What to Do When Your Child Guesses at Words

child guesses at words

Guessing at words is a common strategy for struggling readers. It doesn’t mean a child is being lazy or disinterested in reading. If a child is guessing, it’s likely they haven’t been taught the strategies needed to properly decode a word and determine its correct pronunciation.

Guessing is common among children who haven’t been taught early phonics skills. Phonics teaches children the principles of letter-sound relationships, which gives them the ability to correctly decode and pronounce written words and figure out words they haven’t seen before.

A child who hasn’t been taught decoding strategies will persistently guess at words based on the first letter or two, or based on its shape. For example, if the word is bread, they might read the word as bird or break.

There are several reasons for why a child might guess at words, and it’s important to speak with your child’s teacher if you pick up on a habit. Persistent guessing will make reading meaningless and frustrating for a child, and may discourage them from reading altogether.

Here are some ways you can help your child overcome their guessing habit.

1. Explain the ‘how’ of decoding words. When your child comes across an unknown word, show them how they can sound out the word by breaking it up into smaller parts (e.g. /c/…/a/…/t/).

2. Break up words into two parts. Cover the last part of the word with your finger and ask your child to say the first part. Then cover the first part and say the last part.

3. Read slowly and have your child repeat after you. Point to each sound as your read a sentence, and then ask your child to repeat after you. This will encourage them to pay attention to each individual part that makes up a word.

4. Use context clues. When your child guesses a word incorrectly, ask them if what they have read makes sense. Go back to the words they have read correctly and look at the pictures to help them use context clues to figure it out.

5. Combine context with sounding out parts of a word. Go back to an unknown word and ask your child to repeat the words that precede and follow it. Then ask them to sound out at least the first one or two sounds of the word. This will encourage them to use both the context of the sentence and the letter sounds.

6. Read nursery rhymes. Rhymes help children pay closer attention to word sounds by listening out for patterns. Take turns reading aloud each line of a nursery rhyme so that you can set up the rhythm and pace for your child to follow.

7. Play word family games. Choose an ending word family (e.g. -am, -at, -ed, -it) and ask your child to say and write all of the words they can come up with that end with that sound. This will help them build essential phonics skills.

8. Create word cards. Write some words that have three sounds on separate pieces of card, e.g. cow, bat, dog, lip, sun, pot. Let your child choose a card, read the word together, and then hold up three fingers. Ask them to tell you the first sound they hear in the word, then the second, then the third.

9. Use letter magnets. If your child struggles with middle vowel sounds, prepare letter magnets on the fridge and pull the vowels to one side (a, e, i, o, u). Say a CVC word (consonant-vowel-consonant), for example cat, and ask your child to spell it using the magnets. To help them, say each vowel sound aloud (/ayh/, /eh/, /ih/, /ah/, /uh/) while pointing at its letter, and ask your child which one makes a sound similar to the middle sound.

Reading Eggs includes hundreds of self-paced and structured phonics games, activities and lessons designed to teach children to read in a fun and motivating way.

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5 Ways to Help Your Child Sound out Words

help child sound out words

Cracking the reading code takes practice and repetition. Decoding words, or sounding them out, is the ability to apply existing knowledge of letter-sound relationships to correctly pronounce printed words.

Many children develop the ability to decode words over time with regular reading practice. But children may also benefit from explicit instruction. Phonics instruction is an essential component of learning to read, and involves teaching your child how to decode words by correlating sounds with letters.  Here are five helpful ways you can help your child sound out words:

1. Explain the “how” of decoding words. When your child comes across a word they are unfamiliar with, show them how they can sound out the word themselves by breaking it up into smaller parts (e.g. /c/…/a/…/t/). Help your child identify the phonemes – the single units of sound that distinguish one word from another – in words (e.g. /b/…/ur/…/n/). There are 44 phonemes in the English language. Phonemes charts can be found online.

The English language also contains many irregular spelling rules which can make sounding out particular words confusing. For example the letter combination /ch/ in the words ‘chef’, ‘choir’ and ‘cheese’ have three different pronunciations. Take time to help your child learn the pronunciation of every new word along with its meaning, in order to help them identify ‘irregular’ words by sight.

2. Teach blending. Blending is a crucial step in becoming a fluent reader. Put simply, blending is the ability to smoothly combine individual sounds together in words. For example, an early reader may read out each individual sound in the word ‘fast’ like /f/…/a/…/s/…/t/, while smooth blending would be sounding the word out as /faasst/. Read some activities on how to teach your child blending here.

3. Write it down. When helping your child sound out words, consider the following:

  1. Say it slowly – stretch out words so that it’s easier to hear the sounds. Vowel sounds are usually the easiest to stretch out.
  2. Hold the sound – Starting with the first sound, hold it and stop.
  3. Find the letter – Help your child identify the letter whose sound matches the sound they have identified.
  4. Write it down – Write that letter down straight away, without waiting until the entire word has been sounded out. Help your child write a letter or letter combination for each sound as soon as the sound is identified.

Writing each sound as you go will help your child remember early sounds in a word by the time they figure our later sounds.

3. Play with rimes and onsets. A rime refers to the string of letters that follow an onset, which is the first phonological unit of any word. You can play with rimes and onsets by cutting out pieces of cards and writing a phoneme on each one, for example, b c f p r s m and h. Write the word at on a separate piece of paper. Ask your child to look at the rime at and decide if they have a phoneme that would correctly complete the word (e.g. b + at = bat).

4. Read aloud. When children hear words read aloud, they begin seeing how printed words are closely connected to spoken words. Reading aloud with your child helps them associate individual sounds with printed letters and letter combinations. Set aside regular reading time with your child and allow them to hear you read aloud slowly while watching your finger identify each sound. Programs like Reading Eggs include read aloud options with e-books for early readers, highlighting individual sounds as they are being read out.

Reading Eggs is the multi-award winning online reading program that teaches children to read using phonics. Suitable for children ages 3-13, Reading Eggs includes hundreds of guided reading lessons and over 2000 e-books for children of all reading levels. Start your free two week trial today.

10 Easy Ways to Build Your Child’s Phonemic Awareness

phonemic awareness

Understanding that words are made up of individual sounds is the very first step towards becoming a reader. Children who have developed a fundamental understanding of this will have a much easier time learning to read printed words. This is where phonemic awareness comes into play.

Phonemic awareness is the ability to understand how sounds work in spoken language. It is one of the five essential components of learning to read, and can be explicitly taught through a range of strategies and everyday activities.

Because phonemic awareness comes before learning to read text, it is mostly developed at home. Parents play a significant role in developing their child’s phonemic awareness.

Here are ten simple ways to build your child’s phonemic awareness and take those first steps towards learning to read.

1. Sing songs and nursery rhymes. Rhymes help children understand that sounds in our language have meaning and follow certain patterns. Have fun reading and reciting songs and nursery rhymes together, and exaggerate the rhyming words to highlight the different sounds in each word.

2. Encourage listening. Encourage your child to listen closely and pronounce the sounds in words. Help them listen for individual sounds in words, pull them apart and put them together.

3. Speak slowly and use repetition. If your child is struggling to hear sounds within a word, say the word slowly and repeat the word if necessary. This will make it easier for them to hear the individual sounds. The goal is to help them develop an “ear for sounds”.

4. Create word cards. Write some words that have three sounds on separate pieces of card, e.g. cow, bat, dog, lip, sun, pot. Let your child choose a card, read the word together, and then hold up three fingers. Ask them to tell you the first sound they hear in the word, then the second, then the third.

5. Create a print rich environment. Printed words allow children to see and apply connections between sounds and letters. Make an effort to draw your child’s attention to sounds by saying and pointing to letters at the same time.

6. Play “I Spy the Sound”. “I Spy the Sound” is a fun way to build phonemic awareness. In this variation of “I Spy”, spy words that begin with a certain sound, rather than a letter.

7. Word games. Have fun inventing word games based around listening, identifying and manipulating the sounds in words. Begin a word game with your child by asking questions like, “What sound starts the word __________”, “What sound ends the word __________”, “What words start with the sound __________”, or “What word rhymes with __________”.

8. Write together. Sit down with your child to write a greeting card or a shopping list together while slowly sounding out the word sounds you write. This will help your child understand that words are made up of different sounds that come together to create meaning.

9. Play board games. Family board games like Junior Scrabble or Boggle are fun ways to play with words and sounds. Place an emphasis on the sounds in words and encourage your child to do the same.

10. Read aloud regularly. Read slowly while pointing to each sound, and encourage your child to repeat them too.

Reading Eggs is the multi-award winning online reading program for children aged 3-13 years. With hundreds of guided lessons and thousands of activities and e-books, Reading Eggs covers the five essential components of reading success: phonics, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, comprehension and fluency. Start your free trial of Reading Eggs here.

3 Fun Phonics Games

phonics games for kids

Letters Race

For this game you will need a magnetic board, magnetic letters and some open space. Set up the magnetic board on one side of the room, and place the magnetic letters on the other side. Call out a letter, or sound, or even a word starting or ending in a particular letter, and ask your child (with a ready, set, go!) to pick out the correct magnetic letters and run over as fast as they can to stick it on the board.

Matching Rhymes

You’ll need a corkboard or something you can stick pins into for this one. All you have to do is write down a list of words on one side of a sheet of paper, and on the other side write down words that rhyme with these words, but in a different order. Then stick pins next to each word. Give your child some rubber bands and ask them to match the rhyming words on each side of the page by placing the rubber bands on the pins to connect the rhyming pair.

Phonics Hop-Scotch

This is a great game that helps children develop their skills with matching letters to their sounds. All you need is some chalk and the ground. Simply draw hopscotch markings on the ground (how many squares and in what shape they are arranged is up to you). In each square draw a letter of the alphabet (you may want to draw both the upper and lower case letters in each). There are many ways you can play this game, you can call out a letter or combination of letters and ask your child to jump on those letters, and as they do, for them to sound out each letter. Or you can ask your child to jump on the letters in alphabetical order, sounding them out as they go along. You can also roll dice and ask your child to jump to the square that matches the number rolled, counting the squares as they jump and sounding the letter out at the end.

Visit www.readingeggs.com to see how your child can learn how to read while having fun with Reading Eggs!