Phonemic AwarenessPhonics

How Words Work

After about 28 years of working with kids, striving to teach them to read and spell well, I’ve learned this: Our language is complicated . . .

But it is teachable.

We’ve all (if you’re reading this) learned to navigate the rough terrain of crazy word spellings, pronunciations, meanings, and usages. But, could you explain why words do what they do to a soon-to-be reader?

Too many times, I’ve heard adults lament to their children and to me that our language is so very inconsistent. It doesn’t make any sense. It just can’t be explained.

I can help.

I have learned to teach reading and spelling so that it makes sense to kids AND their parents.

As for me, I was taught to read with the Look Say method. On the pages of my basal reader, I saw a picture of Puff with the word Puff underneath it. I was supposed to get that every time I saw the word that looks like this-Puff, I was to say that name. I want to memorize the word through repetition as in passages like this:


“No, Puff!  No.  No.  Do not go, Puff!”

I recall saying to my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Murphy, “I always remember the word “No” because the N looks mean.”

I’m sure I was in the numbskull group.  Sheesh.

I did learn to read, eventually. And though I finally figured it out, in spite of Dick and Jane, I have been working, for the past couple of decades, to make the process easier and a lot more fun for kids and their teachers and parents.

My aim has been to break our code-based language into a logical sequence of manageable word parts, with a focus on loved books, and with sticky hooks that help kids to remember each lesson.

And it’s working!

I have been using make-it-take-it materials in Foundations For Literacy parent/child workshops for about six years, now. I’ve used the same lessons, exclusively, in my first and second-grade classrooms as well as in one-on-one tutoring with kids, ages 4-12. Continually, I get to be a part of moving soon-to-be readers to full-fledged readers.

I just had a parent-teacher conference with a woman who tearfully expressed her gratitude, because I’d taught her child read. This child had struggled all through kindergarten and first grades, in spite of lots of reading support from the early childhood school. There was no success. After just two and a half months, in a classroom with 24 other students, the light was turned on, and a whole new world was opened to her child. It sounds magical. And the effects are, indeed, magical. But . . .

It’s not magic.

It’s systematic, synthetic phonics instruction with a focus on FUN.

I can teach YOU how to turn on the lights for your child(ren).

Here’s the thing.

You cannot count on effective instruction from your child’s classroom teacher. It’s no fault of the teacher. S/he is working hard, I assure you. S/he is utilizing as much as s/he can from the vast reading resources provided by your school district (and plenty that s/he acquired utilizing personal resources- $). The problem is, it’s probably similar “sight word” teaching that I received with Puff, Dick, and Jane.

If your child’s teacher says to your child, “Look at the pictures. What makes sense?” or “You know that word. Just say it— in a snap,” as your child tries to read a book, YOU are going to need to teach your child the code. It’s going to fall to you.

We can’t blame educators who are being taught that this is the proper way to teach kids to read. And there are so many “cute activities” that go with word families, sight word reading, and other brands of analytic phonics instruction.

Let’s be clear. Analytic phonics is where kids are taught a base of sight words, and then they’re taught, “If you know this word, then you can also read this word.” It’s where kids analyze words to determine similarities and differences. The problem with that? It doesn’t work. At least, not well enough.

In school, kids may spend a week or so learning –at words. You know: bat, cat, fat, hat, mat. Then, they’re supposed to deduce that sat would also have –at.  That’s fine. True, even. But what happens when the kids see the word mate or dating?  And how can kids know the difference between hopping and hoping, if they’re told to “Look for small words you know, inside of larger words”? It just doesn’t work well enough.

Students’ progress can look good in first grade, but it’s well known that third grade is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to reading skills. Think: Third Grade Guarantee.

Why do kids who did well in kindergarten and first grades begin to struggle in second and third grades?

It’s not the teachers.

It’s the curriculum.

It’s not good enough. It leaves kids in the dark about how words work, really.

And that means YOU are going to have to take the lead in your kids’ reading lives.

And you’re going to LOVE it!

Would you like to learn more? I am getting ready to share some really important information about teaching kids to read. If you’d like to receive it, just click this link, and I’ll be sure you’re kept up to date! Feel free to share anything you receive, with your friends who have soon-to-be readers or even struggling elementary school readers.

I genuinely look forward to sharing

Foundations For Literacy

with anyone who’s interested in growing readers!

I believe you will really love what I am about to share!

Even if you think you might be interested, click on the link. You can always opt out if you’re not happy with the content you receive. It is not my aim to hound anyone. I just want to make my work available to folks who’re interested.

Are you wondering if my additions to your inbox will be worth it?

Here is a note from a customer:

I just wanted to thank you again for all your hard work in bringing quality literacy instruction to the community.  What you are doing is so empowering to parents and so motivating for children.   I love everything about Book Bums, but am especially grateful for your Foundations for Literacy class.   I am so impressed with all that you have shared in three short classes… [My daughter] is so motivated to read and write now.   As a parent, it is so exciting to watch.   I should also mention that [my son], all boy, has really started to take off, too!  Thanks for all you do!

I hope you’ll give it a try!