4 Common Mistakes When Teaching a Child to Read

Today I want to share four common mistakes that teachers and parents often make when teaching a child to read.

4 mistakes when teaching reading

Mistake #1: Teaching the names of the letters first.

When we read a word we do not need to know the name of the letter but rather the sounds that the letter makes. Take the word “cab” as an example. If a child learned the names of the letters first, he would read the word “cab” as “See, A, Bee”. Here we can see that the knowledge of letter names is not useful for learning to read. Knowing the sounds that letters make is much more beneficial. A child who knows his letter sounds can easily read the word “cab” as /k/-/a/-/b/.

Solution: Teach letter sounds before teaching the names of the letters.

Mistake #2: Teaching capital letters first.

Many parents and educators teach young children capital letters first. This seems impractical since a child will encounter lowercase letters in reading far more often than uppercase letters.

Solution: Introduce lowercase letters to a child first and introduce uppercase letters as needed (i.e writing the first letter in his name).

Mistake #3: Associating letters with pictures.

Most phonics programs have a picture next to the letter to help the child recall the letter sound or name. While this technique seems useful it actually clutters the child’s mind with added information making it harder for him to quickly retrieve the sound needed for reading that letter. For example, when a child sees an apple next to the letter “a”, he now has the letter “a”, the sound /a/, and the picture of an apple all stored together in his brain. When he sees the letter “a” in a word he will retrieve not only the sound /a/ but also the image of an apple, which clutters the mind and is not useful for reading the word.

Solution: Teach the letters and their sounds without any added pictures. Simply write the letter on an index card and review with the child the sounds the letter makes.

Mistake #4: Initially teaching only one sound for a letter with multiple sounds.

It seems reasonable to teach a child only one sound at a time for any given letter. The assumption is that we don’t want to overwhelm the child with too much information. However, the opposite is actually true. Initially teaching all the sounds that a letter makes at the same time helps form quicker recall when reading and provides much less frustration when a child encounters a word that uses the second or third sound of a letter. For example, a child that learned only the sound /a/ for “a” will be discouraged when they encounter words like “ball” and “cake”.

Solution: Teach all the sounds of the letters from the beginning.

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