Teaching Kids to Read For Dummies®


by Tracey Wood, MEd




About the Author

Tracey Wood was born in England. She went to teachers college in Leeds and graduated with an honors degree in Psychology and Education. She taught in a special school for four years and loved it. But sunnier climes called, and she left England for a backpacking vacation in Australia. Twelve years later, she was still enjoying the warmth of Australia and had traded her backpack for a husband and two kids.

In Australia, Tracey earned a Diploma in Special Education and a Masters degree in Education. For several years, she ran a high school special education unit and then started her own reading clinic. In the 1990s, Tracey moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. She ran a reading clinic; helped in her kids’ school; led two scouting troops; instructed for the Red Cross; created her Web site, ReadingPains.com ; and wrote her first book, See Johnny Read!

Still on the move (with her husband’s job), Tracey recently left the USA for Toronto. She wrote much of this book on the long drive. She is grateful to her kids for giving her a notepad and for filling her in on the parts of Harry Potter she missed hearing on CD while she was busy scribbling.



Two weeks before the birth of my first child, a friend came to my classroom to wish me luck. “Not long now,” he said. “Everything’s going to change for you soon. When the baby comes, you’ll really know what’s what.” It’s been over ten years since then, and now I have two middle-sized children. They give me endless material to write about; make me happy and sad and other things between; and break, lose, or eat many of my belongings. This book is dedicated to them. What my friend said all those years ago was true. Because of you, my incredible kids, my greatest joy, I think I have a better grasp of “what’s what.”

I am under strict instructions not to mention my husband. So I’ll have to be quick: Agent X, you read nearly all of my words, even when you were really sick of them; fixed my e-mail blunders; and helped me overcome my fear of the new printer (that does 63 more things than the old “on or off” one did). All the love and heartfelt appreciation I could write, please take a truck full of it, as said.


Publisher’s Acknowledgments

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our Dummies online registration form located at www.dummies.com/register/.

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media Development

Senior Project Editor: Tim Gallan

Acquisitions Editor: Natasha Graf

Copy Editor: Laura K. Miller

Assistant Editor: Holly Gastineau-Grimes

Technical Editor: Marey Richins

Editorial Manager: Christine Meloy Beck

Editorial Assistants: Melissa S. Bennett, Elizabeth Rea

Cover Photos: © Tim Krieger/Alamy

Cartoons: Rich Tennant, www.the5thwave.com


Project Coordinator: Adrienne Martinez

Layout and Graphics: Jonelle Burns, Amanda Carter, Andrea Dahl, Denny Hager, Stephanie D. Jumper, Michael Kruzil

Proofreaders: Dwight Ramsey; TECHBOOKS Production Services

Indexer: TECHBOOKS Production Services

Publishing and Editorial for Consumer Dummies

Diane Graves Steele, Vice President and Publisher, Consumer Dummies

Joyce Pepple, Acquisitions Director, Consumer Dummies

Kristin A. Cocks, Product Development Director, Consumer Dummies

Michael Spring, Vice President and Publisher, Travel

Brice Gosnell, Associate Publisher, Travel

Kelly Regan, Editorial Director, Travel

Publishing for Technology Dummies

Andy Cummings, Vice President and Publisher, Dummies Technology/General User

Composition Services

Gerry Fahey, Vice President of Production Services

Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services




About This Book

Foolish Assumptions

Conventions Used in This Book

How This Book Is Organized

Icons Used in This Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I : Preparing Your Child for the Road Ahead

Chapter 1: The Wonder and Power of Reading

Understanding the Process

Getting Excited about Reading

Picking the Right Time to Start Reading

Making Friends with the Alphabet

Building Words

Suffixes, Silent Letters, and Other Stuff

Reading with Your Child

When to Get Help

Chapter 2: The Pre-Reader: Leading Up to Letters

The Big Question: At What Age Do Most Kids Start to Read?

Surrounding Your Child with Words

Sharpening Your Child’s Listening Skills

Getting Cozy with Computers

Taming the TV

Trying First Letters and Names

Across the Lines and Down the Pages: Teaching a Few Reading Conventions

Chapter 3: Tigers and Teachers: Listening to Letters

Figuring Out Letter Sounds

Building Skills with Rhymes, Songs, and Alliteration

The Latest Word on Phonics

Chapter 4: m or n? b or d? Looking at Letters

Getting Started with Letters and Sounds

Using Books and Paper to Understand the Sounds of Letters

Identifying the Consonants

Getting to Know the Vowels

Making Time for Letter Names

Calling All Capitals

Chapter 5: Blending Letters Together

Blends and Non-Blends: What’s the Difference?

Getting Ready for Blends

Blends at the Beginnings

Training His Ears to Hear Blends

Fun at the School Supply Store

Blends on the Ends

Chapter 6: Four Special Sounds in Reading: ch, sh, ph, and th

Helping Your Child Hear ch, sh, ph, and th

Practicing the ch, sh, ph, and th Sounds

Looking at the Letters

A Word about the wh Sound

Part II : Building Words from Letters and Sounds

Chapter 7: Getting Ready for Words and Sentences

General Guidelines Before You Get Started

Is Your Child Ready for Short a Words?

at: Small but Powerful

Chapter 8: Reading Short a Words

Adding Letters to at to Make Words Like mat

Building at into Words Like flat

Playing with at Words in Card Games

Some at Words for a Challenge

Reading More a Words

Chapter 9: Reading Short e, i, and o Words

Is Your Child Ready for Short e, i, and o Words?

Building Short e, i, and o Words

Reading Short e Words

Reading Short i Words

Reading Short o Words

Reading Simple Sentences

Chapter 10: Reading Short u Words

Is Your Child Ready for Short u Words?

Building Short u Words

Reading Short u Words

Activities for More of a Challenge

Part III : Advancing to Sight Words and Long Vowel Sounds

Chapter 11: Understanding Sight Words

What Are Sight Words?

Getting Instant Recognition of Sight Words

Having Fun with Sight Words

Trying More Challenging Sight Word Activities

Keeping Track of Progress

Starting to Read Books

Chapter 12: Making Big Progress with Little Rules

The Brilliant Bossy e Rule: Your First Foray into Long Vowel Sounds

The Wonderful “When Two Vowels Go Walking” Rule

Chapter 13: y: A Letter Like No Other

Teaching the Different Sounds of y

Sampling the Different Sounds of y

Part IV : Scary Stuff Beginning with S: Soft Sounds, Suffixes, Syllables, and Silent Letters

Chapter 14: Soft Sounds

Soft g: Giraffes Age Gently

Soft c: Mice Race Cycles

Chapter 15: Endings (a.k.a. Suffixes)

A Quick Overview

Adding s or es

Adding ed

Adding ing

Adding y or ily

Adding er, est, and ly

Adding able or ible

Chapter 16: Chunks of Sound, or Syllables

Syllables: The Building Blocks of Words

Hearing Syllables in Words

Some Syllables and Sounds Worth Knowing

Chapter 17: Time to Growl: ar, or, er, ir, and ur

Knowing Your ar from Your r

More About or

er, ir, and ur

Taking Care with air

Chapter 18: Silent (But Not Deadly) Letters

A Smorgasbord of Silent Letters

Starting Off Easy

Hunting and Highlighting

Show and Tell

Chapter 19: Getting Beyond Sounds and Rules

Reading Well: It’s More Than Just Sounding Out Words

Using Activities to Improve Skills

Part V : Reading, Reading, and More Reading

Chapter 20: Choosing Just-Right Reading Books

Guidelines for Finding the Book That’s Just Right

Series Make Great Sense

A Word about Age and Gender

Making Room for Comics and ’Zines

A Summary of Easy Reading Hints

Chapter 21: Writing and Workbooks

Chicken or Egg?

First Steps in Writing

Journals, Scrapbooks, and Letters: The Early Work of Your Young Writer

Poems: A Special Way to Encourage Writing

Homemade Books

Workbooks: They’re Fun, Not Work

Chapter 22: Having Your Child Read Out Loud

Setting a Relaxed and Happy Reading Tone

Correcting Reading Mistakes

Tracking: You Don’t Have to Be a Ranger

Reading Out Loud Together

Repeat Readings

Using a Bit of Everything

Chapter 23: Keeping Your Child on the Reading Track

First Things First

Visiting the Library Often

Making Reading a Family Event

Reading Together

Making Reading Necessary

Reading for Social Reasons

Guided Reading

Achieving a Good Book-to-Child Fit

Chapter 24: When to Get Help for Your Child

How to Tell When Your Child’s Struggling

Three Ways to Gauge Your Child’s Relative Reading Ability

How to Tell a Reading Delay from a Reading Problem

When You Should Deal with the Problem Quickly

Getting Help

Giving Help Yourself

Things Struggling Readers Do

Troubleshooting Common Problems

Modifying Schoolwork

Part VI : The Part of Tens

Chapter 25: More Than Ten Word Families

The Very Easy all Family

The Pretty Straightforward ight Family

The oi and oy Families

The ou and ow Families

The er, ir, and ur Families

The or, aw, and au Families

That Smooth oo Family

Chapter 26: Ten Phonics Rules

Bossy e

When Two Vowels Go Walking, the First One Does the Talking

y Acting like Long i

y Acting like Long e

Drop the e When You Add ing

i Before e, Except After c

The ed Ending Can Sound like t

s Can Sound like z

er, ir, and ur All Say er (If You Catch My Drift)

Getting to Know ight

Chapter 27: Ten Things to Help Your Budding Reader

Physical Movement


Phonemic Awareness

Alphabet Blocks, Tiles, and Puzzles

Books, Magazines, and Comics

Controlled Use of TV and Computers

A Chunk-by-Chunk Reading Style

A Sight Vocabulary

A Library Card

A Cassette Player

Chapter 28: Ten Reading Teachers’ Resources

Letter Cards, Blocks, and Puzzles

Board Games

Whiteboard and Pens


Phonetically Controlled Reading Books

Stories on Tape

Book Series

A Few Good Web Sites

The Great Outdoors

You Are Your Own Best Resource

Appendix: A Word Family Tree

Easiest Families of All

Next Easiest Families of All

ch Words

Other Common Word Families

Same Sound, Different Ways

The Five Vowels Plus r

“Bossy e” and “Two Vowels Go Walking” Words

Words Ending in tion

Words Ending in ed

Soft c and g


Y ou’re thinking of teaching a child to read. What a great idea! Now you just need exactly the right blueprint. So here it is, the guide that gives you all you really need to know in terms that you can feel at home with. That’s a pretty big claim, so let me qualify it.

This book is written with two people in mind: you and the child you’re thinking of teaching. Why is this book right for both of you? Well, Teaching Kids to Read For Dummies is easy to follow, pick and choose from, and come back to. It gives simple, practical activities that work. It explains strategies in easily managed, bite-size pieces, and you just need paper and pens for an immediate start. You can learn and do everything that I suggest in this book quickly. You get simple ways to measure your success as you go. You always know what to do next.

And the child you’re thinking of teaching? This book can meet his needs, whether he’s 2 or 12, fast paced or steady, an absolute beginner or someone who’s begun but could use a little help. In this book, you find out how to make activities suit every individual child, how to make activities age appropriate, how to add more challenge or support, and how to make gender allowances (if that’s relevant). I talk about the unexpected twists and turns that a child’s thoughts can take, too, so you don’t get the kind of surprise my 7-year-old daughter gave me a few weeks ago. Sighing profoundly about schoolwork, she confided, “Sometimes I purposely get things wrong if the work’s really boring.”

Have I mentioned that I’m a mom? Well I mention it now because it has a lot to do with the tone of this book. In my pre-mom years, when I was a childless schoolteacher, parents were always asking me for help. What books should their child be reading? How could they make reading fun? Why wasn’t their child all that interested in books? I would give advice but inwardly be puzzled that parents seemed to find it so hard. What was the problem, I wondered; why were such capable and concerned parents so adrift? Then I had children of my own and it wasn’t long before I was stopped in my smug tracks. Suddenly, I was asking for a lot of help. How could I keep my children quiet in public places? Why did my kids fight so determinedly? And a penny dropped about all those parents I’d helped before. A lot of skills, like teaching a child to read, seem like child’s play in the hands of the experienced. The rest of us have to learn them. So now I offer you my specialized but empathetic guidance. All the down to earth, honest information you need to give a child a happy and solid start with reading is in these pages. Welcome to Teaching Kids to Read For Dummies!

About This Book

Whether you’re just thinking of teaching a child to read or you’re all set to go, whether your child is a complete non-reader or has already started to read, and whether you’re apprehensive or know quite a bit about teaching, this book is for you. You can surf through it or immerse yourself chapter by chapter, as you need. This book has so much information that you’re sure to get the guidance you’re looking for. And whatever your needs and interests, you’ll love “The Part of Tens,” where you get quick lists, each with ten items, of all the important and fun stuff.

Foolish Assumptions

Because you’re reading this book, I assume . . .

bullet You’d like to help a child read but need plain-talking, down-to-earth guidance.

bullet You have interest and enthusiasm but not unlimited time.

bullet You’d like pointers as you go to let you know what to do next and whether you’re doing things right.

I don’t assume that you have a background in education or any special knowledge of phonics or grammar. If you follow the advice in this book and are willing to make an effort, you can teach your child to read or improve your child’s reading skills.

Conventions Used in This Book

To “he” or not to “he”? In this book, I clean up that sticky dilemma by using “he” and “she” interchangeably. You can be sure this book is for and about all our kids, and after you’re used to the idea of switching between “he’s” and “she’s,” you’ll probably end up thinking all other books should do it, too.

Lots of books about reading are full of educational jargon. This book isn’t. It gives the jargon, sparingly, and warns you in advance so that you don’t have to read it if you don’t want to. Don’t let the jargon scare you — it’s there in case you need to impress someone or you feel so confident with this book that jargon only scares you the tiniest bit.

As well as bits of jargon, you’re going to see sidebars in this book. Sidebars offer bonus or additional information that you don’t have to read (unless the sidebar police are in your area).

How This Book Is Organized

This book has six parts:

Part I: Preparing Your Child for the Road Ahead

Because I know you’re itching to get started and can figure out a lot of preparatory reading activities for yourself, Part I takes a quick look at all the wonderful songs and games that prepare children for reading and then launches straight into the alphabet. Here you can find out how to teach single letter sounds and letter partnerships (like ch and sh), why vowels are particularly important, and how to bl e nd (get the idea?) letters together. I also talk about the best time to get your child started on reading so that you don’t worry that you’re being too pushy or too laid back.

Part II: Building Words from Letters and Sounds

You’ve heard the short vowel thing before but didn’t really pay much attention. Why would you? It’s neither interesting nor useful to you . . . until you’re trying to remember how you learned to read when you were a kid so that you can help a kid now. Now short vowel sounds interest you, and when you get to see a child learning them, you’re engrossed. (Or is that just me? Do I need to get out more?)

Part III: Advancing to Sight Words and Long Vowel Sounds

Anyone with school-age children has heard about sight or most common words. In this section, you’re told what all the fuss is about and how to get one step ahead. Teaching a child instant recognition of sight words helps her make quick and noticeable progress, so most parents and teachers should be interested in this section. You can also learn about long vowel sounds. A lot of writers get carried away with sounds and tell you about voiced sounds, whispered sounds, and yelled-at-the-top-of-your-lungs sounds (I lied about the last one), but I don’t do that. Speaking as someone who can barely remember to feed dinner to her kids, never mind recall all those sounds, I limit the sound-jargon in this section to the word long. I explain what a long vowel sound is in simple terms. Then I give you two easy-as-can-be spelling rules so that you always know a long sound when you see (or hear) one.

Part IV: Scary Stuff Beginning with S: Soft Sounds, Suffixes, Syllables, and Silent Letters

Some things cause kids problems. Do I put a double p in slipping or not? Do I write slept or slepped? Is it gem or jem? In this section, you get helpful pointers so that you sound like you know what you’re talking about when your child asks tricky questions. And if that doesn’t work, I give you some good stalling- and avoiding-type answers to tide you over until you find the real answers.

Part V: Reading, Reading, and More Reading

This part shows how to make sure that your child really does enjoy reading. If that sounds strange to you, you’re one of the lucky parents whose child has never thrown a book at the wall in frustration. Here’s where you learn to make sure this book toss doesn’t happen (or happen again) with your child. Discover how to choose books that are just right for your child (not too easy, not to hard), find out how to have fun reading out loud together, know how to correct his errors graciously and find out what will keep him reading when you’re not there. I also touch briefly on what to do if your child is having trouble reading and where you can go for further help.

Part VI: The Part of Tens

The Part of Tens is where all the most important information gets boiled down to wonderfully easy lists. Here, you get ten word families, ten phonics rules, ten things that help your budding reader, and ten reading resources.

Icons Used in This Book

You occasionally see little pictures, called icons, next to blocks of text. Here’s what the icons mean:


You see this icon next to information that’s really worth hanging on to.


Here’s something that you don’t want to do. It’s easy to make mistakes, so this icon warns you of the landmines.


Here’s your jargon alert. Skip ahead or brace yourself!


This icon means I’m offering a golden nugget of handy advice, probably learned firsthand.


When you seen this icon, I’m presenting an activity that you and your child can do together.

Where to Go from Here

If you’re ready to leap straight into action, go to Chapter 3, “Tigers and Teachers: Listening to Letters.” This chapter shows you how to begin matching letters to sounds. If you’re working with a child who already knows some sounds and words, go to Chapter 8, “Reading short a Words.” Make sure that Janey correctly sounds out the short vowels because if she doesn’t, she’s going to run into problems later, and then go to Part III to get started on sight words and long vowel words. A few lessons on sight words can give your child’s reading fluency a real boost, and they give you a good way to have fun and see quick results. If you’re not in that much of a rush, you may enjoy the traditional journey through this book, starting at Chapter 1 and working through, chapter by chapter. The chapters in this book let you pick and choose, but they also follow a logical progression.

Part I

Preparing Your Child for the Road Ahead

In this part . . .

Well, you’ve done a lot of thinking and talking about how you’re going to teach your child to read, and now it’s time for action. Oh boy. Where do you start? What do you do exactly? Should you use some sort of easiest to hardest progression? Don’t worry, this part has the answers. It moves you gently from sounds to letters to words. You can find out how to get the hang of things like long vowel sounds and blended letters, and it’s chock full of fun activities to steer you clear of the phonics-is-so-dull pitfall. I talk about the best time to get your child started on reading, too. Should you be hiring a (stern) tutor, putting a clamp on the TV, or dishing up Dostoyevsky? This part gives you inspiring, practical, and manageable answers.