identify, hear, and manipulate sounds in words, they will be able to begin to apply it to print which leads in to phonics.
In kindergarten, you won’t introduce phonics until later, per se. Usually, you start it around November or December. As you introduce letter names and sounds you also want to start teaching kids how to blend those together. It is important to have these phonics pieces in place as it’s a vital piece to the puzzle.
So, there they are! The four areas that you need to teach in order to build a strong solid foundation.
You can make a difference in education!
I don’t want any of you to ever forget the importance of your job. Your job is so valuable because you work on how to teach kids to read. You can make a huge impact on the students in your classroom!
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