I remember doing a great number of comprehensions at school, in a variety of subjects, and finding them almost always boring and largely meaningless. Obviously, they do serve a purpose in that they can help test whether or not the pupil has reached the next level of reading proficiency: to read closely and understand clearly what is written on the page in front of him. But if you have been in the habit of discussing reading material with your child from an early age, you’ve already been doing ‘comprehensions’ of a sort: you have asked him questions to check his understanding of the text – you have simply done this orally rather than in written form. Comprehension questions are widely used in schools in a variety of subjects from quite an early age. I suppose this is because they are an easy vehicle for writing practice, and because it is impossible for a teacher to know that 30 children have understood a text: she cannot go around and ask each one individually! You, as a parent, can do this and so written comprehensions need not play such a large part in your curriculum, at least at primary level. This saves you having to invest in workbooks which test the most basic comprehension skills (who said this? what colour was the book? How many cars were there in the street? and so on), and helps you avoid giving your children work which is not only often boring but is unlikely to advance their English skills much at all.
READING Level 1
I’ve tried pages to provide everything you need to teach your child to read, but here are some recommendations if you’d like further ideas, support and explanations. The The Jolly Phonics books are often recommended and I used to use them, but they are expensive and, I think, not what you want if you are primarily interested in teaching reading. The most straightforward book I have used (and the one on which my own ideas are largely based) is Step by Step Reading by Mona McNee. phonics4free
. Mona wrote this handy little book after teaching her Downs Syndrome son to read: the school had given up on him but she succeeded by using a phonic approach. She wanted to share her knowledge with other parents, not to make lots of money – which is why she makes the whole book and a huge variety of additional resources available on her website www.phonics4free.org. I would strongly recommend that if you are interested in teaching reading by the phonic method, you visit her site.
READING Level 2
Aim 1: To recognise all capitals
Continue to check knowledge of capitals, and use the capitals matching game from age 4-5 to check/reinforce.
Aim 2: To introduce blending in one-syllable words (tent, pond, crab, club, pram etc)
You need to show how letters can be blended or run together into a smooth sound. There’s no need to teach these separately as ‘blends’ as schools used to do: just deal with them as they crop up. Give plenty of practice with this as it’s an important step in reading smoothly. You can use the same methods as before for teaching new words. One tip is to start with words which blend at the end (such as ten -t, lam-p) as this is slightly easier than having to deal with the blend at the beginning (such as ‘pr-am’, ‘dr-um’ etc.). If your child struggles, try giving him a card with the first three letters – have him read this then add a final letter card (e.g. give him ‘ten’ then have him add the ‘t’ to make tent). This is why blends at the end are easier to start with.
Aim 3: To read simple phonetic words of more than one syllable (rabbit, camera etc)
This is just the next step after three and four letter words and doesn’t usually present any problems, but it widens the child’s reading vocabulary enormously. Here you need to explain carefully that longer words are often made up of ‘sections’, each with its own vowel sound. We call these sections ‘syllables’ (e.g. rab -bit, cam- era, bas-ket). It might help at first to make separate cards for each syllable and have the child slide them together as he reads
them. Highlight the fact that there is a vowel in each: this helps tremendously with spelling strategies later on!
Use the same methods as for three letter words (flashcards, matching cards, simple ‘books’).
Aim 4: To read and illustrate simple phrases
One good way to progress from reading single words to reading several words together is this: write a phrase (not a full sentence) on a piece of paper and have the child read the phrase and draw a picture for it. Make sure you only use words the child can easily read at this point, i.e. Level 1 and 2: three and four letter single syllable words words, words with simple blends and longer simple words of two syllables (no ‘magic ‘e’ words yet, or digraphs like ‘sh’ and ‘oo’). And try not to choose something really difficult to draw!
For example, you could start with very simple Level 1 phrases (e.g ‘a big red bus’, ‘a sad man’), then include some blends (e.g ‘six fat slugs’, ‘ten black dots’) and then some two-syllable words (e.g ‘a black kitten’, ‘a pink rabbit’). These can be as silly as you like.
Here are some phrase sheets using Levels 1 and 2
READING Level 3
Aim 1: To know vowels have two sounds, and be able to read ‘magic e’ words.
Note: What I affectionately call ‘magic e’ is technically now known as the ‘split digraph’, just in case you want to look it up on google!
It’s worth explaining ‘magic e’ here as it will crop up very soon in any real book your child tries to read. Make a set of cards with illustrations showing the ‘long’ sound of each vowel (e.g. an ‘icecream’ for long ‘i’, an acorn for long ‘a’, and so on) and practice saying them with your child (some children will already have picked this up and have no trouble: others need a bit of practice).
I like the idea from Jolly Grammar book of illustrating the ‘magic’ as stars jumping over from the ‘e’ to the vowel and changing the vowel’s sound (whilst losing its own). You can make a set of cards with the first part of the magic e words, but with the ‘e’s cut out separately. Then make some ‘magic’ (a shooting star from yellow card) to bridge the ‘e’ and the vowel it is changing. The child simply adds an ‘e’ to the base word and then adds the magic like a bridge linking the ‘e’ and the vowel: he says the new sound of the vowel and reads the word. It’s quite a good way to make it visual and fix it in your child’s mind. For an easier option, simply make some flash cards: on one side write a ‘magic e’ word, on the other have the matching picture.
Don’t introduce soft ‘c’ and ‘g’ until your child is confident with the concept of ‘magic ‘e’ (unless
your child has already noticed them already and is curious). You can teach these once you’ve covered soft c and g (that comes next).
NB there are two other types of silent ‘e’ the child will come across which seem to serve no purpose: ‘e’ added in the second syllable of a word (because not only each word but each syllable within a word ordinarily needs a vowel – e.g. ‘litt-le’); and ‘archaic e’ (which used to have a purpose but is now redundant – e.g. ‘are’, ‘there’). It’s helpful if you know why they are there and can explain why they don’t do ‘the magic’!
Aim 2: To know that c, g, s and y have alternative sound
Children get quite confused when they try to read real books and find single letters making different sounds. It helps to teach them to be on the lookout for these four letters which can be tricky. The ‘y’ sounds are particularly important since so many otherwise very easy words can trip up a child if he does not know that ‘y’ can say ‘ee’ at the end of a word (jelly, welly, bunny, tummy, runny).
At this point, you don’t need to teach that ‘c’ always changes it sound when it is followed by e, i, or y, and that ‘g’ only sometimes does so, but it helps if you are aware of it. It’ll come up later in spelling rules. Just point it out whenever it crops up if your child is trying to read ‘real’ books and he’ll soon get the hang of it.
To teach this, I pencil the alternative sounds in small letters on the alphabet chart/book/cards we are using (in bold as follows): c can say s (as in city) g can say j (as in gym) s can say z (as in has) y can say ee, short i or long ‘i’ (as in jelly, pyramid and cycle)
Reinforce this it whenever it crops up as your child tries to read. Knowing the alternative sounds of ‘y’ is really essential when trying to read as ‘y’ only uses its consonant sound at the beginning of a word or syllable, so most of the time it is using one of its vowel sounds.
Aim 3: To read and illustrate simple phrases with new sounds
Continue with the same format as before, but expand to use magic e words and new sounds for c, g, s and y. Practice ‘magic e’ before moving onto new letter sounds (e.g. a big pink cake; a snake with a rake; jelly in a welly etc.)
Click here for some phrase worksheets for Level 3 words
READING LEVEL 4
Aim 1: To learn the first set of digraphs Note: if you are not used to the terms phoneme, grapheme and digraph and trigraph, here is a good explanation of them and how they relate to reading. If you want something more official, here is the government guide to teaching ‘higher phonics’. Symbol-sound combinations are currently referred to as GPC’s- i.e. ‘grapheme-phoneme correspondences’. Personally I don’t use these technical terms with my young children when teaching reading (I just call each digraph a ‘sound’ and say, ‘This is how we write this sound: ‘oo’ says ‘ooo’.) Don’t confuse things right now by trying to explain that the same sound can be spelled several different ways (long a can be a-e, ai, or ay): that will come in later with spelling.
You can introduce the digraphs in any order you like, but it makes sense to start with the most common. I tend to start with these six as just knowing these will give the child a good skill base from which to decode hundreds more words: oo, ee, th, sh, ch and ar
To teach these, I simply make a card for each digraph with the digraph written clearly on the front, and a second set of cards with pictures of words containing the digraphs. Make sure the words are easy words which he can read (such as moon, bee, bath, shop, chip, car). Starting with the first digraph, give him the card and matching pictures and read them with him until he can understand the new sound.
When he’s got the hang of a new sound, simply repeat the same three steps that you used before:
– make a set of cards with a suitable word on one side, and a picture on the back – have him read the word and check the picture
– make two sets of cards, one with words and one with pictures to match up
– make a small ‘book’ containing words to practice the particular digraph he is learning
When he has learned two digraphs, try giving him the original cards and mix them all up so that he has more of a challenge in sorting them (if you write the digraph on the back of the picture he will be able to self-check his work). If this is not a challenge, give him three sets mixed up and so on.
Note: It is highly possible that your child may ‘get’ reading before he has completed even half of these GPCs (many children pick up reading without studying them directly at all). If he’s already reading, studying these letter combinations may suddenly appear very tedious: it is better to simply encourage him to read as much as possible and point out unfamiliar letter combinations as he comes across them. Perhaps you /he could make a note of them in a books or on a chart. All the GPCs will be covered in spelling at 7+
Aim 2: To read and illustrate phrases with words using new digraphs
As before, once your child is confident with a new digraph, introduce it into your ‘six fat slugs’ phrase illustration game. Each newly learned digraph will expand the amount of words you can use enormously. Don’t forget to start using ‘the’ quite soon as this is a most essential word and best learned very early on. Here are some phrase worksheets for Level 4 words
Aim: To practice and master pre- handwriting patterns
For handwriting I like the hand created by Christopher Jarman: it is neat, simple and elegant, and Jarman takes you right from pre-writing patterns through letter families in print to cursive with plenty of practice in each. His books are sadly out of print, but you can get this one, ‘ Christopher Jarman: ‘The Development of Handwriting skills’ Simon and Schuster
second hand for about £1.50. Also, you can download the ‘Jarman’ font so that you can produce your own worksheets (he also offers ‘Jardotty’ which is the same font but written in dots so your child can go over it more easily). These are both available free on the ‘Net.
For my own children, I just copied the page they needed, stuck it on card and laminated it. Then they would go over the patterns, letters or words with a whiteboard marker (my children have all quite enjoyed this exercise).
Just work on the patterns little and often once your child is ready (often later for boys than girls). Working through these systematically lays a good foundation and avoids establishing bad habits which can be difficult to correct later on.
If your child is obviously ready to move on, start practising the first set of letter families in a simple print (see English Age 6-7)
Aim: To memorise poems
Choose some easy rhyming verses. Read the poem for a few days then see if your child can supply the rhyming words. Encourage him to learn the whole poem and illustrate it. Then he can show off his work and recite the poem for someone. Keep these in a nice hard back book and he’ll have his own poetry book which will be a treasury for him later on. Make this enjoyable, not a chore!
If you’re looking for another book to extend your collection, try the Walker Book of Poetry for Children. Jack Prelutsky, out of print but you can find it for pennies second hand.
READING AND WRITING
Progress through the reading scheme Ladybird reading scheme(publisher Ladybird) practising reading and writing a sentence about what they have read.
Create a dictionary of words in an exercise book for the child so that they can begin to write independently e.g. the child may come to you for the word look, write it in the dictionary for them and have them copy it into their sentence. Over time they will be able to write on their own.
Child can practise writing simple sentences of news e.g. On Monday I went to the park.
Progress through Early Spellings publisher Schofield and Sims books introducing sounds such as pl, sh, ch etc.
Introduce spelling tests of 3 letter words and new sounds as they are taught.
Widen reading by introducing extra scheme reading books eg Janet and John (publisher Nisbet).
Early grammar work, write a sentence, child copies it putting in capital letter and full stop.
READING AND WRITING
Writing- handwriting book Getty and Dubay Handwriting from Ichthus resources, 3 to 4 lines- 4 days a week.
Copy work and dictation from child’s prayers, poems and reading books.
Beginning grammar from book, First Language Lessons, by Jessie Wise, with adaptions from my lesson plan.
To ensure the children are reading well and are developing their reading skills by listening to them read aloud to me each day and to provide books for them to read that will challenge them.
Regular library visits.
Poetry- read aloud once a week, some to memorize and copy work
Read aloud from book lists, use narration techniques.
Your local library should have a selection of reading schemes such as
The Oxford Reading Tree Biff and Chip
Apple Tree Farm Usbourne
Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons Simon and Schuster
Try to read every day. Write the sentence you have read from the book into an exercise book and have child copy your writing underneath. Draw a picture and colour.
Continue adding new words over time as words are learnt and start to progress through the reading scheme.
At the same time practise writing 3 letter words in books such as Early Spellings (publisher Schofield and Sims).