The Right Way to Teach Reading is Whatever Works for the Child Child1st Publications
Mar 23, 2022

The Right Way to Teach Reading is Whatever Works for the Child

Right-brained learners /
Visual Learners /
Multisensory Learning /
Learning activities /
Struggling Learners /
Whole Body Learning /
Teaching tips /
Making learning fun /
Kid friendly /
Help /
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Attention Span /
Right-Brained Learner /
Learning styles /
SnapWords /
Math /
Alphabet /
Music Education /
Struggling Readers /
How to Teach Reading /
Reading /
Visual Learner

We are not reaching 65% of our children

The data:

“Many people know that about 42 percent of 4th graders score below basic in overall reading skill on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). In Washington, D.C., where I am currently studying reading intervention, the proportion of students beyond 3rd grade who cannot read well enough to participate in grade-level work is between 60 and 70 percent, depending on the grade and year of assessment. Too few children can compete in higher education and about half fail to complete high school. In this community [Washington DC], the rate of adult illiteracy — reading below 4th grade level — is 37%, the highest in the nation. Nationally, 25% of all adults are functionally illiterate."

Dr. Moats is project director for a four-year longitudinal study of early reading intervention in the Washington, D.C., public schools.

Dyslexia as a factor

According to research from the National Institutes of Health, Dyslexia is the most common reason a bright child will struggle with spelling, writing, or reading, and dyslexia affects 20% of our population. According to NIH research, 80 percent of children with a learning disability actually have dyslexia. Dyslexia is by far the most common learning disability. (Adarsh Kohli, Samita Sharma, Susanta K. Padhy, Indian J Psychol Med. 2018 Sep-Oct; 40(5): 399–405)

All children with dyslexia can read—up to a point. But auditory processing problems prevent them from hearing all the individual sounds in a word. So they don’t read by sounding out. Instead, they rely on alternative strategies: context clues (pictures and a predictable or familiar story), the shapes of words, and guessing based on the first letter or two. This will only take them so far, however. For strategies on how to effectively meet the needs of children with dyslexia, read 8 Secrets for Teaching Children with Dyslexia

Why do bright children struggle with reading?


“At any age, poor readers as a group exhibit weaknesses in phonological processing and word recognition speed and accuracy, as do younger poor readers (Stanovich & Siegel, 1994; Shankweiler et al., 1995). At any age, when an individual's reading comprehension is more impaired than his or her listening comprehension, inaccurate and slow word recognition is the most likely cause" (Shankweiler et al., 1999).

"Early intervention for reading problems reduces the number of students identified as learning disabled (Dickson & Bursuck," 1999; Jenkins & O'Connor, 2000).

In my work, I chat with parents regularly about their Kindergarten through middle-school-aged children who struggle with reading. My passion is to make learning easier for our children, so hearing about their struggles and discouragement really tugs at my heart.

Back in the early 1990's, I began to seriously question why bright children can struggle to learn to read. It just didn't make sense to me! So answering that question became the driving force behind everything I did, and as I worked with children, that question guided every choice I made.

The key for me was in observing the child. My eyes never left their faces because I wanted to know immediately if what I was doing was reaching them or not. Chances were if I got this look from a child, I was heading down the wrong path!

How can we support our children who are struggling to read?

The first step is to focus on the ways in which children learn most naturally. 

Peg Board

  • In these days of lack of funding, the good news is that we don't have to spend a lot of money to support our students - it is more a matter of aligning ourselves with the way young children learn most naturally.
  • It isn't necessary to keep children in school longer nor to start them earlier - in fact if we hit on the right approach, lesson times will be shorter. If we align ourselves with how the child learns most naturally, we will go from trying to insert a square peg into a round hole, to matching round pegs to round holes.
  • Our instruction doesn't have to be more and more complicated and detailed. If we focus our attention on how a child learns most naturally, instruction can be greatly simplified. For children who learn best from whole to part, adding more details to the process of learning to read only serves to deepen their confusion.

The most effective way to help our young children learn to read successfully is to identify the ways young children learn naturally and to use those same exact ways to teach reading.

Let's consider teaching to today's child

I hear from so many parents that when their kindergarteners struggle to learn to read, they are screened or tested to identify a possible disability. I understand that acquiring a label can be very helpful as it unlocks doors to services that would be unavailable otherwise, but we need to be so careful! If the child in question is naturally a visual/right-brained learner, chances are that the traditional ways of teaching reading won't sync with the way they learn. So rather than rushing to test the child for disabilities, it would be helpful to first consider the child's best learning strengths and capitalize on those.

Technology is a factor

The traditional way of teaching reading worked okay decades ago, before the age of technology, but our children today do not resemble the children of the 1950s. The brains of children today have been shaped by frequent exposure to brightly-colored images flashing and dancing on screens. Their developing, plastic, brains have been literally rewired so as to make strongly visual learners from children who might not have been markedly visual in their learning style. And then when they go to school, they are taught in ways that worked better back in the day when children were not exposed to technology, entertained by technology, and amused by technology.

Stage of development is a factor

Actually, the way we teach reading today didn’t work perfectly back then because, while traditional ways of teaching reading works perfectly for left-brain dominant learners, for young children it doesn't work as well because young children are developmentally in a right-brain dominant stage up to about age 7. So teaching them to read using a wholly left-brained approach is not efficient and can lead to discouragement and failure.

An example of what works better

Child1st teaching materials are designed to capitalize on the ways young children learn most naturally.

  • We designed a solution for taking left-brained information and packaging it in right-brained elements in order to get the whole brain working efficiently.
  • We embed words in pictures that show the meaning of the whole word. The reality is that for many, many children, having words embedded in images that show the word as a whole and the meaning of the word means the difference between NOT learning to read and LEARNING to read.

Think of those colorful and engaging images as the effective delivery system that carries unfriendly left-brained words into the child’s brain. Consider that without that delivery system, some children won’t learn and many children will not comprehend what they are reading. That is what we have heard from many parents and teachers. Blink, snap, and the child has it!

Let's consider how to help children be successful in reading

Traditionally, the assumption is that all children must be able to learn and manipulate individual sounds before learning whole words. That phonemic awareness is a predictor of success in learning to read. But there are many children that learn best, learn successfully, from whole to part – just like there are many adults who must see the big picture in order to make sense out of the details.

We have worked so hard using this correct way of teaching reading over the years, but many children are still unable to read, and some children who can read words do not comprehend what they have read. They can recognize words, but they cannot extract meaning from those words. In the 178 years since the McGuffey Readers were published, we have not deviated from plain symbols.

My concerns over rushing to label a child

Many children are growing up with a label of disabled. The reason this concerns me is because that label sets the standard for the child. What we believe about the child is what they will believe about themselves. If we say they are disabled because they couldn't learn to read in Kindergarten, they will believe us and will rise no higher than that label.

Here's an idea

Why don't we expose our youngest children and those who are struggling to the colorful, engaging, friendly, funny words we have available. Children are drawn to the color, the pictures, the humor, the story on each SnapWords® card.

The reason children are engaged by SnapWords® is that their brains are made for learning and their brains love the design elements that are utilized. When children don’t engage, it is a sign that their brain does not recognize the material as friendly.

  • The images carry the plain word into visual memory,
  • The images are recalled later even when the child is reading the plain word in a book.
  • Also, the images show what the words mean!

Try it for yourself

Stare at a SnapWords® card below, then close your eyes and call up the image in your mind. See if you can still remember it in a day. Then in two days.

SnapWords® have proved to work in getting a child reading when nothing else has worked. Non-readers as old as 12 began to read successfully because SnapWords® bridged the gap between left- and right- hemispheres. The design elements got the various regions in the brain working together. Symbols in one place, meaning somewhere else, images in another place, body motion elsewhere, all stimulated at once by using SnapWords®. Best of all, the child who is newly reading is also newly-comprehending.

How to teach struggling Readers

Motion: join fingers together

Sentence: “It is blue AND green.”

The right way to teach reading

Motion: point to floor right beside you

Sentence: “Come right HERE.”

Please join me in creating a community where we work together to support our struggling readers

Consider taking a little hiatus from the struggle of teaching reading to those children who are just not getting it. Just take a four-week recess from the hard work, the frustration, and the failure and do something different for that period of time. You have nothing to lose, but you might gain everything! Consider it an educational detox for you and your students both.

Here is what to do

  1. Do a pre-assessment to determine the words each child knows. Use your own tracking sheets, or grab ours.
  2. Then use SnapWords®. We are here for you to support you in this effort. Have fun with it. FUN.
  3. At the end of the four weeks, do a post-assessment. Record your impressions of the child along with the data.

What if there is no time left in the day?

If you are in a classroom and all your time is taken, do what I did:


  • Find an easel and drape a pocket chart over it.
  • Arrange the first group of words you want to teach in the pocket chart.
  • Gather your kiddos on the rug in front of the easel.
  • Tell the children what each word says. Do NOT make them guess.
  • Read the sentence on the back and do the body motion together.
  • You’re done for Monday.


Take 10 minutes to play a game from our free book Activities for use with SnapWords. Download the activities for free.

But I don’t even have 10 minutes to spare!

  • Take your cards to recess with you – the kids will follow you.
  • Take them with you in line as you are passing from one place to another.
  • Consider posting them on the wall in the hallway in a place that usually finds you waiting in line
  • Take them to lunch!
  • Just do the Monday activity and then leave the words posted so the children will be exposed to them during the week.
  • Because the words are posted on the wall in a prominent place, you can refer to them during the week; encourage them to use them in their writing, use the words yourself in directions you write on the board, for example. Teach them on the fly.
  • Be creative about how you fit them in, but do fit them in. The time invested will pay off big time!

When you have taken the recess from the struggle and the fight, please consider the difference SnapWords® made for your children, and share with your friends what you have found. We can change the world for our kids if we work together. We can truly help them Love Learning.

My dream is to one day have an educational system that will begin to teach to the child, considering their developmental stages, and will, at the first sign of struggle, leave no stone unturned to find what the child needs in order to learn. Chances are very good that the solution that will work will utilize images, movement, context, color, and other wonderful right-brained elements.

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