If your child is struggling with reading a word, or is reading it incorrectly to you, resist the temptation to jump in and give the correct word. Remember that it is better in the long term to teach a man to fish than to just give him a fish. Instead, remember the three P’s:
If your child is making a substitution for the word on the page, (e.g. substituting ’house’ for ‘horse’) give him or her a chance to self-correct. If he or she does not, you might ask “Does that make sense?” If the child continues to read the word incorrectly or is not able to produce a word at all, move on to ‘Prompt’.
Your first prompt should be: “Sound it out”. Your child should sound out the word, starting with the first sound and making his or her way through to the last sound, blending the sounds together.
Your second prompt should target the problematic letter-sound correspondence(s). Give the correct correspondence(s) e.g. “The letter combination ‘ow’ can represent the sound /ow/, like in the word ‘cow’.”
Your last prompt should be “Try the word again”.
Only if your child is still unsuccessful should you supply the correct word. Remember to be a good role model by sounding out and blending to produce the word.
Praise your child verbally for hard work. How and when you praise is important. If a child is reading a sentence, you should probably wait until the end of the sentence before praising, so as not to interrupt the flow or sense.
Rather than saying “Good job” or something similar, give feedback about what the child did, for instance, “You sounded that out really well” or “You broke that big word up just the way you needed to”. This will hopefully reinforce the use of the helpful strategy.
Compound and Multi-syllable Words
If your child is having difficulty with or is misreading a word that has more than one syllable, then you will need to help him or her to break the word down into syllables and sound out each syllable in turn.
Your prompt could be:
That word is made up of two smaller words. Can you tell me what one of those words is? What is the other word? Now put them together.”
If your child cannot identify the two parts of the word, cover the second with your finger and ask the child to sound out the first one.
Then cover the first part and ask the child to read the second one before blending the two.
There can be a number of reasons a child struggles or makes mistakes in spelling a word, for example, failure to sound out a word from beginning to end, visually-based letter order reversals or letter omissions/additions, lack of knowledge of possible letter-sound correspondences. The principle of Pause, Prompt, Praise applies to spelling as well as reading.
Before you say anything to the child, you should first check if an incorrect spelling is phonetically correct, e.g. ‘dolfin’ is a phonetically correct spelling of ‘dolphin’. Each sound has been represented, in the correct order, by one of its letter correspondences.
Is the error developmentally appropriate? If the child writing ‘dolfin’ is in the first year of school, you shouldn’t comment on the inaccuracy because he or she (almost certainly) hasn’t been taught that ‘ph’ can represent /f/ yet. If the child is nearer the end of primary school, you should teach the child the correct letter-sound correspondence.
Your first prompt should be: “Sound the word out. How many sounds do you hear in the word? Have you written something for each sound?” It may be helpful to have the child put out a counter (such as a piece of lego) for each sound then write a representation for each.
Your second prompt should target the problematic letter-sound correspondence(s). “You have made the correct letter choice for sounds 1 and 2 but you need to think of another choice for sound 3. What is another choice for that sound? Have a go at writing the word with that choice. Does that look right?”
If your child doesn’t know what the other choices are, provide the answer.
Other prompts for accurate spelling may include:
Have you represented the sounds in the correct order?”
Can you think of a word you spell easily that sounds the same at the end/beginning as your word?”
This should lead the child to the phonetically correct spelling.
I always encourage children to sing the syllables in a multi-syllable word to support syllable-by-syllable spelling – we naturally sing in syllables (a good example is “Hap-py birth-day”). I don’t find that clapping syllables is nearly as effective. The notes the child chooses don’t matter.
Prompt your child to sing the syllables of the word. He or she should then sing the first syllable and write down its sound-letter correspondences, sing the second syllable and write down its sound-letter correspondences, and so on.
Have a tip that’s helped your child when they felt stumped? Comment and share it with us!
Additional learning resources
- Quick Fix Phonics is helpful for learning these, since it teaches the choices systematically.
- We recommend the Quick Fix Phonics produced by Maelan Way which details the choices for all sounds with picture and word clues. It is a very inexpensive child-friendly reference tool.