There are so many children’s readers out there, but children’s readers are not all created equal! When kids are learning to read, they need access to books that are specifically designed for them; books that take into account the skills they are learning and that provide comprehensive practice with those skills. This type of reader is an effective teaching and learning tool. Other books are wonderful in that they offer children the chance to read for enjoyment. But kids will only be able to read for enjoyment when reading itself is not such hard work.
The year 2000 was magical for me in so many ways. It was the year I had a Kindergarten class that was comprised of children who were off-the-charts visual, kinesthetic, or both. I was also finishing graduate school and was consumed with the ideas that:
- Children can learn far more than I think.
- If they struggle, I need to adjust my approach and methods.
- And if I pay very close attention, I can learn from them what they need.
Let's face it, Kindergarten content is not difficult, so as I taught, I was free to focus most on the receptivity of the children. I watched for what clicked with them and what felt like a lead balloon. The "clicks" I kept, while the "lead balloons" went out the window.
We had progressed through learning the letters and their sounds (read about that process here), had started work on sounding out words using those brand new letters and sounds, and it was time to use those skills in reading real books.
That is when I hit a roadblock. The readers I had were very popular books at the time and I was excited to break them out. Everything went well with books 1 and 2. The children were able to sound out every word just fine. When we got to book 3 in the series, there were suddenly words that were a big jump ahead of the skill levels in books 1-2. The book contained advanced sound spellings, and when the children tried to read the book, they bogged down.
This experience prompted the creation of the first Easy-for-Me™ Children’s Readers. I decided if I couldn’t find books that were suitable, I would write my own.
Behind the design of Easy-for-Me™ Children’s Readers
I wanted readers that would:
- Provide reading practice as children learned letters and sounds.
- Provide reading practice for sight words the students were learning.
- Provide reading practice that would increase in difficulty book by book, but that would not leave gaps in what the students had learned.
- Provide complete preparation for each title before students picked up the book.
- Provide reading practice using a series that would purposefully teach all needed skills comprehensively, meaning that no essential skills were left out of the series.
What are the “needed skills” Easy-for-Me™ addresses?
My background is in working with children who struggle because their learning abilities don’t match the way we teach them. So that is where I am coming from when I design any product. I want to be sure each design addresses known gaps.
Some gaps shared by many children who struggle with reading include:
- Poor functional knowledge of letters and their sounds. For children who struggle to read, a gap exists between learning the ABC’s and reading their first book. Children don’t always understand that the words they read are actually comprised of the sounds they learned. They view learning their ABCs as completely unrelated to the art of reading. We have to explicitly teach them that words are made of the sounds they learned and they can hear each sound in every word.
- Lack of organized and comprehensive instruction in the specific ways, all the specific ways, a sound can be spelled. Without this formal instruction (read all about this here), our language comes at children like a flood of contradictions and exceptions, all of which they must somehow make sense of and memorize. It is extremely confusing to many children to see a word such as “beak” where the EA makes the Long E sound, only to later come across the word “steak” when the EA says Long A. Then they see the word “earth” and the EA seems to get lost in the R, not making a sound at all. Then they find “head” in which EA sounds like Short E. And they have a friend, “Sean”, and in his name, the EA says AH like in “want.” The wonderful news is that there is a way to teach all this nonsense in a way that makes perfect sense to kids.
- Lack of specific instruction in how to “see” what they are reading in their imaginations (comprehension). We are so focused on teaching the mechanics of reading we forget that unless we teach children words in books tell a story that we can picture in our minds, they won’t just automatically “get it.” They will stay stuck sounding out words with varying degrees of success.
These are the three most significant gaps that effectively prevent children from learning to read. All three are concepts we just assume kids will grasp on their own, but in my experience, struggling readers don’t just grasp these ideas.
Easy-for-Me™ Children’s Readers address these gaps
Each set of Children’s Readers targets specific reading skills.
Set A targets all basic letter sounds in the alphabet and includes practice for all 59 of SnapWords® List A. See the Scope and Sequence here. Each book includes a mini-lesson in the front that details exactly how and what to teach before children read each title. Also included are comprehension questions.
Set B targets all the ways to spell each long vowel, OO spellings, R controlled spellings, digraphs, possessives, plurals, NG and NK endings, and more. Included for reading practice are the 59 words from SnapWords® List B. See the Scope and Sequence here. Each book includes the mini-lessons and comprehension questions.
Set C teaches long and short OO sounds, OY and OI, more R-controlled spellings, OW and OU, and much more. Included are the 59 words from SnapWords® List C and the 62 words from SnapWords® List Nouns 1. See the Scope and Sequence here. Again, mini-lessons and comprehension questions included.
Set D teaches advanced sound spellings such as PH, OUGH, GH, PT, BT, GN, KN, RH, WR, and endings such as LE, AL, EL, IL, and more. Included are the words from SnapWords® List D and List G. See the Scope and Sequence here.
Set E teaches suffixes and their meanings, completes the sound spellings found in The Illustrated Book of Sounds & Their Spelling Patterns, and includes the words from SnapWords® Lists E and Verbs. Sound spellings taught in this set of books include short vowel spellings ED, IE, AI, UI, AU, OU, OUGH, AUGH, and more. See the Scope and Sequence here.
Before reading, children will have the opportunity to thoroughly practice reading the needed sight words, will dive into the needed sound spellings, including generating long lists of words that share those spellings.
The teacher will be comfortable in the knowledge that needed skills are addressed. All skills will be taught as they progress through each series. No worries; nothing is left untaught.
Reading for fun is so important! What I suggest is that you use Easy-for-Me™ Children’s Readers as your teaching tools, but also use them as your guide in choosing books that your students can easily read. As you skim the words in potential books, you will notice pretty quickly if words included are outside the scope of what you have taught.
Of course, a huge exception is books on a theme. For example, a book about dinosaurs will contain many images of dinosaurs and your children will easily relate the big, unknown word with the pictures in the book.
Let's get started
1. Find the first reader in a set and scan the mini-lesson in the front of the book. You will see references to SnapWords® that you will teach before the children begin to read. Locate the words and follow the routine for teaching SnapWords®.
2. You will also encounter directions for teaching various sound spellings. If you have Sound Spelling Teaching Cards or the Right-Brained Phonics and Spelling Kit, you will have the resources you need to teach any sound spellings you come across in the readers. Note that you can offer practice with the target sound spellings by using The Illustrated Book of Sounds & Their Spelling Patterns, which is also in the Kit. To discover how to use the Phonics and Spelling Kit successfully, follow this link.
3. Pre-teach the skills in the mini-lesson, then introduce the reader to your child(ren) as you would in a guided reading situation.
4. After reading the book, use the comprehension questions to check on your students' understanding of what they read.