Best Practices for Teaching Kids Reading and Writing
Following best practices for reading and writing can skyrocket your child's reading. Here's how to teach kids to read and write using the 5 pillars of literacy.
There are many thoughts on best practices for teaching reading and writing. However, recent research in literacy science shows that when we embrace how our brains learn to read, we can rapidly advance our reading skills and encourage a life-long love of learning.
Many traditional instructional methods focus on the wrong aspect at the wrong time, or take an inefficient approach to teach foundational reading skills. Sometimes the power of something simple can be entirely overlooked. For example, developing handwriting, or becoming practiced in listening to and identifying sounds.
With a Science of Reading aligned approach, you will see that educational outcomes soar when best practices for teaching reading and writing are approached with a fun, kid-friendly method that works in tandem with the brain’s natural learning sequences.
The best practices for teaching, reading and writing incorporate all five pillars of literacy. Literary research overwhelmingly shows that children gain the highest educational achievement when teachers teach all five pillars together. Teaching and weaving these ‘pillars’ together, rather than teaching them in isolation, is the best way to achieve an effective literacy education.
It all starts here. Being able to identify, isolate, and manipulate small sounds that make up the English language (phonemes) is phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness is a necessary first step in learning to read, and it should be a core component of reading instruction in kindergarten and early primary classrooms. Essentially, this is being able to hear the sounds that kids will need to learn how to read and write. If they can’t hear them, how can they write or read them?
As kids learn to discriminate sounds, it’s good to also talk about the letters. Understanding the relationship between sounds and letters to form words is the basis of Phonics. Once Phonemic Awareness skills are strong, Phonics will be the building block of further reading skills.
Ensure kids can fully grasp individual sounds (see Phonemic Awareness) so that they can then learn how to read and write them. To do this, focus on developing decoding skills. (‘Decoding’ is a fancy way of saying “breaking apart words as we read, to sound them out.”)
We have to be able to sound words out to read them and also to write them. We also have to be able to make decisions about how to spell words. There can be many ways to spell the same sound. For example, sky, light, and bike. These all have the long i sound in them, but they are spelled in different ways. Phonics is “I know this sound, now how do I write it correctly?”
As the above skills are developed, we should aim to nurture increasing fluency. Students with good fluency levels will be able to read quickly, sound natural, and can prove comprehension when they are reading instead of breaking down each word.
Learning the meaning of words is fundamental to learning to read. Expanding vocabulary should be a primary focus in teaching reading, as kids’ comprehension relies on establishing a diverse vocabulary.
Of course, being able to understand what is being read is the ultimate goal. Everything we have talked about so far leads to comprehension. Children with good reading comprehension can easily understand the logic and order of a text or sentence. While some educators believe that children will eventually catch on with continued exposure, it has been shown that the brain learns best when it is explicitly taught comprehension skills.
Phonemic awareness is a key stepping stone to learning to read and write. Once children are explicitly taught individual sounds, they can more easily hear and identify specific sounds in their day-to-day lives. Phonemic awareness is a skill that can be developed anywhere, in formal and informal learning environments. It truly serves as the first step in propelling children towards effective reading.
It’s all about the power of making connections between the pillars of early literacy. Scarborough’s Rope is a concept of learning to read developed by Dr. Hollis Scarborough. Dr. Scarborough recognized that each “strand” of reading-related skills must be woven together to develop fluency and comprehension in successful reading.
Dr. Scarborough believes that teaching literacy skills in isolation is an ineffective method of instruction. Instead, children should be taught in a manner that connects all pillars of literacy. You may have noticed that the pillars described earlier in this article seem to be closely related.
They are! Instead of having a program to teach Phonemic Awareness and another for Phonics, etc., teaching needs to be weaved together so that kids can connect the dots. Many reading programs still teach in the traditional manner, but educators that adopt connected methods tend to see higher reading success.
Educational success relies on successful reading and writing. These two skills are known to be the single most important factor to educational success throughout a child’s school life. Since the skills developed in primary school can affect learning right through to the college years, it is essential to use the most effective methods right out of the gate.
Now let’s talk about the power of fun. Everything you’ve read so far needs to be wrapped up in a big, silly, kid-friendly FUN!
Fun = opportunity in the world of children, and if we can teach in a way that reflects this, we will see much greater success. Keeping literacy education kid-friendly is necessary to build a love of learning from an early age.
Children perform better when educational settings are fun, new, and allow them to move freely throughout the day. Incorporating songs, stories, dance, and other forms of movement are the key to honoring little ones. Use kid energy as an opportunity in teaching them to read and write!
Incorporating movement in teaching is a highly effective way for teachers to build reading and writing skills. For example, using a motion for each sound (phoneme) is a great tool to teach Phonemic Awareness. Children love using their bodies and hunting for sounds. Additionally, a handwriting method where kids learn to form their letters from stories is highly effective. This method also incorporates the motion for the letter’s sound, which helps students to easily learn the sound that each letter makes. Kinesthetic Motions for the Phonemes (KMPs) are a wonderful way to harness kid energy and capture the attention of little ones as we develop skilled readers and writers.
Establishing a handwriting routine is very important to developing readers and writers. Why? It helps children to identify letters and sounds as they read, and it also helps them to write with fluency. If kids get stuck writing a letter, all of a sudden, they lose track of what they were trying to write in the first place.
We want to make sure that they can write every letter without even thinking about it, and that they know what sound (or sounds) each letter makes. A commitment to a daily handwriting routine is so helpful to little ones. It can be just a few minutes per day. Repetition, practice, movement, and song are helpful components of a great handwriting routine. Added bonus: link the sound to the letter.
While teaching reading and writing, we cannot assume that students will eventually “pick up” the skills. The brain needs explicit instruction in order to grasp concepts fully. By always modeling first (showing them how it’s done) and then gradually letting the child take more responsibility for reading and writing themselves, struggling readers have a much higher likelihood of mastering the skill in an appropriate time frame.
Show them, show them, show them! Talk about what you are doing and why you are doing it. Verbalize your thought process as you model and demonstrate anything new. This can be as simple as writing a letter. Modeling is key. Tip! This also lessens the burden of learning something new; let’s find ways to reduce stress for our little learners. Ultimately, we are trying to develop a love of learning. This is an important step in achieving that goal.
Using connected teaching methods in literacy education can help foster a positive learning environment for early learners. By using the best practices to teach reading and writing using the way students’ brains actually learn to read, we are setting them up for success across all subject areas.
Phonics in Motion is a pioneer in integrating all pillars of early literacy instruction while also developing a love of learning in little ones. Based on the intensive research of Dr. Terry Kindervater, you can find out more information about this teaching method by requesting the e-book. It is filled with step-by-step instructions for helping both parents and teachers to master the fundamentals of teaching literacy in a fun and effective way.