For many children, using writing as a vehicle for teaching them to read makes a whole lot of sense. For those children who are global, random, right-brained, visual, kinesthetic, or tactile learners (anything other than the obviously left-brained learners), it is most certainly a method worth starting with when they are first learning to read. It is also a great thing to do if the child has already been in a traditional teaching environment and had little success in learning to read.
I had the luxury of teaching a group of beginners this way, although at the time it was not my intention to use writing to teach reading. It is so funny how often we do things and later see the benefits (or possibly the mistakes) of doing such a thing!
I think that what is prompting my train of thought to write about this today is that I read a comment the other day written by an educator of many years. He said that for a young child, listening to speech comes first, then attempting to talk, talking, writing, and finally reading. It was the first time I heard anyone make that comment so it remained, loitering in the back of my brain. The more I thought about this, the more it made sense to me. Especially for the types of learners I mentioned above, but really for any beginner or any child who is struggling to learn to read, writing is a great and worthy vehicle for learning to read.
Admittedly, it can be really scary to branch out, leaving the traditionally accepted methods and sequences of lessons to try something you believe your child would respond to. But whether you're a classroom teacher, a parent working with their child at home in the evenings, or a full-time homeschooling parent, the question to ask is, what is the single most important goal? If it is that your children/students learn to read (as opposed to you perfectly teaching the accepted method of teaching reading) it might make it easier to follow your children/students’ lead.
Some common misconceptions about teaching children to read
- It is a hard process and has to be really complicated.
- The child must learn his letter names first, then individual sounds, then he/she must sound out words, learn phonics rules, etc.
- If I introduce whole words, the child will be limited in reading later; after all, how many whole words can one child memorize?
- If I use pictures or images or anything that looks easy and fun, it is simply a crutch that will hold him back later on; he won’t really be reading or able to decipher new words.
- The teacher/parent always knows better than the child what they need to learn and in what sequence.
- Words are grouped by grade level – there are specific words for kindergarten, certain ones for 1st grade, and so on.
- I learned to read just fine in this particular, traditional way, so that must be the best way to learn to read and it should also work just fine for my child. Tried and true vs. novel and random.
I’m very sure this is not a comprehensive list, but it will do for now.
One way to teach reading through writing
Materials you will need:
- Some children – at least one.
- Paper – top half empty and bottom with lines. If you don’t have this, any paper will do.
- Crayons in a tray (please don’t use ugly crayons that have been peeled, have been broken into tiny bits, and have black marks all over them), pencils, colored pencils, markers.
- A serene frame of mind empty of expectations of specific results nor a sense of needing to “teach” something nor a niggling that you need to hurry the process.
- An “advisor” hat you will wear during this process. This hat can be invisible as long as you purposefully put it on your head.
What to do:
- First thing in the morning, by way of warm-up and after chatting a bit, let the children draw whatever is on their mind to draw. It might be something they have been thinking about or something that came into their mind while you were chatting. Anyway, let the drawing begin.
- Be present, but not directing anything, nor trying to influence their direction. Your focus on them will help them be focused on their “work” so avoid the temptation to go get something else done while they are drawing.
- When the children are brand new and can’t write anything yet, help them label their drawing by asking them what they want to write and then sharing with them how to spell the words. You could write them on a whiteboard for them to see or if they know their sounds, let them start and sound out for themselves. It is this part of the activity you will use for a teaching moment.
- When the children are finished, let each talk about their picture, sharing it with the group.
- Each day you do this, make notes of the words that the children didn’t know how to spell correctly, and share this with the group. Be positive. Do NOT say, “You spelled all these words wrong.” But rather say, “I want to show you a word. Let me write it for you on my whiteboard.”
- If the word has a common spelling pattern, add other words that also follow that spelling pattern. (For example, if a child wanted to use the word AWAY as in “My dog ran away” you can teach them other AY words: “day, play, stay, bay, hay, jay”.)
- Working together, take a strip of paper and write the new word at the top. For example, the word “AWAY” would captain this list of words you are generating together. Under “AWAY” add the other AY words in a column. Post this on the wall so you and the children can add other AY words as you come across them in reading.
- Repeat this process every day and over time, you will amass quite a collection of words the children will have learned to read and use.
- Remember to never teach a sound spelling in isolation, but rather show how the sound spelling is a pattern of letters and therefore sounds that occurs in our language. The children will make a lot more sense out of words and language if they know there are patterns that repeat often.
Keep a record
What I ended up doing was keeping track of the sound spellings we were covering as we did our early morning drawing and writing so that I could nudge the children towards a sound spelling they had not automatically gravitated towards. By spring, the children had gotten so familiar with the various spelling chunks (sound spellings in words) that they could read material that was far above their grade level.
This practice worked very nicely with ELL students. They would use our SnapWords® as references for writing their own sentences, and then when their writing was complete, they read me their sentences without any need to peek at the stylized words! This showed me how much of a constructive activity it was for these children to learn to read from their own writing.