Words To Know When You’re Raising A Reader

If you're reading this right now, someone taught you how. But that was a long time ago, and you probably don't remember your teachers carefully guiding you through the learning process at the start of your school career. Even if you do remember, the way students learn to read today is probably somewhat different than how you were taught.

You might be looking for a way to help support your emerging reader at home. Reading every day with them is a great start. But it can also help to be on the same page as your child's teachers.

This can seem a little daunting because modern reading strategies are a bit jargon-y. To help you help your child ... but really you 😉, we've put together a list of some of the common terms you may come across in early reading lessons. Once you break down these ideas, they're not nearly as daunting as they seem … just like learning how to read.

CVC words

In kindergarten and first grade, students learn one of the easiest concepts to grasp when it comes to reading and writing: CVC words. CVC stands for "Consonant-Vowel-Consonant." As a quick refresher, vowels are the letters A, E, I, O, and U (and sometimes Y). Consonants are all the other letters.

CVC words are a great starting point for students because they involve lots of repetition, may rhyme, and often denote things that are familiar to students in their daily lives. Teachers often separate CVC words based on their vowels.

For example, a short "A" CVC word list would include something like: cat, bat, jam. A short "E" CVC word list might include: bed, red, web.

phonics and phonemic awareness

Using phonics as a way to teach people how to read is one of the oldest methods around. There's evidence that it was being used as early as 1667, and possibly earlier, to teach young people the basics of reading. While there is some debate about this method today, you will likely encounter phonics at some point in your child's education.

In English, letters are used to indicate sounds. These sounds are known as phonemes. For example, you know that the letter P creates a /p/ sound. (The forward slashes indicate a sound rather than a letter.) In school, students are taught these phonemes in order to sound out words. This builds what's known as phonemic awareness.

Phonemic awareness is the ability to identify how sounds work in words. Examples of phonemic awareness include being able to identify words that all start with the same sound (like mat, monkey, and mark), and breaking a word into different sounds (as in, run is made up of the sounds /r/ and /uhn/).

You can help build phonemic awareness at home by asking your kiddo to identify the different sounds letters make while you're playing, making dinner, or even watching the dreadful TV.

blending

An important part of learning to read via phonics is being able to blend sounds in order to read a whole word aloud.

For example, the word sat is made up of three sounds: /s/ /a/ /t/. A student might be able to identify the sound each of the three letters make. But the key to pronouncing it as a recognizable word is to blend the sounds together into /sat/.

This skill becomes especially important as students move away from simple CVC words and begin to read more complex words with more phonemes.

sight word

In addition to CVC words, another fundamental set of words that students learn when they are first starting out are sight words. Sight words are words that students should be able to identify and read without having to sound out each individual letter.

Essentially, these are words to be memorized. This is especially important when words don't follow typical pronunciation rules, like said.

Sight words are relatively simple words that occur regularly in the English language. In many schools, students learn sight words up to the Third Grade.

There are set lists of sight words that you may find in your child's classroom: the Dolch sight words and the more extensive Fry sight words. However your child's teacher may also use one of their own making.

Some sample sight words are:

  • Kindergarten: he, all, so, like
  • First Grade: him, from, know
  • Second Grade: green, very, cold
  • Third Grade: if, drink, better

You can easily find both the Dolch and Fry lists of sight words online to get a better sense of what words your child should be able to easily recognize when reading.

base words and affixes

Sometimes, your kid is going to come across a new word while they're reading. That's normal! (In fact, it's encouraged.) Before they run to the dictionary to look up what the word means, they might be able to use their knowledge of base words and affixes to figure it out.

If that sounds like something you forgot from English class, never fear. We're going to break it down. (And here's a giant list of 'em if you need it!)

Affixes are syllables that are added to a base word that change the word's meaning. Affixes come in two categories: prefixes, which come at the start of the base word; and suffixes, which come at the end of the base word. For example:

base word: type
prefix: re-
new word: retype

Re- is a prefix that means "to do again." So, when you add the prefix re- to the base word type, you get retype, meaning "to type again."

base word: hope
suffix: -ful
new word: hopeful

-ful is a suffix that means "full of." When you add the suffix -ful to the base word hope, you get a new word hopeful, meaning "full of hope."

By learning the meaning of common affixes, students can decode (or read) unfamiliar words more quickly without relying on outside resources.

In later grades, students build on this concept by learning to read unfamiliar words by identifying common Greek and Latin roots and affixes, like cent- for "hundred" and micr- for "small."

chunking

Reading long words can seem daunting, especially for someone learning how to read. That's why chunking is a great technique. Rather than sounding out each individual letter, you can chunk, or separate out, discrete syllables or parts of the word that kids are able to read already.

Take the word shouting. You can break this word into three simple chunks: sh-out-ing. While your child might not know how to read the word shouting at first, if you "chunk" it out, they can identify each of the individual phonemes or sounds. Then, they should read the word by blending those sounds together.

Chunking is especially useful for particularly long words. It is a great way to demonstrate that the principles of phonics can be applied to unfamiliar terms.

context clues

When trying to understand an unknown word or a word with multiple possible meanings, a reader can look for context clues. Context is the sentence around the unknown word being read. This context can provide important clues about the meaning of the text.

Context clues are typically organized into five types, summarized with the mnemonic device IDEAS:

  • I–Inference: The text suggests a meaning without spelling it out, like "Carla was allergic to nuts, so she didn't get pistachio ice cream." Even though it wasn't stated directly, we can infer that a pistachio is a type of nut.
  • D–Definition: The text directly gives the meaning of the unknown word, like "Solar power, or energy from the sun, is used at the factory."
  • E–Example: The text provides examples of the unknown word, as in "There were many different kinds of vegetation in the garden, including flowers, vines, and vegetables."
  • A–Antonym: The text gives an example that means the opposite of what the unknown word means, as in, "We didn't have any nutritious food, but we had a lot of candy."
  • S–Synonym: The text uses words with similar meanings, like, "It was a gloomy, dark, and rainy day."

Using context clues is a great way to work out what a word means without running to the dictionary every time. (While we don't mind, it's not very practical to look up every other word!)

leveled reading systems

Many schools use a leveled reading system in the early grades to help track students' progress. There are many different kinds of leveled reading systems—some are numbered, some are lettered—but the principle is the same. Students start at a lower level (like 1 or A) and move up over the years as their reading improves. Everyone learns at their own pace, so don't stress if your kid moves through the levels at a different rate than others! It's more important that kids learn to love reading, especially in the early years, instead of progressing quickly through the levels.

That said, most teachers do try to get their class to a certain reading level at points in the year. If you're curious about how your child is doing in reading, you can ask their teacher for their reading level and what their goal is for the end of the semester or year. Your kid's reading level is typically determined by an assessment given at different points in the year.

Knowing the reading level can be helpful when selecting books for your kids to read at home. If you know what it is, you can also ask your neighborhood librarian to recommend books at the level best suited to your little reader.  

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