Archive for Early Readers

A Fourteen-Point Checklist for an Outstanding Phonics Reading Program

Are you shopping for a good phonics program? Want to supplement your current reading program? Here is a blueprint and guide to what in my experience are the best features to look for in a good phonics reading program:

1. One Letter at a Time

Short-vowel sounds are the very foundation of our English language. They can be difficult to learn and are best taught first, one at a time, in isolation. Focusing on only one sound at a time develops reading accuracy and prevents guessing.

(Beneficial for everyone—especially ELL, LD, or hearing-challenged students.)

2. Illustrated Letters

Every letter should be illustrated with pictures of objects beginning with the sound. At first many children are unable to hear these sounds within a word. Multiple illustrations add a depth of perspective that is similar in effect to a 3-D hologram, and depict the subtle variations of each sound.

(Multiple pictures beginning with each sound also develop and strengthen phonemic awareness.)

3. Large Letters

Even with proper glasses students often struggle with smaller letters when first learning how to read. It’s easier for everyone to learn from large letters initially. This feature is especially useful to beginners, LD learners, or those with vision challenges.

(Once reading is well-established it is much easier to read finer print!)

4. Phonemic Awarenes

Phonemic awareness is a precursor to phonics but should never be confused with phonics. Teach phonemic awareness with letters at the same time for maximum efficiency. “Phonemic awareness instruction is most effective when it is kept simple and when it includes letters.” ~Timothy Shanahan, Director, University of Illinois Center for Literacy

(Phonemic awareness teaches only sounds. Phonics teaches both letters and sounds.)

5. Multisensory

A multisensory approach ensures success for everyone, regardless of their learning mode. How students learn may be different—but what they learn should be the same. Everyone should be able to decode long words by syllables whatever their learning mode. A multisensory method has the synergistic effect of addressing the strongest mode while reinforcing the weakest.

(After all, visual learners still must hear the word, and auditory learners still must see the word!)

6. Blend Consonants With Vowels

When teaching consonants, blending them with a vowel instead of teaching them in isolations eliminated the extra “uh” sound heard in voiced consonants, such as “d-uh” when trying to say the sound of “d.” This strategy begins to develop smooth eye-tracking skills and prevents choppy reading. Students read “di-g” not “duh-i-g,” or “ca-t” not “cuh-a-t,” etc.

(Reading two-letter syllables before reading whole words will also remediate and prevent reversals.)

7. Build Words ASAP

Building words as letters are learned provides concrete exemplars for what can otherwise be confusing and abstract rules and sounds. It prevents the “reading-without-understanding” syndrome sometimes seen when all phonograms are learned first, prior to reading a whole word.

(Memory experts have long known it is easier to remember something new if you can connect it to something already known!)

8. Build Sentences Gradually

Blend letters into syllables, then gradually build words, two-word phrases, and finally sentences of slowly increasing complexity. It’s too big a leap for many students to move directly from reading words to reading complete sentences. Graduated reading practice jump-starts reading for everyone, especially for dyslexics.

(Just because we’ve learned all the piano notes does not mean we are ready to play a sonata!)

9. Teach Spelling With Reading

Reading and spelling enhance one another and are best taught as an integrated unit. Learning how to read and spell in systematic patterns develops clear, analytical thinking which spills over into other disciplines, such as math. Spelling today is taught randomly—what if we had to learn math randomly, 12 x 7, 6 x 9, 8 x 4, 5 x 11, etc.?

(When we learn how to read and spell by pattern math scores frequently improve without tutoring!)

10. Only One Spelling at a Time

Teach only one spelling of a phoneme at a time, beginning with the simplest spelling. It’s more difficult to teach and learn multiple spellings of a phoneme all at once, such as all seven spellings of /A/.

(Don’t you remember names better when you meet people only one at a time instead of being introduced to a whole roomful of people at once?)

11. 100% Decodable Practice

Early practice readings should only be comprised of sounds and rules already learned. The left brain acquires knowledge in small, sequential parts (letter sounds, math). The right brain acquires knowledge by seeing the whole picture (sight words, illustrations). Activity in one hemisphere actually suppresses activity of the mirror-image area on the other side!

(Once decoding is automatic we are able to see the whole word at once~the gestalt.)

12. Add Sight Words Gradually

After the mechanics of reading are established, sight words can gradually be introduced, a few at a time, such as “I” and “a” Example: “I had a fat cat.” Limited reading skills should be reasonably fluent before sight words are introduced.

(Our attention is limited to being able to focus on only one thing at a time. It cannot be directed to identifying letters at the same time that we are trying to comprehend the meaning of what we are reading!)

13. Teach Sight Words by Pattern

Words learned in patterns are grouped and filed in one “folder” in your brain and quickly retrieved. Words learned randomly are filed in separate “folders,” and take more time to retrieve. Example: sight words “could, would, should” are best taught with other /oo/ words such as “took, book, look,” etc.

(Having to learn words randomly results in slow and laborious reading, and children seldom read for pleasure.)

14. Include ALL Spelling Rules

Linguistic awareness eases learning and develops logical, analytical thinking. Example: “Why are some words spelled -able and others -ible, as in appeasable, horrible, etc.?” It’s so much easier knowing one rule for many words than it is learning each word individually!

(Critical thinking sharpens, and spelling improves dramatically!)

Happy Shopping!



Reading Level After Phonics Pathways?


“I do have a question concerning your book. What grade level would someone be at as far as typical phonics/reading skills after finishing Phonics Pathways? My young five-year-old son just reached the pyramid, and was so excited to read his first BOB book after reading the pyramid.”


When someone finishes Phonics Pathways they are technically able to read anything in the English language, uncategorized or unhampered by “grade level.” However, that does not mean they will want to, or understand what they are reading.

For example, you and I technically would be able to read a book about brain surgery because we understand the mechanics of reading, but it is doubtful that either one of us would comprehend what we are reading.

So along with teaching the mechanics of reading, it is also necessary to develop  vocabulary and comprehension. As far as vocabulary goes this is best done with good books — reading to them using a wide variety of literature, and explaining the meaning of any words that may be too difficult to understand at the time. (Yet even if they don’t understand all the meanings of the words, just being able to read them and pronounce them is a considerable achievement!) Learn how to use the dictionary.

Good movies can help accomplish this as well, if chosen carefully. I’m also a believer in diagramming sentences as reading develops, to help organize complex sentences into logical patterns. And always, periodically, ask them to explain to you in a nutshell what they just read. Who did what? (You can also ask them how they felt about it, what they think might happen next, etc. but those are conversational questions that don’t directly deal with the content.)

In summary, exposing your young son to a wide use of new vocabulary using a variety of techniques is the best thing you can do to develop his reading skills and comprehension!


Early Decodable Readers


 Do you recommend any early readers? I want to thank you for creating Phonics Pathways.  I am using it with my 12-year-old daughter who joined our family two years ago from India.  She arrived knowing no English. After sitting in a classroom for over a year she was making no progress, so she and I began homeschool. 

“I started with the Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading (a good book but better for kids who already know English), then switched to Phonics Pathways after advice from another homeschooling parent.  It has been wonderfully effective at helping my daughter learn to read.  We take it slowly and review.  We have played the train game and the star card game.  She is interested in what “Dewey” has to say on each page.

“I have a master’s degree in library science, and I have a wonderful children’s book collection.  I am reading the “classics” aloud to my daughter after our Phonics Pathways exercises. Are there early readers you recommend that she could read herself”


Once students can read three-letter words and simple two-word phrases they are probably ready for gradually progressive and decodable readers.

“Decodable” is the key word here! The problem with most early readers is that Read more