Early Years Primary Primary Literacy

Primary – Teaching reading in the Early Years

I have used many approaches to teaching children to read in the 18 years of my teaching career, some successful, some not so successful.

One of the more unusual approaches I encountered was at University. I was fortunate enough, or should I say unfortunate enough, to find myself in the midst of the real books philosophy. “Give a child a real book and they will learn to read it.” Even as a fresh behind the ears student this appeared bizarre. The children were not in fact learning to read but were simply retelling the book in their own little way adding in a few more details.  As a naive student I found myself on a placement with a teacher who was probably tearing her hair out at my lack of knowledge of reading and how to teach it.

As a newly qualified teacher I began to grasp the idea that children need a bank of key words to help them read and it was here I came upon the endless flashcards that were sent home, probably boring the child to death before they were ever actually introduced to a book.

Moving to a different school brought new methods again; no more flashcards in fact no more books.  Instead a sheet of paper with all of the words from the books typed on it. I had the courage to challenge the deputy head teacher’s notion that “Books never come back to school, not round here” and be rebellious. I gave the children real reading scheme books and much to her annoyance, and my secret joy, the books did come back to school.

It was at this time that I started to appreciate the importance of phonics as a stepping-stone to reading. Through phonics the whole puzzling question of which of these methods was the best way to teach children to read started to unravel – it was in fact all of them!

With this in mind, in a new school and with a new age group, I introduced a successful beginning reading programme. Children need certain foundations to read and the key foundation is letters and sounds. As part of the foundation stage I tried to teach the children without them even realising. I immersed the children in sounds:
•    we sang them
•    printed them
•    made them with our bodies
•    traced them
•    hunted them around the room
•    collected items representing and matching them
•    played skittles knocking down our sounds.

Once the children had a grasp of 20 initial letter sounds I made up a pack of 6 individual sounds (s a t i p n) on laminated card and sent them home with the children to physically move around and make words such as tap pat nip pin etc. This was then reinforced in class with the children being given the opportunity to blend these sounds together in a range of ways:
•    on big dice – role and make a word
•    on an interactive whiteboard – moving sounds
•    find the letters hidden in the sand and water
•    tabards with the sounds on for the children to wear and move around making words
•    treasure hunts outside find the letters and make a word

The next key foundation was for the children to blend these sounds independently. For this I introduced a bingo style game, the children need to read the word and then match it to their bingo board – once again adding a fun element to a key skill. (Making up the boards and cutting and slicing the cards is a lengthy process but once done this was a valuable resource that is still used in that class today)

The next step is for the children to understand the workings of a book and begin to discover the wonderful world of books through:
•    Stories
•    big books
•    interactive books
•    books with cds
•    puppets to re-enact stories
•    shared books to take home
•    an inspiring book area where children would love to sit and relax – I myself would sit in there if I could fit

Another essential foundation for reading is key words (high frequency words). I teach this a little while after the blending as children need know their sounds to be able to look at initial sounds and end sounds in words. Immersing children in these words throughout the room and using various activities really helps to reinforce these key words. We also made up another set of bingo card games this time containing key words for children to share with parents.

Once the children had grasped the blending and could recognise 10 key words I would then give the children a reading book. A real reading book! This was an important part of my reception class, which we celebrated with a certificate, and a badge, which were awarded in assembly. This ceremony would then encourage the more reluctant readers to try a little more as they too wanted a real reading book, certificate, and badge along with a little bit of fuss of course.

As a leading literacy school we have shared this now well established system with students starting on their journey as I did many years ago. Moving to a new school last year I have successfully introduced the lotto bingo system here and we have been able to move children from non-readers to real readers.  As for me, I now feel I have at last grasped the question, how do you teach a child to read.

Click HERE to download your free Bingo phonics cards.

Joanne Bruton
Primary teacher

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