The English language is made up of only 26 letters and 44 sounds, called phonemes. The phonics method has children memorize the phoneme each letter or letter combination, or digraph, makes in order to sound out words. In order to teach your child to read with phonics, you would help your child memorize what sound each letter makes, and then help your child blend those letter sounds together to sound out words.
One great advantage of the phonics approach is that it allows children to easily decipher a multitude of words after they have learned their letter sounds. Phonics is great for small words such as cat, dog and car. The biggest drawback of phonics, however, is that not all words in the English language follow phonics rules. Phonics will not help children read words such as gnat and knight. It can also be a slow process that interferes with fluency and comprehension.
2. Sight Words
With the sight word, or whole language, method, children learn to read words as units, instead of sounding out individual letters. This method usually uses flash cards and rote memorization. Back in 1948, Edward William Dolch created a list of 220 words he felt were necessary for students to read immediately upon sight. This list of Dolch words is still widely used today.
The sight word method is great for words that children use frequently and need to read quickly, such as and, the and is. It is also great for words that are irregular or words that are featured frequently in a particular book, such as “hippopotamus” in a book about zoo animals. One main drawback of the sight word method, however, is that it does not help children decipher new words they have not seen before.
3. Environmental Print
If you want your child to be able to read useful words that he or she sees every day, teach your child to read environmental print, words your child sees in his or her environment. Because your child sees these words every day, they hold a special significance and your child can pick them up more easily. Environmental print includes useful words and phrases such as McDonalds, stop, Kix and elementary school.
A few advantages of teaching reading using environmental print are that the words are extremely useful and accessible, and the method is relatively informal. On the other hand, environmental print only contains a very small portion of the English language, it is almost always only nouns and it will not help children learn other necessary reading skills such as fluency and comprehension.
If you are looking for a more structured way to teach your child to read, you may want to invest in a basal. Basals are the large reading textbooks most school teachers use in the classroom. They contain a collection of stories all written specifically for a certain reading ability and to emphasize certain reading skills and concepts. Basals usually come with a student edition, a teacher’s guide and a workbook to reinforce concepts.
One advantage of basals is that they present students with a range of story types and subjects that are all on the same reading level. Basals also come with additional material that can be helpful as well. One drawback of basals, however, is that the material is somewhat contrived with a limited vocabulary to meet a certain reading level. The quality of the stories in basals may be diminished as well.
5. Trade Books
Trade books are books published by book companies for the general public, such as those found in libraries and books stores. Reading trade books with your child is a great way to teach your child to read because trade books are highly enjoyable and expose children to a vast variety of words, concepts and ideas. Books that have won the prestigious Newbery Award or that have been named Newbery Honor Books are sure to be of an exceptional quality.
The advantages of trade books include: they are readily available, they are interesting and engaging and they are not limited in terms of vocabulary, difficulty or content. One disadvantage of using trade books is that it is easy to miss particular skills and vocabulary if parents and children simply select books that they like or at random instead of choosing them according to a specific program.
In reality, there is no one method that is best for teaching your child how to read. The best reading program will draw on the strengths of each of these methods so students learn all the words and reading skills they need in the way that teaches them best.
Racheal Tighe, an Australian primary school teacher has a passion for helping teach your child to read through Little Learning Planet. Find Racheal on Google+!