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3 Essential Reading Skills—And How To Teach Them

How do we help students learn to read with less struggle? We help them learn to decode and build the 3 essential reading skills.

Confession: As a new teacher, I often struggled to teach students to read.

The main reason was that I didn’t provide students with the 3 essential reading skills.

Many of the activities, techniques and strategies I used—Looking at flashcards, using a mastery folder, LSCWC—relied on students’ visual memory. There is a limit to how much we can retain and then recall when needed. If students are not taught about decoding, then even for words that are easily decodable they can struggle.

So how do we help students learn to read with less struggle? We help them learn to decode and build the three essential reading skills.

3 Essential Reading Skills

The essential reading skills are blending, segmenting and manipulation. Let’s take a look at all three.

What is blending?

Blending is being able to push sounds together to build words. For example, /s/ /a/ /t/ = sat.

What is segmenting?

Segmenting is the ability to be able to pull apart individual sounds in words. For example: sat: /s/ /a/ /t/.

What is manipulation?

Phoneme manipulation is being able to insert and delete sounds in words. This skill is important as it allows readers to test alternatives for spellings that represent more than one sound.

(Sounds~Write, 2013).

Examples of manipulation include saying mat without the m or changing the middle sound in sat to make a new word, like sit.

Practice Essential Reading Skills

If your students are demonstrating poor segmenting, blending and manipulation skills then try these ideas:

1. Listening for sounds in words

Try this with younger children who are just starting out with the concept of reading. Say, “I see the ‘sun,’ what’s the first sound you hear in the word sun.”

Tip: When you are trying this activity initially, choose words that start with a sound that can be held, such as the /s/ in sun. You may need to really hold the first sound to emphasise it to younger children.

When children are able to identify the initial sound, then move on to try the end and middle sounds. Again, sun is good to use as you can hold the final sound to emphasise it. Other words to try include sat, sit, mat, man, map, nap. Think of short 3-letter words that have a consonant, vowel and consonant (CVC).

You can also play games like ‘eye-spy’ with younger students. Point out an object, saying, “I spy a mmmuuugg.” Students need to blend the sounds together to tell me the word.

2. Sound deletion

Being able to delete or add sounds in words is important for reading. Many students who have problems with hearing sounds in words will struggle to be able to do this at first. For this activity students will practice saying words by deleting some of the sounds.

For young children or those who haven’t had much practice with this, start with deleting the initial sound in words. For instance, get students to say a word without the first sound. Again, you can start with your simple CVC words. Say ‘mat’ without the ‘m.’ Say ‘Tom’ without the ‘t.’

If you have older students use words that have 4 or 5 sounds (CVCC, CCVCC, CVCCC, CCCVC etc). Say ‘slump’ without the ‘s.’ You can also move on to removing sounds either in the middle of the word or at the end of the word. Say ‘clump’ without the ‘l’ or say ‘print’ without the ‘t.’

3. Sound substitution

To extend the sound deletion activity, have students change sounds in words to make new words. (If you have students write the words on whiteboards, this activity serves as writing practice too.)

Ask students to change ‘mat’ into ‘sat’ or ‘spend’ into ‘spent’.

Before they make the new word, discuss which sound they are changing. Is it the first, second or third sound? It’s important to only change one sound at a time.

Have fun with this activity by using made up words. For example, change ‘block’ into ‘blon.’ This helps students really listen to the sounds in the words.

4. Brainstorming sounds

If you’ve been working on a particular sound with your class, have students brainstorm other words that have that sound. For example, you might have been looking at the digraph ‘sh’. As a class have your students share all the other words they know that have the sound ‘sh’.

This activity means that students help to make the word lists, rather than the teacher always providing the words.

5. Grouping sounds

If you’re working with one sound, but different spellings (such as sound /ae/), practice grouping the words according to their spelling. E.g. ‘a-e’: cake, ‘ai’: train, ‘ay’: say, ‘ea’: break. Highlight to your students that they all have the same /ae/ sound but that it can be spelled in these different ways.

Below are some examples of how my students have grouped particular sounds.

How do we help students learn to read with less struggle? We help them learn to decode and build the 3 essential reading skills.

How do we help students learn to read with less struggle? We help them learn to decode and build the 3 essential reading skills.

Games like What Sound Next and Change the Sound make practicing these reading skills fun. For more games and activities to practice essential reading skills, digraphs, CVC words and more, you’ll love the Complete Phonics Kit.

How do we help students learn to read with less struggle? We help them learn to decode and build the 3 essential reading skills.

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